Tag Archives: school lunch in Canada

They like it!

Screen Shot 2013-06-07 at 6.01.39 PMFor a writer, there’s  nothing better than hearing from a reader that they liked your book. So when I heard that a whole bunch of readers—kid readers—decided to name What’s for Lunch? their favourite English nonfiction book of the year, I was pretty excited.

Seems the librarians and students in the Riverside School Board in Quebec, near Montreal, started a new literary prize to (in their words) “promote Canadian literary culture and nurture a love of reading.” They call it Riverside Sparks and I am delighted and honoured to be one of the first recipients of this new annual award.

I am especially pleased because I know what tough critics kids can be—not to mention the notion that I might have a small part in nurturing a love of reading (one of my favourite projects). I wrote What’s for Lunch? hoping that reading about what other kids are doing would inspire children to take charge of their school lunch and the food system. Now these kids are inspiring me!

What’s for Lunch? will be available in all Riverside schools next year.

The book has also been recently recognized with the Stepping Stones Honor Award, given by the multicultural magazine of the same name. The award is intended to “promote respect for the ecological richness and cultural diversity of the world.”  And What’s for Lunch? is a longlist nominee for the 2013 Information Book Award from the Children’s Literature Roundtables of Canada.

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FREE teacher’s resources

What’s for Lunch? was created for kids, their parents and teachers to initiate discussions about food and the way it connects to so many issues that we all care about. Things like the environment, poverty, hunger, our health and the health of our communities.

cafeteria-tray.pngBut reading the book is just the beginning. I hope families and educators will use it as a bouncing-off point for more in-depth discussions. That’s why, with the help of my publisher, Red Deer Press, I’ve created a FREE Teaching Guide for use in classrooms everywhere. The guide has questions aimed at initiating talk about what kids eat around the world, teaching ideas inspired by the book’s content, blacklines for easy printout—all downloadable here. (It’s about 5 MB.)

There are curriculum connections to health and nutrition, environmental sustainability, diversity, urban/rural connections, media education and much more. From the Pizza Pie game to Untangling the Food System to a more in-depth session we call The Lottery of Life, I hope these resources will inspire teachers to bring the ideas in What’s for Lunch? into their classroom. I’d love to hear how it goes. Email me (andrea at andreacurtis dot ca) and let me know!

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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?

Writing for children: an education

(The nice people at 49th Shelf asked me to contribute a blog post for the site, and I decided to write about the experience of publishing my first book aimed at kids. Here’s a excerpt. You can read the whole thing here.)  


The spot where I stare idly at my computer (or at the street below)

Like many people who have children and also write for a living, I’ve long imagined writing something that my own kids would read (and, I dared to hope, enjoy). I know they suspect I sit and stare idly at my computer screen all day long, so tangible evidence of my labour in a medium they could appreciate would be welcome. I’ve been doing this for too long to think writing a book—for children or anyone else—would actually be easy, but I did venture to hope that a kids’ book would take less time and be different in intensity from writing for adults. Kind of like hitting the refresh button between other projects.

I was wrong on almost all counts. Writing for children is hard. It’s intense. And depending on what it is you’re writing, can take just as long as any adult book.

My idea with What’s for Lunch? was to use the lens of school lunch around the world as a way to look at the complexity of the international food system. I would take this common experience kids have all over the world and through it explore tough global issues like poverty, hunger, the obesity epidemic, sustainable agriculture and fast food culture. I knew it would require a light touch, a sense of fun and careful use of language and ideas. I knew, too, that I’d have to do a lot of research. But what I found was that culling that research and bringing it into focus for children was a task requiring not just the steak knife I’m accustomed to using to make cuts, but also a machete. I would cut and filter, then cut and filter some more—honing the research down to the barest of bones, as precise and relevant as possible.

I learned, too, that the ability to move between fun anecdote and big concept is a tightrope—lean one way and the book becomes dull; the other and it’s a wackadoodle circus that fails to touch on the important issues. Add to that the fact that children’s authors need to have carefully tuned antennae for cultural bias (do the French really love stinky cheese or is that just a Gallophobe stereotype?), and the tightrope grows ever more tricky.

