News / Edmonton

Students perform, behave better after food program rolled out: Province

Now the Alberta school nutrition pilot program is being expanded

Nancy Petersen oversees breakfast programs for kids who don't always have food at home.

Kevin Tuong / Edmonton Freelance

Nancy Petersen oversees breakfast programs for kids who don't always have food at home.

A school nutrition pilot program improved attendance and curbed “negative” behaviour, according to a report released Monday by the Alberta government.

The Alberta School Nutrition 2016-17 Pilot summary report shows 12 out of 14 school authorities indicated student attendance improved in schools where the program was implemented.

Ten of the 14 also noted a decrease in “negative student behavior incidents throughout the day.”

“The social-emotional regulation of the kids became much calmer, much more level. And student engagement in learning improved significantly,” said Nancy Petersen, managing director of strategic district supports with Edmonton Public Schools.

The school nutrition program was introduced as a pilot in the 2016-17 school year, when it was rolled out across 33 Alberta schools with $3.5 million in funding, including Norwood and Inglewood public elementary schools in Edmonton.

Edmonton Public worked with each school community and consulted nutritionists through E4C to build unique programs.

Instead of an “all-or-nothing” approach where students either get a full meal or no food, students have been encouraged to make smart choices to fill in the gaps of what they don’t get at home.

“Maybe a child had a piece of toast at home and they want a hard boiled egg. Or maybe they come to school and they had cereal and milk, but they’d really like some fresh fruit,” Petersen said.

“We’re educating kids about healthy eating, about multiple food groups, and then empowering them to think about, ‘what have you already eaten.’ ”

Petersen said teachers have also noticed they are saving about 10 minutes a day of instruction time that they used to spend pulling together snacks for kids.

“You start to multiply this out over the school year, you’re bringing back a lot of time into the focus of teaching and learning – and giving kids healthier food at the same time,” she said.

The program served 2,560 breakfasts, 2,912 lunches and 2,623 snacks on a daily basis throughout the school year.

The province has expanded it to include every school board in the province for the 2017-18 school year, with an additional $10 million from this year’s budget.

While Norwood and Inglewood are still Edmonton Public's only participating schools, Petersen said it’s exciting to see healthy food going to more kids outside of Edmonton.

Education Minister David Eggen said in a press release release Monday that the program has had an “overwhelmingly positive” effect in the communities where it’s been introduced.

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