Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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NS school food policy is a sham and a shame

I was so proud of the Nova Scotia school food and beverage policy. It came out years before most other provinces and still seemed superior to the policy which came out in Ontario just last year. Since returning to Nova Scotia I have become increasingly disillusioned. Several people have told me about issues with foods that are currently available in schools. While it seems that some schools are adhering to the policy others are not or are at least doing so to the loosest degree possible.

The above photo was kindly provided to me by Drew Moore as evidence of the current state of school lunches. Pretty much all I see in this photo are carbs and fat. This is exactly the sort of lunch that’s going to lead children to be lethargic and inattentive in the afternoon. Another friend of mine (the one who prompted this post) asked me if there was anyway that I could get into schools and do some work with the cafeterias as the food choices are dismal. I was puzzled because of the school nutrition policy but apparently this has fallen by the wayside. She told me that large bags of popcorn are always available as well as cookies and fruit and vegetables are scarce. One of her students forgot a lunch one day so she went down to the cafeteria to get him something and came back with an orange and a piece of toast as those were the only two remotely healthy options available. Another parent told me that there’s no cafeteria in his children’s school but the snack shack doesn’t sell soda or chocolate. Upon further questioning it was revealed that there are “questionable alternatives” such as Sun Chips, fruit gummies, chocolate milk, baked chips, and chocolate granola bars. None of these seem like optimal choices to me. Just because something isn’t completely unhealthy doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. Replacing regular chips with baked chips may provide children with less fat but it’s not actually providing them with more nutrients.

Why do we even bother having a nutrition policy if we’re not going to follow it? We’re not teaching students to make healthy choices. We’re definitely not making the “healthy choice the easy choice” as the slogan goes. It seems to me that the only things we’re teaching students is that it’s not necessary to follow through and enforce policies and that baked chips are nutritious.

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Serving up outrage: Are school food and beverage policies the way to go?

Some students in Ontario have launched a Kony-esque campaign to bring “junk food” back to school cafeterias. You can check out their video here.

As a public health dietitian in Ontario I was mandated to support the implementation of this policy. However, I have very mixed feelings about it and now that I’m no longer in that position I feel that I can voice them more freely. I think that the foods that the policy targets are not necessarily the sensible foods to be targeting (for example, a chocolate chip granola bar will make the cut but the same brand of granola bar with almonds added will not because it contains too much fat!). Replacing regular potato chips with baked chips (and then categorizing those chips as a vegetable) strikes me as ludicrous. Again, the government was swayed by the lobbying of the dairy farmers and chocolate milk made the cut. Many of the foods that are still permitted for sale in schools are of poor nutritional quality but are being pushed as healthy choices. What is this teaching parents and students? Clearly, there are major flaws with the policy.

While I agree with the students that removing all of the “junk food” is not teaching them to make healthy choices I also believe that it is wrong for schools to be profiting from sales of nutritionally void to students. Schools should be nurturing children’s minds and bodies. Unfortunately, I don’t have all the answers. I’m not sure how to reconcile these two concerns. Perhaps school cafeterias should be prevented from being profit-driven. Then we might see the development of more creative and appealing meals and snacks for sale in the schools.