With limited funding, student nutrition programs in Ontario call for more money

Apr 15, 2024 | News, Provincial News

Student nutrition programs ensure students vulnerable to poor nutritional intake consume safe, adequate, and nutritious food while at school.

Ontario coordinator at the Coalition for Healthy School Food Sarah Keyes said Canada was the only G7 country without a school food program.

“At least 83 per cent of countries in the world have these programs,” she said.

A study done in 2022 by researchers in Canada, Chile, Australia, the U.K. and Mexico found schools are a critically important food environment for children.

Students on average consume between one-third and one-half of their daily calories while at school, the study found. It noted Canada relies on community organizations and local programs to provide free and subsidized meals to kids.

Food For Kids Executive Director Gayle Kabbash said her organization is feeding about 4,100 children at 275 schools in the Greater Toronto Area, Muskoka, Guelph, Niagara and Hamilton. She said the program started with feeding 65 children in three schools in the early 2000s.

“In a country like Canada, a province like Ontario, it really is a shame that we have this many people that are needing support,” she said. “Not just our support, you know, charities are being run to their max right now because there are so many kids in so many areas. And so it would be nice to see that come down.”

There are many benefits to students in Ontario who have access to an established school feeding program.

There are many reasons why everybody can benefit from these and research shows that access to nourishing foods affects physical and mental health, future eating habits, classroom behaviour and academic performance, Keyes said.

She said funding these programs can create jobs and take pressure off household budgets while supporting farmers. Children can also be helped by integrating hands-on learning about food and the programs.

Patrick Bissett, spokesperson for the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, said the provincial government has provided an additional $6.15 million this fiscal year in the Student Nutrition Program and the First Nations Student Nutrition Program.

Those programs provide more than 600,000 school-aged children and youth with healthy daily meals to ensure they are well-nourished and ready to learn. This additional money brings the total provincial funding for the program to more than $38 million.

The federal government announced on April 1 that it is launching a $1 billion national food program for schools in addition to provincial plans.

He said the government also partnered with the Arrell Family Foundation, the Breakfast Club of Canada, the Schad Foundation, the Grocery Foundation, and Student Nutrition Ontario to launch the Healthy Students Brighter Futures Ontario campaign.

“These organizations will continue to work with local groups and businesses to encourage people in communities across the province to get involved and fundraise to reach a combined goal of $10 million, which includes the government’s investment this year,” he said.