Students at Amherst Cove Consolidated in Borden-Carleton wait to sample the new lunch options | submitted photo : PEI Education and Lifelong Learning


Second pilot project moves ahead under new provincial government

A recently released medical study has looked at the links between food insecurity and diabetes.

In late December 2019, the provincial government announced that a new provincial school lunch program would roll out in several Island schools, offering healthy lunches to students this winter.

School food programs have been in the works in the province for many years, and originally, a pilot program that was created in early 2019 was expected to be implemented this school year. The election and subsequent change in government in PEI meant that particular program was nixed but some elements of the project have been used in the new lunch program.

Two delivery models are being tested to figure out how best to operate the provincial program. They will be evaluated over the coming months to determine how to expand the program.

One model being tested at Kinkora High School is a ‘food hub’ where staff have been hired to prepare and distribute healthy meals to students at Kinkora High and also to feeder schools Amherst Cove Consolidated and Somerset Consolidated Schools. Last year’s pilot project had a similar structure but also included East Wiltshire School preparing food for the Eliot River School.

The lunches will be made from healthy local food whenever possible and offered at an affordable price. Schools will develop a process to provide lunches to students who are unable to afford them with a ‘pay-what-you-can’ system. The details of how this will be implemented are still being ironed out. According to the Education and Lifelong Learning department, sorting out the pay-what-you-can system is a priority. Making sure that the lunch program is equitable and open to all regardless of income has been a core aspect of the development of the program.

“One of our goals is to support student well-being and their success at school by ensuring they have access to healthy food on a regular basis. Another important objective is to help students develop food literacy which means understanding the importance of healthy eating and knowing where their food comes from,” Education and Lifelong Learning Minister Brad Trivers said in a press release in late 2019.

The second model has existing vendors preparing and delivering healthy meals to students at Montague Regional High School, West Kent Elementary, and École Pierre-Chiasson. These vendors will implement menus which are compliant with the new School Food Environment Guidelines that were developed for pilot schools. There are 1220 students enrolled between the six schools in the program, and the hope is that the majority of those students will choose to participate in the lunches.

“We are really pleased to see the school lunch program being initiated,” PEI Home and School Federation president, Cory Thomas said. “Since 2015, the PEI Home and School Federation’s vision and policy for Prince Edward Island has been the establishment of a provincial school lunch program for Island children. A healthy school food program is a foundational step towards better social, educational, and health outcomes for Island children.’”

Since the school food program began in mid-January, students at the participating schools have had the opportunity to enjoy meals such as mac and cheese, butter chicken, sandwich wraps, fish tacos, shepherds pie, and more. Efforts are being made to include vegetarian options, although gluten-free meals are not yet being guaranteed, due to the possibility of cross-contamination. The program is also using reusable containers, and stainless steel cutlery in order to be as waste-free as possible.

The new program has not been without its detractors, as the official opposition in the legislature raised questions about the choice to not use the pilot program that had previously been developed. Karla Bernard, Official Opposition Critic for Education and Lifelong Learning said in a press release on January 21, 2020, “Significant work has already been done by the PEI School Food Project on a comprehensive plan to implement a universal school lunch program across the province. That plan has a model, including a realizable timeframe for expanding and scaling up a rollout into all schools. It was presented to the previous Liberal government who did nothing with it.

“We have an opportunity to get down to one of the root causes of poor education and health outcomes through a smart, sustainable universal school lunch program with the added benefit of investing in local produce and labour,” Bernard said. “However, government is ignoring a well-researched and documented plan. It is, instead, choosing a band-aid solution they have admittedly not fully thought out or prepared.”

“A self-sustaining, affordable school lunch food program would benefit low-income families and Island children. As an added benefit, we can capitalize on healthy food from local farms, utilize Island expertise in food preparation, and create local employment opportunities. All this will also spur our economy onward and make a meaningful difference in so many different and important areas. However, with government’s current proposal, that opportunity and vision is clearly lost.”

At the time of publication, we were unable to get an official government statement on the progress of the pilot project. Cheryl Young

About Cheryl Young

A “Jill of all trades” describes Cheryl to a T. From operating her own handyperson company, to selling luxury cars, to working as a film and TV crew member, her resume is diverse. But her dream as a kid was to be a journalist and she started down that path many years ago at CBC Charlottetown. Returning to her journalism roots, she’s excited to be editing Salty’s content and occasionally writing herself.

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