Tag Archives: school feeding

What’s for Lunch in South Korea?


Some great What’s for Lunch? news arrived on my doorstep when I returned from holiday this week. What’s for Lunch? is available in South Korea!

Like so many children around the world, kids in South Korea have a daily hot meal at school. Lunch is served in a metal tray with multiple compartments and always includes rice and kimchi (pickled vegetables). There’s also a protein (chicken, fish, egg, tofu, but often it’s octopus or squid!), usually served stewed or boiled, plus more veggie sides such as eggplant, radish, bean sprouts or lotus root. Soup is also offered some days.

There are some great photos of South Korean school lunches on this teacher’s Tumblr blog.

Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 11.34.44 AM To give a sense of just how important the issue is in South Korea, a couple of years ago, the city of  Seoul held a very contentious referendum about school lunch. Some members of municipal government had the foresight to push for healthy, free school meals for all of the 800,000-plus primary and middle school kids in the city’s public schools. Of course, such a proposal is costly ($380 million a year, according to this piece in Time) and the program faced opposition from Conservative members of council, including the mayor. (There was even a brawl in council chambers over the issue!)

As I’ve argued many times before, of course, I think the economic and social benefits of school lunch are vast and far-reaching in better health and school performance, among other things. Seems citizens of Seoul agreed (though voter turnout was low) and the universal free school lunch program was passed. The mayor resigned in frustration.

I hope kids and teachers in South Korea feel as strongly as some of their policy makers and I do about the positive impact of school lunch (no brawling, please!). And I look forward to hearing what they think about the lovely hardcover, brand-spanking new Korean version of my book!

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Filed under Kids and food, School feeding, School kitchens, School lunch, What's for Lunch?

Bias toward food equity

photograph from What's for Lunch? by Yvonne Duivenvoorden

photograph from What’s for Lunch? by Yvonne Duivenvoorden

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of talking to Mary Ito at CBC’s weekend morning show, Fresh Air, about What’s for Lunch? I told her about the learning curve I’ve had in my first experience writing for children. I talked about how I’ve heard in the past that if you really want to figure out if you understand something, explain it to a child. I think it’s true—have you ever tried to explain lightning or why clouds exist to a kid? Most of us will come up against the limits of our own memory/knowledge when it comes to explaining even such simple things. I don’t think it’s about dumbing down—I believe kids are much smarter and more sophisticated than many adults think—it’s more about breaking ideas down to their constituent parts, unravelling the complexity. Sometimes, it’s also about questioning the bias that you take for granted.

The subject came up because Mary asked me if I found it challenging to negotiate bias when writing a book for children. She said that the food system is political and that there are many competing voices arguing this way and that. (Not to mention billions of dollars spent by food companies to support their own interests—my words, not hers.) How did I choose to take a particular stand?

Continue reading

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Filed under Kids and food, School feeding, School lunch, What's for Lunch?

Food education is not a luxury

What’s for Lunch? has attracted some great responses on the international front, especially in Brazil. Yesterday, the World Food Programme’s Centre for Excellence Against Hunger—a collaboration between the government of Brazil and the WFP that started with a focus on best practises for school feeding—published a Q& A with me about the book and what I discovered in my research about how different nations around the world approach school meals.
Below, you’ll find one of their (rather tough) questions. To read the whole interview, click here.
Is the emphasis that is sometimes placed on nutritional education a luxury that only richer countries can afford? Or is it wrong to make the distinction between feeding and nurturing?
There are times of emergency when almost any food is good enough for a short period—during the heat of war, natural disaster, etc. But I think we all need to strive for something better than emergency rations devoid of taste, culture and pleasure. Children in developing nations should have all the opportunities that children elsewhere enjoy. Nutrition education is part of this. To alleviate anemia, for instance, we need to ensure children are offered food that is rich in iron, but we also need to talk to them about why it’s important, so they can pass it on to their parents and their own children as they grow older. But I also think food literacy needs to be more than just education about nutrients, micronutrients and food groups, educators should be talking with children about where food comes from, who grows it, how it’s grown, the politics of agriculture and the world of processed food. We have a deeply interconnected international food system, so these issues touch not just those in wealthy nations but people everywhere. In fact, you could easily argue that it’s the poor who benefit least in our current food system. Shouldn’t they have a chance to learn about how the system works and why? It seems to me that talking to children and helping them make the links between their food, their lives and those of people in the world around them is one of the very best way to truly transform the system so that it’s sustainable and just. I was really inspired by some groups in Peru that are working in collaboration with indigenous people to reclaim their food culture, language and traditions in part by connecting schoolchildren with elders in their communities who remember the old agricultural techniques and knowledge of plants. This is the kind of food education I’m talking about and it’s no luxury, it’s a necessity.

