This document is a chapter of the Ottawa Food Action Plan, one of the outputs of the Food For All Project, a collaborative, community-based food research and action project between 2009-2012, which was led by Just Food and the University of Ottawa. Some of the information may no longer be up to date.
- • A city where all school-aged children are provided healthy foods (local when possible), and knowledge about the food system through their educational institutions.
- • A city where community groups, elected officials (at all levels of government), parents, students, and educational institutions work together to foster food citizenship – an awareness of the impacts of food choices on personal, community, and environmental health – in children and youth.
In order to create healthy school food environments in Ottawa, there are many changes that need to happen. Much of it will happen within the school community including School Boards, school staff, parents, students and food providers, however municipal support is also required. This policy provides some of the necessary steps to support the work that has already been initiated at the provincial level.
It is recommended that:
1. The four school boards, in collaboration with Ottawa Public Health, and other relevant community stakeholders, monitor and evaluate (at the municipal level) the implementation and progress of the PPM 150 (School Food and Beverage Policy) provincial initiative and post any findings regarding the PPM150 initiative publicly.
2. The four school boards implement purchasing policies to further increase the proportion of healthy foods and to increase the use of locally produced foods available in Ottawa schools.
- a. A standardized training and certification program, developed and implemented Ottawa Public Heath and the four school boards, would ensure that in-school vendors involved in the preparation and sale of food in the school are aware of the implications of purchasing policies, as well as PPM 150. This could be a one-day training program with a recertification every two years. Training components would not only include mandatory food safety training and PPM 150 regulations, but would also incorporate information about local food supply and distribution and the benefit of using local foods when possible.
3. The City of Ottawa, in collaboration with Ottawa Public Heath and the four school boards, enhance the information available to parents regarding healthy lunchbox ideas, healthy food purchasing, and fundraising ideas that incorporate healthy foods or non-food items.
- a. A number of initiatives are currently underway to provide information to schools and parents in providing healthy food for students. Some examples include:
- i. The Champlain Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Network provides fact sheets and resources for schools on healthy lunches, healthy food fundraising, and healthy classroom rewards.17
- ii. Ottawa Public Health provides nutrition and healthy eating information for parents and schools.
- b. Additional resources could be provided in the form of newsletters, a website, a phone line, or meetings with parents provided within school hours and at other city facilities such as recreation centres.
4. The City of Ottawa, in collaboration with Ottawa Public Heath and the four school boards, undertake an inventory of school facilities to determine what food preparation amenities currently exist. The city can play an important role in ensuring that a food production area, a dedicated eating area, and outdoor space for a garden are included in the construction of any new schools and considered when renovations are planned for existing schools.
- • School Food and Beverage Policy PPM 150 (School Food and Beverage Policy) of the Ministry of Education (Provincial); 18
- • City of Ottawa Public Health;
- • City of Ottawa Board of Health;
- • 4 School Boards in Ottawa (Ottawa-Carleton District School Board; Ottawa Catholic School Board; Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario; Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est)
The goal of the new School Food and Beverage Policy (PPM 150) is to ensure that the food sold at publicly funded schools contributes to a well-balanced, nutritious diet. However this initiative targets only one part of a wide continuum of places where children and youth eat. Additionally, the notion of food citizenship is lacking from the PPM150, which has a narrow focus on nutrition. The term “food citizenship” is defined as the practice of engaging in food-related behaviours that support, rather than threaten, the development of a democratic, socially and economically just, and environmentally sustainable food system19. Thus, in addition to the introduction of PPM 150, there is still a need for fostering food citizenship both through educational institutions and augmented through city-supported community programming.
In order to maximize the impact of the School Food and Beverage Policy (PPM 150) consistent messaging is necessary both in and out of schools. A child who learns in school about the benefits of healthy habits for growth should receive the same messaging and healthy food choices outside of school, for example at the community recreational centre on weekends. This would complement the efforts of the PPM 150 initiative. According to research that examined the implementation of food policies in Quebec, “When a school food policy is adopted by a provincial government, it creates a framework for the policies adopted at the local level.”20 The municipal government has an important role to play in developing and enforcing healthy food programming and messaging in all areas of a child’s life.
Additionally, there is no review process that comprehensively looks at purchasing policies from pre-school establishments all the way through to post-secondary institutions. Successful revision of purchasing policies to healthy and increasingly local foods would be a part of an integrated, highly effective environment to enable children to learn and apply healthy eating habits throughout their learning and development.
Parents need additional opportunities to learn more about PPM 150 and what it takes to build a school environment that supports healthy eating. Although the PPM 150 addresses the food being sold in schools, there are currently no supplemental educational materials that can help students and parents to bring food from home that fits PPM 150 guidelines. This could be a great opportunity for children and their parents to enhance their knowledge and skills in preparing healthy lunches for the school day.
Finally, there are currently no plans for the monitoring or evaluation of the PPM 150 as it affects Ottawa. Nor are there any plans for reporting the progress of the implementation to Ottawa parents or the general public. Evaluation plans need to be developed before the policy implementation begins to ensure that the needs of the local community are being met through this provincial initiative.
