When I was in high school, cafeteria food was a lot different than it is today! We didn’t have nutrition guidelines that I knew of, our pop machines were well stocked with what is now contraband pop and every Friday was (deep fried) fish and chips day. Nowadays we recognize that having healthy food in schools is important for students’ growth, learning and their health later in life. Some may argue that it’s too complicated or expensive to feed kids healthy choices in schools, but there are schools that are making it work and they are glimmers of hope across the north!
This week I went back to school, to Chetwynd Secondary School, to see how they’re making food skills a priority and getting the students involved in their cafeteria. Vice Principal and Foods Teacher Helen Toppin filled me in on some of their offerings, which includes a daily breakfast program (free to all students), daily hot lunch service, and a twice weekly salad bar. They also have vending machines that are filled with water, milk, juice, sandwiches, yogurt and granola bars. The best part? The students prepare all of the food daily in a credited cafeteria class led by Diane Mallia. As well, Ms. Toppin’s foods classes are mandatory for Grades 8 and 9, and her three optional senior foods classes are well attended.
I was never even encouraged to take a foods class (or home economics, as we called it) in elementary or high school. At the time I didn’t miss it, but I was also fortunate to learn those food skills in my home, from my parents and grandparents who knew how to cook and bake. If today’s parents are like me and didn’t get that educational opportunity, then it is even more important to ensure that their children are taught these skills at school! I’m happy to see that across B.C., foods courses are making a comeback and that schools are again recognizing the value of food skills for life.
When asked what they thought of the cafeteria class, the students had a lot to say. Some admitted that they only took the course because they needed the credit, but others shared that they now cook more at home with their families and enjoy eating the foods that they help prepare. It brought a smile to my face when one male student marvelled that making pizza is actually really easy and cheaper than buying it! Another student told me that the food tastes better because it is homemade and she feels better knowing who has touched it.
The proof is in the pudding, as they say! Ms. Mallia informed me that they usually sell out of everything they make and the students know to get there early so that they don’t miss out. On the day I visited, the salad bar was offering Greek ribbon salad, Caesar salad, and white bean and vegetable soup. And yes, believe it or not there was a student excited about white bean soup, but I was told that “he’ll eat anything.” J
Did you take foods classes in school? Are your kids taking foods classes now? Do you live in northern B.C.? We’d love to hear your experiences!
[Editor's note: This is a great example of what the key message "Healthy eating supports healthy individuals, families and communities" means to Holly. Tell us what it means to you! Visit our Picture YOU Healthy contest page for more details on your chance to win!]
About Holly Christian
Holly Christian is the school nutrition lead for Northern Health’s population health department. Her passion for food and health promotion drew her to the nutrition field and she relocated to northern B.C. from the east coast. Although she has fully embraced northern living, she enjoys the warmth of the sun and the sound of the ocean. She stays active by training for triathlons, and is looking forward to this year’s community garden harvest – a personal experiment that is so far succeeding!