The worst lunch Chantal Ingram ever saw was a can of pop and half a family-sized bag of chips.
Then there was the juice box and four pieces of Halloween candy. That was pretty bad, too.
She’s the director of programs at Halton Food for Thought, a five-year-old initiative. The program makes healthy food readily available to students, and sets out to show children what’s good for them, what isn’t, and how to make food that’s good for you taste, well, good.
“It’s a great program that helps feed kids in schools so that they’re getting a balanced breakfast or meal or any sort of foods that helps get them throughout the day,” said Brad Park, CEO of Oakville’s United Way.
“Some days, with two working parents, you’re rushed, they don’t get a full balanced breakfast. It’s not just about feeding poor underprivileged kids. It’s about making sure that all kids have a healthy meal in them … so that they can learn properly and concentrate better.”
There are several nutritional programs offered by the organization, including a breakfast program, an emergency lunch program, and the farm-to-school program, which partners with farms around the GTA.
The classroom basket program has a variety of snacks readily available to students should they need extra food at lunch or simply a snack.
Each class carries a basket of apples, oranges, granola bars, fruit cups, and tuna with crackers, to make sure no kids are going hungry.
“The snack program gives an opportunity to teach about what a healthy snack can look like,” said Ingram.
“They won’t find any chocolate chip granola bars or cookies.”
The school, whose catchment area includes neighbourhoods with townhomes, million dollar properties and subsidized houses, is a tight-knit community of some 210 students from kindergarten to grade 5, said principal Leona Skanes.
Skanes said the school doesn’t ask questions when kids need to borrow from the basket.
“It’s for students who, for whatever reason, are hungry. Maybe they don’t get enough lunch to eat, or maybe they’ve forgotten their lunch,” she said.
“They use it when they need it. We don’t ask questions about that. We really encourage students to eat properly.”
With a diverse student population that includes Chinese, Indian and Muslim pupils, the snacks are a chance for the children to taste foods from around the world.
They’ve made chickpea and cheddar cheese salad, vegetables with baba ghanouj, an eggplant dip, and chickpea-based hummus, and fruit smoothies.
Only one snack on record has failed, and it was because the volunteers accidentally bought plain yogurt. The teachers happily gobbled that up.
“It’s really special they are able to do something like this for the children. And we so desperately need volunteers to ensure that these programs run,” said Skanes.
She says the most important part of the program is the lessons children learn — and pass along to their parents.
“It sends those messages home. What we found is we try to run seminars for parents and get them in to educate them but they won’t come, or they won’t listen,” she said.
“But when you educate the kids and the kids take the message home, that’s really the way to do it. Because the parents will listen to the kids if they’re asking for healthy food.”