I love my job. As a Nutritionist and food educator, I get to teach children about healthy and nutritious foods. The best part of my day is watching kids try tasting something new and actually like it! Nothing makes me happier than seeing kids eat and enjoy real, whole foods.
That’s why I get so excited about the Metro Green Apple School Program. Not long ago, I wrote an article about the benefits of this program and how schools could apply for a grant of $1000 to be put towards healthy, student-led initiatives.
After all the applications were received at the end of 2015, Metro considered all of them and gave grants to 600 school programs. This year alone, Metro donated $600,000 to the schools that applied.
This past week, I was lucky to be able to see some of that money in action. I spoke with teachers and students and got to visit a school to see how this grant is benefiting students. And what did I see? Well, it was nothing short of amazing.
We all know that hunger can be huge barrier in being productive, even as an adult. Imagine going to school and being expected to learn and retain information without breakfast or sitting through science class listening to your stomach grumble? Sadly, this is a reality for many students throughout the province of Ontario and no school is immune. This doesn’t necessarily mean that these students are in an underprivileged situation. Some kids are going through growth spurts. Some woke up late and ran out the door to make it to school on time. Whatever the reason, being hungry is a huge factor in getting a proper education.
I was able to speak with Tonya Vokey-Young, the Principal of Woodland Public School. This school applied with a simple idea: offer students healthy food from four food groups, ANY TIME they are hungry. Elementary students tend to be quite eager with programs such as these, so I'm pretty sure this program is going to be a big success.
The best part about having food available all the time? “The program provides food to kids throughout the day but it contributes to a sense of community and healthy mindset,” said Vokey-Young. That’s THREE positive effects, just by having food available in the office. But this principal’s favourite part (and mine) is when students come by after school to grab an apple for the walk home. How awesome is that?
What if kids have breakfast at home, and once they get to school, they realize they forgot their lunch? Or, if they’re my kids, ARE HUNGRY AGAIN?
I made a visit to Thornlea Secondary School to see their hot breakfast program in action. I was honestly inspired.
This program is run by Debra Hanff and an ARMY of volunteers who show up early, set up, serve and clean up—all with a smile on their faces. In fact, they had so many volunteers, they had to develop a schedule so everyone could get a turn helping out. Their grant money is also put towards healthy food that is available to students in the office at all times of the day, but they also offer breakfast EVERY SINGLE DAY for anyone who wants it.
Speaking with Debra, she told me that during 2015, this school went into debt trying to maintain their hot breakfast program, but thanks to the Metro Green Apple School Program, they’re balancing the books just fine. Oh-and speaking of books, the students keep and maintain a record book of statistics displaying how many students participated on each given day and what foods were eaten. Food and learning...I’m seeing a theme here!
What I love most about this program is there is no stigma attached to asking for food. No one would know whether someone NEEDED breakfast, or simply WANTED breakfast. I believe that is a very important element and this school nailed it. I watched as students politely asked for breakfast and grabbed fruit, yogurt and waffles with no embarrassment. They sat alongside each other, chatting and laughing their morning away (until the bell rang).
I couldn’t tell who wasn't getting fed at home. All I could see was these students came to get something to eat and knew breakfast would be waiting for them. On the days when something hot is not being offered, the school has cereal, bagels, oatmeal and the fridge is always stocked with fruit and vegetables. The day I visited, Ian (the student volunteer that day) was busy re-stocking:
Kids can't learn if they're not fed properly. It's a simple fact and incredibly important. I was only able to see how two school programs are making use of the grant money. Can you imagine what the other 598 programs are up to? Food may be my life’s work but it’s important to us all, especially when we think about our kids’ health—physically and mentally.
If your school didn’t apply in the last round, there is always the next round which will come later this year. Remember, schools can use your help, too. You can volunteer time, money or groceries to lend a hand and feel great knowing you are helping our future generations.