Essay submitted by Viola Prowse
Former Executive Director and Current Board Member, Child Nutrition Council of Manitoba
Good nutrition is a key component of good health, development and academic success.
Children spend much of their time in educational facilities during their developmental years. These settings can establish a foundation for healthy eating habits and can have a profound influence on what students eat and drink.
In 2001, the Surgeon General wrote, “Individual behaviour change can occur only in a supportive environment with accessible and affordable healthy food choices…” School meal and snack programs provide that environment.
From our past 20 years of work with schools, we know a lot anecdotally about nutrition as a factor in wellbeing for children. Teachers constantly provide examples of this. One of the first questions asked of children who are not managing the school day well, focuses on hunger. Schools report fewer visits to the office or sick room, less absenteeism and fewer suspensions when food is available at school. Connections outside of a classroom setting happen when children eat together and teachers join them. A sense of belonging occurs and often an expression of responsibility is seen in older students assisting younger ones. Healthy eating is modelled and experienced. Students learn about new foods and knowledge of healthy foods is taken home. Parents report children are surprising them with a request for certain foods tried at school.
Studies and research corroborate our anecdotal findings, giving us more determination to further promote our work and grow our reach. Studies show us that food insecurity and lack of nutritious foods experienced by children may lead to chronic disease as well as anxiety and depression. In the long term, inequalities in access to healthy, nutritious and affordable food in Winnipeg and Manitoba means disproportionally higher rates of preventable diseases and resulting health expenditures and loss of economic success through poor academic performance.
The Child Nutrition Council of Manitoba (CNCM) came into existence and has worked towards its vision because concerned individuals representing different agencies and organizations came together to imagine a plan for a better future for our school children by addressing the lack of access to healthy food.
CNCM furthered its work because other community members recognized the need. Since 2007, the Moffat Family Fund – through The Winnipeg Foundation – has enabled us to support many more children in Winnipeg schools. Local businesses, agencies, parents and community members are integral players in the successful ongoing operation of school meal and snack programs.
Successfully feeding a diverse school population with varying cultural experiences and tastes is no easy task. A critical component of CNCM support is building capacity in school program staff. This support enables school staff to take a limited budget and plan nutritious menus that appeal to children and youth. The CNCM Team has endeavoured to be imaginative, responsive to individual school’s needs and adaptive to new environments. The generosity of Manitobans is having an impact on the wellbeing of Manitoba children and youth and it has also made it possible for CNCM to grow, gain a great deal of experience and knowledge about what works, and refine processes resulting in a more efficacious approach to supporting school food programs.
CNCM would like to arrive at a point where school food programs are part of an integrated well-resourced prevention strategy. By preventing chronic disease, excessive health expenditures are avoided. In addition, improved academic performance leads to greater opportunity for economic success. Every child has a right to imagine a good future and to have what they need to work towards that.
Viola Prowse is the former Executive Director of Child Nutrition Council of Manitoba (CNCM), and a current Board Member. Since 2001, she has helped work towards the vision of “Every child…Every day…Well-nourished.” The CNCM has grown from supporting 10 school food programs in 2001 to almost 300 today, reaching 34,000 school children daily. CNCM works with school administration and staff, program coordinators, school divisions, the province and regional and national partners to promote healthy eating for Manitoba students by building capacity and enabling schools to adopt best practices in ensuring access to healthy food.