When it comes to food, I’m pretty sure that as a society, we’ve gone off the rails. I first started to notice our unhealthy connection with food when my kids started school. It seemed to me that every occasion revolved around junk food. A kid’s birthday meant cupcakes for everyone. When parents bring cupcakes or treats for birthdays, this meant 20 to 30 days in the school year included unhealthy food. Add in Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Christmas, Easter, pajama day, movie day, and bake sales. It seemed to me that schools may have been the biggest enabler in the obesity epidemic.
Thankfully, many others were noticing this alarming trend and in 2008, the Healthy Food for Healthy Schools policy was introduced to restrict these days to ten per year. By then though, I was noticing the trend to gravitate to the unhealthiest choices were everywhere. Where did we go wrong as a society? Let me count the ways: deep fried Snickers bars, doughnut burgers, deep fried butter, bacon wrapped corn dogs, and wait for it—a 20,000 calorie burger. It’s like we’re clamouring to see who can come up with the unhealthiest food choice of all.
Childhood obesity has been rising steadily in Canada for decades. According to the Childhood Obesity Foundation, between 1979 and 2004, obesity among children aged 2 to 17 increased from 15% to 26%. If this current trend continues, it is estimated that by 2040, 70% of adults aged 40 years and over will either be overweight or obese. That means an increase in heart disease, cancer, strokes and type 2 diabetes — not to mention the inability to enjoy life to the fullest. The problem is real and it’s time to start swinging that pendulum the other way and what better place to start than in schools.
Coupled with the Ontario government’s Healthy Food for Healthy Schools mandate, the Metro Green Apple School Program (GASP) aims to help children adopt healthy eating habits early in life. Now in its seventh year, GASP encourages Ontario students to adopt healthy eating habits by participating in projects that will have positive impacts on their home, school, and community. GASP has supported the establishment and completion of hundreds of gardens, cooking workshops, cookbooks, and food programs all across Ontario.
Shhhh, did you hear that? That’s the sound of a movement gaining momentum and this Ontario mom is standing and applauding wildly. We need to take the time to show our kids the connection between healthy food and a healthy body and how their brains work better when they are fueled with good food rather than quick sugar hits. It’s time to turn the tide so this generation outlives their parents and sadly, I only wish I was being melodramatic saying that.
In 2016, GASP is focusing on getting young people to eat more fruits and vegetables, which are the foundations of a healthy diet. The goal is simple: teach our kids that fruits and vegetables are enjoyable and tasty to eat, so their reflex reaction will be to grab the apple and not the bag of chips. I'm happy to know that in my hometown, Ottawa, the GASP program is wildly effective in two area schools this year.
At Churchill Alternative, coordinators of the program set out to show kids the connection between good eating and feeling good. They wanted kids to recognize how they felt after eating fruit. After chatting with a representative, I learned that each week they have 200 apples delivered to the school and within 24 hours they're all gone! Students are asking for apples and fruit is becoming a "go to" snack rather than less healthy choices. Megan Egerton, who helps run the program at Churchill Alternative, thinks the success is measured by how excited the kids are each week and how quickly the apples disappear. She says that kids are not only reaching for these healthy snacks but asking for it!
Students enrolled in the Norman Johnston Alternative food program are helping to plan and prepare a weekly salad bar during morning break for all students. Healthy bean salads, quinoa salads, whole wheat couscous salads, whole wheat pasta salads, and fruit salads are routinely offered. According to Lorraine Zuccato, who helps co-ordinate the program, students are open to trying new and healthy foods and look forward to days when there is food available to them during break.
These are just two of the brilliant ways grant money from the Metro Green Apple School Program are being used across Ontario. In the seven years since its inception, nearly 4,000 schools have benefited from the GASP program. That means a real impact is being made with thousands of kids across Ontario! If you'd like to get your kid's school involved with this amazing initiative for the 2016/17 school year, be sure to share the www.greenapple.metro.ca website with their educators. The time to get kids loving real food is now!