But even while trying to negotiate this new balancing act, there was one thing that turned out as I hoped.  Writing for children did indeed act as a mental refresh button for me—as both writer and parent. It forced me to think more carefully about what we expect of children as readers and learners. I began to realize more fully how we often fail to give kids the credit they deserve for being wise and insightful, able to grasp multiple levels of an idea at the same time.

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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?

Window shopping

Type books on Toronto’s Queen Street West always has fun, smart and beautiful window displays (not to mention great selection and knowledgeable staff). And while I may be biased (see bottom centre), I think this back to school window really takes the, uh, cake.  It’s hard to tell from this picture, but those floating faces—mustachio’d, long-lashed—are sandwiches. Talk about getting creative with lunch.


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Canoe trip rules

As far as I’m concerned, family food rules go out the window on our summer canoe trip. My kids get the kind of packaged cookies that love but we rarely buy, dessert at every meal and assorted treats offered liberally throughout the day. Cleaning your face before (or after) eating is optional and licking plates is encouraged. To me, it’s all part of the fun of being in the bush.

The canoe trip “kitchen”

On a recent trip in Northern Ontario where the lake was so quiet it made the days and nights feel gloriously long, my youngest son asked me over and over (and over): “Why can’t we cook this food at home?” The truth is—special treats aside—the actual meals weren’t so different from our regular fare (pasta, rice with chickpea curry). But everything always tastes better on a canoe trip.

Maybe it’s that you have to work together to make your food (collect wood, soap pots, tend fire, tend pots, etc.) or the taste of the flames, or just being outdoors  improves a person’s appetite. When I was kid, we called the magic spice that makes canoe trip food so yummy “vitamin K”— for the ash and debris that gets into everything when you’re cooking over an open fire.

As we head into the new school year in a few short weeks, I wouldn’t mind bringing a bit of this into our daily lunch-making ritual. Maybe I should bottle a little “Vitamin K” and sprinkle it on my boys’ packed lunches so they’ll gobble them up like they did all that delicious canoe trip food.

The Pickerel River

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What’s the choice?

As parents, we’re often told to give our children choices. This will offer kids a sense of power and provide them with the notion that they are capable, independent people able to make good decisions on their own. Attempting to employ this technique when my boys were younger, I would often find myself offering them a choice between what I wanted them to do and something horrible. Say, “Well, daaaarling, if you don’t like dinner, you can make a choice to sit here and eat like a civilized person with the rest of the family or you can choose to go upstairs to your bedroom and be all by yourself while the rest of us enjoy ourselves (and, oh yeah, no dessert).”

I’m not sure that was what the parenting experts meant, but it worked for a while.

I was thinking about it this week when a YouTube video made by high school students in Toronto complaining about the provincial ban on junk food in cafeterias made the rounds.

The gist of the student’s argument—told using a KONY2012-inspired style—was that because of the new “healthier” offerings in the caf, most of the kids are leaving school grounds to eat lunch. School boards, they said, are losing money, and kids are still eating junk. The narrator argued that since adults are always talking about how kids need opportunities to make good choices—why not give high school students a choice in what they eat?

Continue reading

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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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Kids can change the food system

I’ve written about FoodShare here many times before. But when it comes to kids and food in Canada, they are true leaders, getting out in front of the issue of school meals and, especially in the last two years, food literacy. As executive director Debbie Field says in this new short video about their work, social change happens when kids get engaged by an idea. Changing children’s eating habits and attitudes will help change the food system.

I couldn’t agree more. My favourite part of writing What’s for Lunch? was talking to and reading about kids who’d taken action around their school food. (Read more stories about kids taking charge here, here and here.)  FoodShare imagines a time when not only will we have a universal school nutrition program, no Canadian child will graduate from high school without having had food education as part of the curriculum.

The Great Big Crunch, FoodShare’s annual apple love-in to promote healthy, local eating is coming up March 8th. Schools and teachers can sign up and access great resource material here.

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