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Interview with Sweet Potato Chronicles

A couple of weeks back, I had the good fortune to be interviewed by Ceri Marsh, one of the smart women behind Sweet Potato Chronicles, a funny, useful and great-looking website devoted to the family meal. SPC offers recipes, product reviews, ideas for how to get your kids eating healthily and one of my favourite regular features: “What’s so great about…?” (sage, bay leaves, coffee, pumpkin, etc.). Ceri asked such good questions, I wanted to include a few of them here. For the complete interview, follow the link.

Q: What do you want kids to learn about the world from What’s For Lunch?

A: I hope that children who read (or flip through!) the book will see both their differences and similarities to other kids around the world. I hope they’ll recognize the way that food connects us all. I also hope they’ll read about the kids who are taking charge of what they eat at their schools and in their homes—demanding healthy sustainably grown food, asking questions about how it’s produced and by whom—and see that they can also make a difference.

Q: How important is it for kids to have some control/input in their own meals?

A: I’ve been working with our school garden for a few years now and have seen first-hand how kids who weren’t willing to try a new vegetable (or any veg at all!) ended up eating kale pesto simply because they grew the kale themselves. And I love my own son’s enthusiasm about the knobbly little carrots and bitsy peppers we grow in our tiny urban patch. There’s no question when children have an opportunity to grow, cook, prepare or even just get involved in choosing their food, they take more chances and will eat more healthily. But it’s also more than that: when paired with talk about what all this means (to the planet and their own bodies, for instance) they start to see that even in this small way, their personal choices can have a big impact on their world.

Q: Why do you think there is such a strong interest now in what kids eat at school? Is it the Jamie Oliver effect or is there more to it?

A: There’s no question Jamie Oliver has had a huge impact on the school lunch world. But I think that the interest in school lunch is part of a more widespread engagement in food issues. You can’t turn on your computer or open a newspaper without reading about food safety scares, environmental degradation caused by factory farming, escalating food prices, small-scale farmers leaving the land because they can’t make a living, the obesity crisis. People are starting to understand that the industrial system we’ve established over the course of the last few generations is not sustainable. Interest in school lunch and talking about food with children is part of this. If we can teach our children about food and how it’s connected to all these things they care about (their environment, their health, their community and culture) they might actually have a fighting chance of truly changing this system for the better.

Q: How hard or easy is it for parents to get more involved with the issues of food in schools? I just learned my 5 year old is being given chocolate milk for a snack at her Toronto public school. What the heck?

A: It took me a long time to figure out where I fit into my kids’ school as a parent—whether it’s about academic issues, food or volunteering my time. Nobody wants to be that guy when it comes to the teachers, other parents or administrators, marching in and wagging your finger about bake sales or insisting on whole-grain pizza dough on pizza day. But parents are key participants in the school system and we need to be both clear and respectful talking to schools about our expectations, hopes and concerns. Chocolate milk might be okay as a special treat, but serving it to 5 year olds every day doesn’t sound right at all. There was a huge debate about serving chocolate milk in schools in the US last year. Chef Ann Cooper, a key school meal activist otherwise known as the Renegade Lunch Lady, calls it “sugary soda in drag.” I think schools need to think carefully about the mixed messages they send children when they talk about healthy eating in class (the food groups, nutrients, etc.) and then urge them to sell cookie dough or chocolate bars to raise money or offer them processed food or sugary drinks as incentives or snacks.

