Snack program a success

For the kids at Kimberley Junior Public School/Beaches Alternative School, a small program is having a big effect on the way they think about healthy snacks.

Three times a week, parent volunteers arrive in the schoolyard during morning recess pulling a wagon loaded with fresh fruits and vegetables. Everyone is welcome to help themselves, and crowds of kids quickly converge on the food.

“We never have anything left,” said Heather Hill, the parent volunteer who has been running the snack program since November. Hill, who describes herself as “a get-it-done kind of person,” is the head of the school’s Nutrition Committee. She took over the responsibility of organizing school snacks last fall.

Last year, students would be given a three-food-group snack in their classrooms at the beginning of recess. Hill decided to tweak the existing model to better meet the needs of the school and cut down on the amount of labour required to prepare the food.

Hill then enlisted the help of a few local businesses. Courage Foods, a market on Kingston Road that stocks local produce, offered the school its wholesale rate for fresh fruits and vegetables.

This allows the snack program to keep their costs remarkably low, spending about $260 per week according to Hill. Considering that there are 260 students at Kimberley/Beaches Alternative, this means that it only costs about a dollar per child to provide three healthy snacks each week.

The program is subsidized by a grant from the Toronto Foundation for Student Success, which covers some, but not all of its costs. The rest is raised through donations and fundraising.

Grinder, a coffee shop across the street from the school, offers the parent volunteers space to prepare food. The 11 members of the Nutrition Committee take turns coming in to prepare and deliver the snacks.

The wagon always has two snack options. Although even the simplest snacks are labour-intensive – washing and drying 260 apples takes some time – the reduction from three items to two means less work for the volunteers.

It also means less waste, which is an important part of Kimberley/Beaches Alternative’s status as an Eco School. Since it is served right from the wagon, most of the food does not require any packaging.

School Principal Lilian Hanson is enthusiastic about the program’s community-based approach. “I love the idea that we’re supporting local businesses,” she said, noting that Community Center 55 takes care of the composting.

The approach of serving the snacks in the schoolyard rather than the classroom also helps to meet an important need at a school in a mixed-income neighbourhood. For kids whose parents cannot always send them to school with nutritious food, it is a chance to get as much food as they need without being singled out. Hill smiles as she talks about children who come back for seconds and thirds, and even take an extra helping to bring home.

But the greatest benefit of the program is its effect on the eating habits of the students at Kimberley/Beaches Alternative. Both Hill and Hanson give glowing accounts of kids who have become excited about eating fruit and vegetables.

“Little people don’t get much independence,” Hill said, explaining that the snack wagon lets them choose what to eat. And while healthy food is a choice rather than an obligation, it is proving to be very popular with the kids at Kimberley/Beaches Alternative.

Hanson laughs when describing how excited the students are about nutritious snacks. “To me it’s amazing,” she says. “Fruit is becoming like candy for the kids, if you know what I mean…it is a treat.”

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