Snack Program Changes Student Eating Habits & Empowers Parent Volunteers
April 18, 2018
Story provided by Danielle Stafford- Rockwood Cenntennial Public School
Our program serves the obvious purpose of providing healthy nutrition to those students in need, whatever the reason. We have worked diligently in past years to remove the stigma of needing to access the program and feel all students know they are welcome to access the program. One mother has shared with me how excited her children are to wake up and go to school on Wednesdays, as they look forward to "oatmeal day”. Our Grade Three teacher has shared with me that her students are learning in health class about just how processed pre-packaged foods are. She has seen some of her students choose to leave their pre-packaged food item (fruit roll-up, bear paw, fruit cups) in their lunch bag and go to the snack bin for fresh fruit instead. She has also commented that the snack bins offer different choices of fruit (melons, pineapple, kiwi and berries) and vegetables (radishes, peppers, snap peas, cauliflower, broccoli) than the children may be offered at home. It is important that we allow students to access the snack bins, even if they haven’t finished their entire lunch, as their lunch may not offer nutritious items that the snack bins would. We know of one family in particular who struggle financially. We try to ensure their children have liberal access to the snack bins. Before a weekend, one of our parent volunteers checks the bins for remaining fruit and vegetables and takes them to those classes to hand out. We ensure they get both fruit and vegetables, and they always accept. All the other students in the class clamor for the produce as well. The children light up at the offering! An Educational Assistant has shared with me how helpful it is having access to the snack fridge (outside of break times), as it has aided with children having behavioural issues. She has found leaving snacks on the table has helped calm a child who has been having regular behavioural meltdowns. Our program clearly brings healthy food to hungry minds, assisting students in doing their best learning, both academically and behaviourally.
We rely solely on volunteers to make our Nutrition Program happen. This school year, we were able to recruit more new parent volunteers, including three Dads, which help shop for the food, prepare the snacks twice a week, do all the administrative paperwork (monthly reports and grant-writing), and deliver food to the classrooms on school Food Days. We have also continued with our younger students (Grade Four) running our snack bins at nutrition breaks, which has turned out to work very well. This has allowed the Grade Four students a sense of leadership and responsibility, having to set guidelines for all students, even those four grades older than them.
I have heard from more than one Grade Four parent how “important” their child feels to be helping with the snack bins. One young man has been very responsible and reliable in his duties. His father told me his son is very dedicated to the program and talks about it all the time. The father commented to me what a great idea it is to promote leadership at such a young age. I have witnessed how our young students have been able to build their leadership skills in helping with the program, needing to assert some authority, but in respectful ways.
My latest realization has been how empowering the program has been for the parents who volunteer their time. One mother told me she became involved in the program in order to meet other parents and to make new friends. She has been instrumental in bringing on other parents to participate in the program. Another mother, who no longer has children at our school, asked that she continue to participate in the program. She referred to her time prepping food as her “Wednesday morning therapy sessions”. Another mother who has battled cancer shared the following: "For me, the Nutrition Program has provided me with a purpose. Since I can never work again, this has allowed me to feel like I'm still able to do something. It was always my dream to stay home with my kids and be part of the school parent volunteers since middle school. The beautiful silver lining to me getting cancer, and now being disabled, is it has allowed me to have this dream. I know that sounds crazy but it's very true. Nothing gives me more happiness than being able to give my kids hugs during the day at school. Being with the other moms has really boosted my spirits every week. I feel like I have a great group of friends that I can always talk to.”
Not only does our program provide healthy food to help children with their academic and behavioural needs, but it has been instrumental in developing student leaders as well as empowering parents to feel they are providing meaningful contributions in their community.