For more from the Sweet Potato Chronicles interview, click here.

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Filed under City gardens, Kids and food, School gardens, School lunch, What's for Lunch?

Molly’s story

Photograph by Yvonne Duivenvoorden

Researching What’s for Lunch? I talked to and read about lots of amazing people all over the world doing great things to improve kids’ access to healthy food. It was very inspiring.

But, for me, one of the most moving parts of my research was learning about Dadaab refugee camp on the border of Kenya and Somalia. There, hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing violence in their homeland are crammed into a space intended for 90,000. Many kids don’t even go to school because the facilities are crowded and inadequate and they have to share text books and desks. But the children who do attend receive a hot meal provided by the World Food Programme. It’s usually very simple: corn-soy porridge fortified with vitamins and minerals. It’s not served in pretty dishes or colourful trays, but for many of the kids it’s the best—and often only—meal they’ll have all day.

There, school lunch is more than a perk for busy parents or even a way to embed food literacy into the already robust curriculum, it’s life-sustaining.

For World Food Day—mark your calendars for October 16—the World Food Programme (WFP) has a new campaign to raise awareness and funds for its excellent work all over the world, including school meal programs that ensure nearly 26 million kids in 60 countries receive a healthy meal each day. All you have to do is watch the video (above), take a quick quiz and one meal will be provided to a child through the WFP. Continue reading

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School lunch matters

With the recent publication of What’s for Lunch? I’ve been talking a lot about the potential for school lunch to transform schools and communities. I thought I’d try to express some of those possibilities in an easy-to-digest infographic ready for sharing. Please feel free to share, and let others know about the power of food.

Many thanks to Oliver Sutherns who designed and stick-handled the infographic from idea to reality!

Embed this image on your site:

<a href="http://unpackingschoollunch.wordpress.com/the-blog/school-lunch-matters/"><img src="http://unpackingschoollunch.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/school-lunch-infographic1.jpg" alt="School Lunch Matters Infographic" border="0" /></a><br />Brought to you by <a href="http://unpackingschoollunch.wordpress.com">Andrea Curtis</a>


Filed under City gardens, Kids and food, School feeding, School gardens, School kitchens, School lunch, What's for Lunch?

Slow food in schools

At my son’s school, lunch is eaten in a mad dash to recess. When we are resignedly (and with more than a touch of irritation) cleaning out his lunch box of half eaten sandwiches or barely touched pasta and browned apples, he says (pre-emptively), “But I diiiiidn’t have tiiiiiime….”

The lunchroom, frankly, isn’t conducive to eating slowly—or eating at all. It’s a gym the rest of the day—a place for running and throwing and playing. And the reality is, they don’t have a lot of time before they’re shuffled out the door.

Photograph of a typical Canadian lunch from What's for Lunch? copyright Yvonne Duivenvoorden

I was thinking about this the other day when someone asked me about what kind of research had been done on the benefits of slow food (in the broader sense rather than the Slow Food Movement) in schools. The idea of slowing down, enjoying your food, having conversations around the table, taking pleasure in the meal is about as far from the average Canadian lunchroom as Pluto from the Sun.

But there are some schools—Canadian and otherwise—working to change all that. Continue reading

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Filed under Kids and food, School feeding, School kitchens, School lunch

The lunch rush

It’s in the last few days of school before a break that inspiration (and will) on the school lunch front really and truly eludes me. I’m like a person new to running races: I come out strong and fade as I approach the finish line. You’d think that after 8 years of school lunch-making, I’d have developed some stamina.

The truth is, I really don’t like this chore—whether it’s at the beginning or end of the, uh, race. I like to cook, I love to eat, but making food for children that must fit in small containers and be consumed in five minutes or less while squeezed in a stinky gym (child #2) or eaten walking to the convenience store (child #1), is not something I relish.

