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Providing healthy choices for kids

After pilot year, project looking to expand to 23 schools

“You got my son to eat salad. What can I do for you?” said one parent during a Sunday evening phone call.

Another parent stopped in the grocery store to say the project had changed their family meals for the better.

These conversations, said co-ordinators Rosie Gair and Claire-Louise Osmond, have been commonplace since the South Shore School Food Project was introduced.

“It’s why we’re doing the work,” said Gair. “It’s those (moments) that really keep you motivated.” The South Shore School Food Project, which was piloted in five schools during the 2017-18 academic year, is focused on both building healthy menus and changing food culture in schools.

The model prioritizes nurturing lifelong healthy habits for children while prioritizing eating local.

“When we talk about local farmers and producers, we’re not talking about a small catchment area. We’re talking about Nova Scotia farmers and producers,” said Osmond.

The model, said Gair, is scalable for the rest of the province.

“In order to do that, we have to organize resources that will fit those schools. We have to build the resources for menus, recipes,” she said, adding that the short-term goal is to expand to the 23 schools along the South Shore.

Osmond said the project has worked on establishing relationships with local producers.

This includes organizing the purchase and delivery of products to schools.

And according to Osmond, the results speak for themselves.

“We know that when children are well fed, they show up well in the classroom,” she said. “We’re growing the market of healthy eaters.”

But at this time, the project is still working on creating relationships throughout the region to fund work.

When asked if the project is currently seeking funding from the government, Osmond responded that they are exploring several options.

The project announced on Thursday, Oct. 11 a funding partnership with Food Nova Scotia.

The South Shore School Food Project has been working in partnership with the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) and the South Shore Regional Centre for Education since the idea for a program was discussed in 2016.

Shelley Moran, a public health nutritionist with the NSHA, said the project wouldn’t have been possible without collaboration.

“I think that the partnership piece is key,” said Moran, whose job entails assessing food practices in schools.

The 2016 assessment indicated people were ready for change.

“We needed a new model that was more equitable,” she said.

Several other local organizations have also made donations.

And thanks to the funding, the project has been able to expand to things like Cookhouse Kids interactive food education, salad bars and build-your-own-lunch programs.

Gair noted these programs help to expand the kids understanding of food.

“The salad bar is a very easy place to provide kids with the learning tools to talk about local. We talk about seasonality, we talk about farmers. It really provides choice for children,” she said.

The feedback has been highly positive.

“There is a demand and the kids are coming back. The kids are really enjoying the process,” said Gair.

Osmond added that the tenets of the program — healthy menus, food education and eating local — all add up to make an impact in the classroom.

“Good food can result in a totally different classroom experiences for those children, their peers and their teachers. It’s about creating equity,” she said.

“We offer education to our kids here in Nova Scotia. Well, the way we’re going to offer it more equitably is to make sure children are well nourished in a school environment.”

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