According to the Province of Manitoba21, healthy school-based food programs are important because:
1) Education and health are intimately linked;
2) Students spend as much time at school as in any other environment;
3) Next to parents, schools have the most impact on shaping children’s eating habits;
4) Students typically have at least one snack or meal at school per day
The PPM 150 initiative is set to be implemented by the beginning of the 2011-12 school year in all publicly funded elementary and secondary schools in the province of Ontario. School Boards have been working with the support of Ottawa Public Health to prepare themselves for this deadline. PPM 150 is the beginning of healthier school food environments.
Appendix B: Background
Policy Detail #1 Evaluation and Monitoring
Evaluating school food policies is critical to improving content, enhancing policy support and implementation, and ensuring that policies meet objectives. Additionally, policies must be flexible enough to respond to the changing needs of schools and students. Evaluations help assess resource utilization, the level of stakeholder involvement, the extent of policy implementation, and intended/unintended consequences. Finally, evaluation also provides much needed accountability to stakeholders and funders, and strengthens the evidence-base for future decisions.
Key aspects of proper evaluation include:
- a) Ensuring that a consistent framework is applied for monitoring and evaluation;
b) Identifying existing evaluation activities so as to reduce overlap and increase efficiencies;
c) Selecting appropriate indicators to monitor;
d) Evaluating in a consistent and ongoing manner; and
e) Repeating evaluations22.
A comprehensive checklist for the evaluation of Healthy Food School Policies was developed by the Government of Saskatchewan and is available online: http://www.education.gov.sk.ca/Healthy-School-Foods-Checklist
The USA has successfully created a new system that allows states to monitor changes in 11 policy areas, including school food, marketing and nutrition education23; Canada does not have the evaluation mechanisms developed to the same extent for school food policies24. Regardless of the monitoring and evaluations conducted at the provincial level, additional evaluations that take into account the local community dynamics should be conducted and made available to the public at the municipal level.
Policy detail # 2- Healthy and Local Purchasing Policies with Standardized Training and Certification
The PPM 150 initiative has made significant changes to the types of food available in schools. However, to increase the amount of food that is locally sourced, school boards can implement additional purchasing policies that stipulate the types of food that should be prioritized within their schools.
Based on the requirements of PPM 150 initiative alone, establishing a program to educate and certify those who wish to prepare and sell food to schools would ensure that the updated provincial food and nutrition standards are met. The training program would be specific to each school board to ensure that any additional requirements (for example, a requirement to purchase a particular portion of locally produced foods) are included. The two objectives of food handling and safety (food handlers training) and healthy, seasonal food selection could be best met by combining them into a single course offered at the municipal level.
For over two decades the City of Ottawa has offered a food safety course to food providers and the general public. In 1989 food handler training became a one-day course with examination. The course is designed to meet the content requirements of the Ontario Ministry of Health Protection and Promotion Act to ensure safe food handling. This on-going training and certification process has been very successful in ensuring that certified food handlers meet basic health and safety standards. According to Sherry Beadle, Program Manager of Inspection for Ottawa Public Health, “a food handler trained in food safety is less likely to cause food borne illness”. Similarly, “food handler training can improve the knowledge and practices of food handlers; and selected community-based education programs can increase public knowledge of food safety.”25
Policy Detail #3 – Supporting Parents
As early as 1990, Health Canada identified schools as the ideal setting to reach children about nutritional health. Children consume on average one third of their daily caloric intake at school26. Of course, this means that they consume up to two thirds of their intake elsewhere. As a research report from Quebec notes, “Although the school is an excellent intervention environment to reach this population, it is, nevertheless, not a closed world. The family, the surrounding community and the wider social context must also evolve in order to allow continuous improvement of the food environment for youth and the greatest possible access to an active lifestyle.”27
‘Facilitating factors’ for young people’s (11-16 years) eating habits consistently identify ‘encouragement from the family’ as an important support mechanism28. Therefore, ensuring the family has the information and support they need is crucial for changing youth eating habits.
In one Canadian study on the implementation of school food policies, the majority of the parents interviewed indicated that they were not aware of the nutritional policy at the school where their child attended. The study concluded that lack of effective communication among schools, parents, and students was a concern because support from parents and students is crucial to the success of school nutrition policy implementation; this partnership has been shown to be most successful where information exchange helps everyone become more engaged. 29
Another facilitating factor for successful school nutrition policies is the utilization of multi-stakeholder working groups to develop and implement policies. A common barrier for the implementation of school nutrition policies is a lack of human resources30; for PPM150 to be successful, the Ottawa school boards and the school staff will require the full support of the parents and the community-at-large.
Ottawa Public Health has been preparing Ottawa schools and school boards to implement PPM 150 this past year. Enhancing their services would help parents to be better informed and more supportive of their children and the efforts of their children’s educational institutions.