I realize there are those bento moms who love making cute lunches for their admiring children (who no doubt happily gobble them up), but for most of the rest of us scrambling to make the meal from something the kiddos will actually eat,  making school lunch is unrewarding, tedious drudgery. We are the multitudes haunted by uneaten sandwiches and browned apples, by the gut-turning early morning aroma of tomato sauce on leftover pasta.

In fact, my loathing of this task was one of the reasons I pitched the idea for the book, What’s for Lunch? in the first place. I was in the shower (where all good ideas flow) and began to wonder what other parents around the world—most of whom live lives far more complicated and difficult than mine— do to feed their children at school.

The answer wasn’t straightforward—there are as many different approaches as there are countries—but it was nonetheless astonishing to me. There are far too many places in the world where kids don’t get enough to eat at school or elsewhere, or what they eat isn’t healthy, but in a surprising number of nations, citizens and governments have prioritized feeding kids a school meal. Places like Japan and France, Finland, Italy, Russia and India have taken on this responsibility because they believe that school meals will help kids grow and learn and become good citizens.

Next spring, my book, What’s for Lunch? How Schoolchildren Eat Around the World will be published by Red Deer Press here in Canada (it will come out later in 2012 in the U.S) and the answer will be available—in a beautifully designed and illustrated format—to other parents. I’ll be offering some sneak peeks in the new year as we get closer to publication.

In the meantime, I’ll be taking a holiday break from blogging…and making lunches. Happy holidays everyone!

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What does $1,000 get you?

Last week in Toronto, city council spent a great deal of time listening to the difficult stories of people arguing for the value of social services and against higher user fees and service cuts.

One of the funding streams on the chopping block is school nutrition programs. Readers of this blog will know that there is no universal school nutrition program in Canada—families in need rely on a patchwork of offerings.  In a twisted version of the “last in first out” layoff logic, schools that have most recently added these modest snack and breakfast (occasionally lunch) programs to their schedule will be the first to lose them.

After what was no doubt one particularly heart-rending deputation from a school nutrition program coordinator, the mayor’s brother, councillor Doug Ford, handed the woman a cheque for $1,000 for her school.

She was apparently speechless.

I’m not interested in casting aspersions on Ford’s motives. It was a generous, spontaneous gesture.

But what about the 14,000 other children whose programs are getting chopped unceremoniously? Where’s their money? (According to The Toronto Star, the bill would be $380,000.) Is Ford going to cough up for every school that has a story to tell?

My issue is not with the gesture but with the attitude behind it. Ford and his ilk seem to think that government’s job is to clear the snow and repair the roads rather than “meddle” with the health and welfare of children and people struggling on low incomes. Private charity, they say in word and deed, is the place to turn for the latter.

And yet Ford’s own actions reveal starkly the inadequacy and arbitrariness of relying on the vagaries of private donors.  A handful of kids have a snack while thousands of others go hungry (literally in many cases, according to the deputants.)

Of course, people love these stories. Witness the warm fuzzy feelings so many have about the good Samaritans who have been paying off layaway gifts at discount retailers this holiday season. It makes us feel good about the world, especially at this time of year when we’re all looking/hoping for reasons to believe in the better side of humanity.

And while I’d never want to deny how important this is on a psychological level, shouldn’t we be looking upstream on this? Demanding our democratically elected governments—whose job it is to ensure our society functions in all our interests, not just those who benefit from tax cuts—care for those who need help in careful, nonarbitrary and adequate ways?

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Filed under Kids and food, School feeding, School lunch

What’s the best thing you can do for your health?

Eat organic? Grow a veggie garden? Get married? Get divorced? Meatless Monday? More protein? Zumba? Skip the fries in the cafeteria line? The way to better health sometimes feels like a quagmire of confusion.

But Dr. Mike Evans posits a simple answer to the perennial question in this fun and accessible new short film/animated lecture called 23 and 1/2 hours. It’s aimed at adults, but the same goes for kids.

Dr. Mike

Dr. Mike is a multi-talented Toronto doc and all-round great guy— he’s founder of the Health Design Lab at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, an Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of Toronto, a staff physician at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and a regular contributor on CBC radio’s Fresh Air.

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Filed under Kids and food, School feeding