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High hopes for federal government's new national school food program


Programs that help feed children in Waterloo Region are eager to learn more about the federal government’s pledge to create a new national school food program.

The Prime Minister announced Monday that the upcoming budget will include a $1 billion funding commitment, over a five-year period, to provide food assistance to an additional 400,000 children.

“We do have about seven million young people in Canada, so that’s a very small number,” Erin Moraghan, the CEO of Nutrition for Learning, said.

But, she adds, the announcement is a step in the right direction.

“A student nutrition program is an opportunity for students to have equal access to healthy, nourishing, and oftentimes local foods.”

Nutrition for Learning currently provides resources for Waterloo Region, but each school decides and implements a plan that works best for their community.

Moraghan said students are often involved in the planning process.

“It’s an amazing opportunity for students to learn about menu planning and budgeting,” she added. “There are some schools who do have student and staff-run hot lunches. Sometimes it’s only once a week or a couple times a week. We’ve got high schools who are doing some really fun smoothie and hot soup stations.”
Moraghan explained the models in most schools are based on grab-and-go foods.

“But the programs are universally-accessible, which means that every student has access to those healthy whole foods without ever needing to ask for them, or to prove the need. And we know that it’s that non-stigmatizing approach that creates a system that works.”

There’s no data on exactly how many kids in Waterloo Region need food assistance. On the national level, Statistics Canada reported in 2022 that one in four children live in a food-insecure household.

“When I look at our approach here in Ontario – which is centered around universal access – in Waterloo Region alone we’re serving about 100,000 students each year,” said Moraghan. “So 400,000 [in the federal announcement] – it leaves me with a lot of questions. I don’t know what that strategy is.”

Every province has their own system for providing food in schools. Some use a sliding, pay-what-you-can system.

Organizations are wondering what a national school food program will look like, if it will change existing programs or the federal government will simply provide the funding.

They hope the April 16 budget will answer those questions, and that the budget will pass.

“This has been a really long time coming and there’s been countless people advocating for this,” added Moraghan.

She said the announcement will also present some challenges around their messaging, as many people think school nutrition programs are already funded by the government.

“The province’s funding accounts for just under 30 per cent of our overall funding for this particular year, and it reduces every year as we grow.”

Moraghan said they rely heavily on the community to bridge the gap and make it possible to provide food for all students. Top Stories

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