Policy Detail #4 School Food Facilities
Currently the only Ottawa elementary schools preparing food on a regular basis are the 148 schools that participate in the Ottawa School Breakfast Program. These schools have already had a facilities inventory and assessment31. However, those schools not participating in the School Breakfast Program may be lacking this assessment of food facilities.
Elementary schools in Canada were initially designed on the premise that students went home for lunch. About 30 years ago, that practice began to change and students began eating their home-prepared lunches in the classrooms. It is not the practice in Canada that elementary students eat together in one central location. Nor is it the practice to feed elementary school students common meals by food-service providers. Therefore if our goal is to provide healthy foods in Ottawa schools, dedicated food preparation and storage areas are necessary.
Christine Lauzon-Foley, Manager of the Ottawa School Breakfast Program, outlines the program’s challenges as follows: “The School Breakfast Program currently supports student nutrition programs in 148 schools in Ottawa including breakfast and snack programs. Throughout our program’s 21-year history, we have worked closely with local school boards and Ottawa Public Health to provide nutritious meals for children in-need in a safe environment. Although every measure is taken to ensure that programs meet safe food handling standards, it is often challenging due to inadequate space and facilities. With the commitment currently being made by various levels of government to ensure that our students receive the proper nutrition they need to grow and learn, we would like to recommend that all new schools built, and that any renovations made to existing schools, include proper kitchen facilities. By doing so we can all work together to support the equitable delivery of student nutrition programs to students in-need.” 32
Moreover, the type of breakfast program offered in each school is determined by the type of facilities available at each location. Schools without 3-basin sinks and/or dishwashers with sanitizing agents may not be able to certain types of foods such as eggs. Schools without fridges cannot serve dairy products and are less likely to serve fruits and vegetables. Moreover, some school facilities do not have access to water outside of bathrooms, fountains, and/or janitorial water supply. These schools will not be able to serve foods that require any preparation, limiting the types of food that they can provide to students. Currently, it is not clear how many elementary schools in Ottawa have adequate kitchen facilities and how many do not.
Ottawa elementary schools wanting to offer a hot lunch program must use off-site food service providers, which usually results in meals such as pizza or sandwiches33. If on-site kitchen facilities were available and run by trained food handlers, students would have access to a wider variety of nutritious foods. As well, for schools with food-producing gardens, foods grown augment meal programs as well as teach students valuable food growing and preparation skills. Food producing gardens provide children with a better understanding of where their food comes from and teaches children how to incorporate locally-grown produce into their daily menu-planning.
17 Champlain Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Network, “Healthy Schools 2020” initiative. Further information is available online,http://www.healthyschools2020.ca/en_tools_and_resources.php#7
20 Baril, Gerald. (2008). “School Food Policies: A Knowledge Synthesis on the Implementation Process,” Government of Quebec, accessed online April 2011 at http://www.inspq.qc.ca/pdf/publications/858_SchoolfoodPol_final.pdf
21 Government of Manitoba, (n.d.). “Healthy Foods in Schools – Policy,” accessed online April 2011 athttp://www.gov.mb.ca/healthyschools/foodinschools/policy.html
23 Although, according to Health Canada’s Environmental Scan, “Food and nutrition surveillance is becoming an international priority. This provides opportunities for collaboration with other countries on surveillance initiatives. For example, the United States is willing to share, at no cost, the knowledge and technologies it has developed as part of its very comprehensive and sophisticated food and nutrition monitoring system. There are also growing opportunities for internationally linked surveillance data bases.” April 2011 at http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/surveill/environmental_scan-eng.php#a3.2
24 Smith D. (2010). “What policies exist in schools and school boards in Canada which encourage schools to increase the availability of healthy and/or local foods? What factors have an influence on the implementation of these policies?” The Ottawa Hospital Internship Program.
25 Campbell ME, Gardner CE, Dwyer JJ, Isaacs SM, Krueger PD, Ying JY. (1998). “Effectiveness of public health interventions in food safety: A systematic review,” Canadian Journal of Public Health; 89(3):197-202
26 Smith D. (2010). “What policies exist in schools and school boards in Canada which encourage schools to increase the availability of healthy and/or local foods? What factors have an influence on the implementation of these policies?” The Ottawa Hospital Internship Program.
27 Baril, Gerald. (2008). “School Food Policies: A Knowledge Synthesis on the Implementation Process,” Government of Quebec, accessed online April 2011 at http://www.inspq.qc.ca/pdf/publications/858_SchoolfoodPol_final.pdf, page 12.
28 Shepherd J, Harden A, Rees R, Brunton G, Garcia J, Oliver S, et al. (2006). “Young people and healthy eating: A systematic review of research on barriers and facilitators.” Health Educ Res; 21(2): 239-257.
29 MacLellan D, Holland A, Taylor J, McKenna M, Hernandez K. (2010). “Implementing School Nutrition Policy: Student & Parent Perspectives,”Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research, 71(4): 172-176.
30 Smith D. (2010). “What policies exist in schools and school boards in Canada which encourage schools to increase the availability of healthy and/or local foods? What factors have an influence on the implementation of these policies?” The Ottawa Hospital Internship Program.