Recently, the Department of Education and Lifelong Learning provided an update to the Standing Committee on Education and Economic Growth on its two universal school lunch pilot programs. What was presented lacked both detail and vision. Even Minister Trivers admitted government is not fully prepared to implement and evaluate a school lunch program.
“I am flabbergasted by this admission,” said Karla Bernard, Official Opposition Critic for Education and Lifelong Learning. “Significant work has already been done by the PEI School Food Project on a comprehensive plan to implement a universal school lunch program across the province. That plan has a model, including a realizable timeframe for expanding and scaling up a rollout into all schools. It was presented to the previous Liberal government who did nothing with it.”
The plan is based on a ‘pay what you can’ model that has proven to be successful in Newfoundland and Labrador. Through this model, a not-for-profit would be set up to accept payments and donations anonymously, hire food staff at fair wages, oversee and enforce food policy, and provide school food services.
The objective of the plan was to supply Island students with healthy, local product while providing true hands-on learning opportunities for valuable life skills while also improving education and health outcomes. Studies prove time and time again when students have the nutrition they need they have improved concentration, better retention, and are more focused on their studies. Research also shows a healthy school lunch program reduces food insecurity, obesity rates, and poor health.
“We have an opportunity to get down to one of the root causes of poor education and health outcomes through a smart, sustainable universal school lunch program with the added benefit of investing in local produce and labour,” said Bernard. “However, government is ignoring a well-researched and documented plan. It is, instead, choosing a band-aid solution they have admittedly not fully thought out or prepared.”
“A self-sustaining, affordable school lunch food program would benefit low-income families and Island children. As an added benefit, we can capitalize on healthy food from local farms, utilize Island expertise in food preparation, and create local employment opportunities. All this will also spur our economy onward and make a meaningful difference in so many different and important areas. However, with government’s current proposal, that opportunity and vision is clearly lost.”
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