The link between kids having enough to eat and doing well in school has been well documented. According to the Ontario Dietitians in Public Health (ODPH), one in six Ontario children lives in a household that is food insecure.
“Research shows it’s a direct correlation between being able to eat and having nutritious snacks – not like fast-burning sugars – to help with their cognitive development and their learning,” said O’neil Edwards, executive director of Ayr-based Nutrition for Learning.
The organization is currently piloting a Good Eats program, which will teach students from schools in Waterloo Region how to cook healthy nutritious food at home. The program will provide participants with a box of food to take home and cook during a virtual lesson led by chef Thompson Tran of The Wooden Boat Food Company.
“It’s very near and dear to my heart, food accessibility, food education and understanding where your food comes from. It’s very important to me. For students to be successful in school they need to meet their physiological needs,” said Tran, who was a high school teacher for several years in Vancouver.
“We always tell the students ‘make healthy snacks and nobody will tell them how ‘ but here’s an opportunity to show them how to make a healthy meal for themselves. …So that will be really interesting and empowering to the young person to realize ‘I can make healthy choices and learn how to cook. It’s not so bad. I can actually do this on my own,’” Edwards said.
While the goal is to promote healthy choices, Edwards acknowledged that is becoming increasingly more difficult as food prices skyrocket.
“There’s got to be something wrong with the system when a bottle of water is way more expensive than a bottle of Coke”
“There’s got to be something wrong with the system when a bottle of water is way more expensive than a bottle of Coke,” he said.
Tran agreed, but explained there are still ways for families to be able to eat healthy.
“Education is everything, so if you’re a family who can’t afford beef, chicken, pork, fish, you can still find the extra protein through legumes and through soybeans. In this case, it’s really important that you provide that kind of information and, that being said, yes, food is on the rise and costs are going up. Beef is more expensive than it ever has been. So if you’re a family of four or more it’s really difficult for them to afford nutritious healthy food,” Tran said.
Overcoming those barriers is one of the goals of the program, explained Edwards.
“What we’re doing is to sort of say, ‘OK, how am I able to buy the ingredients that I have and how can I stretch that in a way that is still healthy?’ Everything in their box, they can actually make over 10 meals with. So a family of four could do several different healthy meals out of what they’re getting. …We didn’t go and buy like fancy smancy arugula, it’s everyday items that they themselves will be able to go and pick up… [so that] all the different things would be cost conscious so that after they can replicate it at minimal cost.”
Tran, who grew up in an underprivileged household, said that his family would have benefited from a program like Nutrition for Learning and Good Eats.
“If I was lucky, someone would share an apple with me. Or a teacher would realize after noticing that I didn’t have very much food that they would help. This is an opportunity for everybody in the classroom to do well so I think these programs are incredibly important,” he said.