A pair of nutritionists went into kindergarten lunch rooms in two Ontario schools last week and what they saw did not impress them. According to newspaper reports, they were surprised and dismayed by the dominance of sugary treats and the lack of nutritional value in the food.
It’s not a surprise to teachers who’ve been in school lunch rooms for years. According to one Ontario teacher I spoke to for What’s for Lunch? this kind of packed lunch is common:
“The mini cookies and other calorie-loaded packaged snacks are loathed by so many educators because their high sugar content make kids groggy, cranky and less focused right after lunch or recess. I’ve also observed that many of the kids who eat these sugary snacks will spend more time eating and just sitting around the school yard rather than playing or running around.”
This is the first year for full-day kindergarten in the province (it’s being phased in right now so it’s not at every school) and the 4 and 5 year olds who are there have enough to deal with (“I want my mommy!!”) without being exhausted and unable to focus because they don’t get enough good food.
At some schools, they’ve been trying two 40 minute nutrition breaks—one in the morning, another in the afternoon—rather than a single lunch period. The idea is that kids have more time to both eat and play, and because they eat a few times throughout the day they have more energy. (There are other, non–food-related reasons for the schedule, as well, but I’ll leave that to people like this principal who is a proponent of the so-called “balanced day.”)
But if the food you have in your bag isn’t healthy, it’s hard to imagine what a difference more time makes.
Another great reason for a universal school nutrition program in this country, I’d say! By starting early with children and making good food a key part of school life—integrating food education and curriculum-based activities into the program, of course—it might just be possible to make a difference in Canadian’s health over the long term.