School Foods Under Further Examination
By TORONTO (CP)
Obesity ‘crisis’ leads to mandated salad menus for some
By TORONTO (CP)
TORONTO (CP) – When the cafeteria lineup regularly includes burgers of
unknown origin – best guesses are split between chicken or fish – and
an unidentifiable grey slop purported to be broccoli soup, it’s no
wonder kids go for the fries.
TORONTO (CP) – When the cafeteria lineup regularly includes burgers of unknown origin – best guesses are split between chicken or fish – and an unidentifiable grey slop purported to be broccoli soup, it’s no wonder kids go for the fries.
But as obesity rates soar, parents and kids across Canada are demanding that schools offer better fare.
In Ontario, the government has asked for voluntary compliance among school boards to ensure there are healthier choices available in elementary school vending machines. New Brunswick is set to announce a province-wide initiative to promote healthy eating in schools. Some school boards have banned french fries, others have mandated salad bars.
“There’s a revolution going on in food,” said Debbie Field, executive director of FoodShare Toronto, a group that supports grassroots initiatives to promote healthy eating.
In the past 25 years, the number of adolescents considered overweight or obese more than doubled to 29 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.
An increasing awareness of the health consequences of obesity, including heart disease and diabetes, has prompted political leaders to take note, launching healthy choices campaigns and urging schools to include nutrition courses as part of their curriculums.
But the quality of food sold by companies contracted to provide cafeteria meals still rivals the fare found in greasy spoons.
Food-service providers have long resisted making menu changes, arguing that when they do try to present healthier options, the kids won’t buy them.
“They’re in the business of making money. If the burgers and the fries are going to sell, that’s what they’re going to be pushing. They’re not going to keep items on the menu that aren’t selling,” said dietitian Lynn Roblin.
However, growing pressure from students and parents is forcing them to adapt.
Chartwells Education Dining Services, which provides meals to more than 800 schools across Canada, is planning to introduce a program this fall called Balanced Choice. It is intended to highlight some of the healthier choices on the menu – without doing away with the fries.
“When you push it on everybody, it doesn’t go as smoothly as when you let people transition into it,” said Donna Bottrell, nutritional and culinary manager for Chartwells.
The company introduced soy beverages last year and found they’re selling well. Whole-grain breads that kids would have snubbed just five years ago are becoming top sellers.
“What we’re finding is we can’t jump the gun. What Canadians are doing at home is reflected in what kids are going to choose in our locations,” said Bottrell.
Change on a broad scale won’t happen until there are national policies governing the food children should be eating at school, said Field.
“We have a serious crisis in terms of childhood obesity and unhealthy adults that needs the level of intervention only the federal government can make,” Field said, noting that Canada is alone among G8 nations in having no national policy on the issue.
“What I’d love to see is a lot more energy directed at creative, actual solutions and not just bravado,” she added.
She points to Jamie’s School Dinners, one celebrity chef’s televised attempt to revolutionize lunchtime in the United Kingdom. It turned out to be a much harder battle than Jamie Oliver had presumed.
In the series, viewers followed Oliver as he struggled to coax reluctant elementary students to eat fruit and took the lunch ladies to boot camp to teach them how to turn basic, fresh ingredients into meals.
What began as an optimistic experiment turned into a serious cause for the normally lighthearted TV personality when he realized how dire the situation was.
“I’m calling on a chef in Canada to do the same thing. What we need to do is get the same kind of leadership here,” Field said.