Reflection on Student Nutrition Webinar

Student Nutrition Programs: Partnerships in Canada that Grow

This week, The Circle proudly hosted a webinar on student nutrition programs in First Nations communities entitled, “Partnerships in Canada that Grow”. We felt honored to participate as our informative speakers from the organizations Breakfast Clubs of Canada, ONEXONE and Breakfast for Learning spoke passionately to the opportunities provided through student nutrition programs in Canada, especially in First Nations communities. The speakers covered much ground upon the broad issues impeding youth nutrition in remote First Nations communities, but also made space for personal accounts that truly shed light upon the profound impact these breakfast programs can have for youth in the long term.

To begin the webinar we polled our participants: 50% (N=53) of our participants ran student nutrition programs and amongst these, 70% claimed that the biggest challenge they face is a lack of funds, whilst 50% reported that their largest obstacle was finding volunteers. However, of those running the programs, everyone reported that their student nutrition programs are “successful”, and the speakers gave ample reason to support that finding.

Freddie Wood and Judith Barry of Breakfast Clubs of Canada (BCC) are attempting to break the cycle of poverty by targeting underprivileged schools to offer nutritious breakfasts each school day, with an added emphasis upon the nourishing of self-esteem among students. So far the response has been extremely positive from both teachers and students, especially in remote First Nations communities. Their dedication to this goal is such that if a plane isn’t able to deliver the food to a remote community, BCC will simply drive it there. Amongst the many supplementary programs facilitated through BCC, the “Dreams and Heroes Program” encourages students to speak about their dreams and passions for themselves and their communities as a means of promoting dialogue about healthy relationships and lifestyles. BCC’s programs are made possible through the dedication of local volunteers and teachers, who are offered training that is catered towards the specific needs of each community.

Next we heard from Daniella DeMaré from Breakfast for Learning (BFL) who spoke to the many far-reaching benefits of school nutrition programs, such as more positive school climates, decreased disruption in class, increased attention, positive socialization among students and increased academic performance. So far BFL has supported over 4,431 breakfast, lunch and snack programs, serving over 20,000 students across Canada! The necessary link for the success of these programs, Daniella explained, is a committed and motivated team of volunteers. She said, “it is not enough to just have one passionate teacher running the show because there is often a high turnover of teachers in smaller northern communities.” Another crucial aspect of BFL is a stress upon nutrition education. This type of education is promoted through information handouts, posters, story telling, etc, but above all, is fuelled through casual discourse between students and BFL volunteers about the importance of nutritious eating. The students emerge from the table well-fed and well-read about nutrition!

Lastly, Angela Analok and An Richardson of ONEXONE began with some hard truths, namely a humbling statistic stating that First Nations children suffer the greatest levels of poverty in Canada, and 1/3 of these children suffer from poverty and, as a result, hunger. In 2001 ONEXONE, in partnership with Pepsi, started a pilot project that has now grown into a series of programs that feed almost 3,500 underprivileged students each day across Canada. 13 of their 20 programs are located in isolated communities, delivering healthy and nutritious food to the community with the help of volunteers. Similar to Breakfast Clubs of Canada, ONEXONE takes the time to train a community coordinator in food safety, giving them the support they need to keep their breakfast programs alive. ONEXONE staff is there every step of the way to ensure the program is well supplied, safe and appropriately financed, putting great emphasis on community partnerships of all kinds, as well as corporate sponsorships to minimize costs and maximize resources.

In concluding the webinar, Freddie Wood (BCC) spoke to the lasting benefit of these programs in a statement that really hit home: “Offering a healthy meal is just one strand in the overall nourishment of the needs of students. When you examine wellness from a holistic standpoint, it’s important. When I look at interactions between children during the meal it enhances relationships between students, and touches on all aspects of wellness. A healthy meal offers students an opportunity to succeed in school and in life.”

The Circle was pleased to be able to provide a forum within which open discourse between these programs’ leaders and volunteers from communities across Canada was possible. We hope our listeners will find further use for the information shared during the webinar in all their endeavors. Power to you!

Below is a resource mentioned during the webinar that provides a step-by-step guide to those interested in creating a student nutrition program in a First Nations community:

First Nations and Inuit Health Branch—“Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds”: a new resource for meal programs in schools. Visit the link to the Toolkit

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