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Food for Thought program nourishes curious minds

School food programs gives farmers lessons on the needs of young people

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Northumberland Food For Thought provides nutritious food and teachable moments to students, while also supporting local growers.

Co-ordinator Beth Kolisnyk said in a recent interview that her agency promotes fresh-from-the-farm products to schools each fall, while school-nutrition programming goes on all year.

Why it matters: Children learn better when given the proper nutrition, and the provision of that food means an opportunity for local farmers.

When Food For Thought began in 2002, only 12 programs existed in Northumberland County. Now, 36 schools offer 57 programs in all (largely breakfast times and snack bins).

Brenda Liston-Hanley, breakfast-program co-ordinator at St. Joseph Elementary School in Cobourg (with a student body of about 190), said her program offers a daily breakfast and a snack table.

Each day, a team of volunteers files in by 7:10 a.m., to provide 60 to 70 students with a nutritious start to the day.

Served up with a glass of milk, these breakfast bowls provide tasty and nutritional fare for the students at Stockdale Public School, as well as the seeds of some teachable moments regarding nutrition and supporting local farmers.
photo: Beth Kolisnyk

The volunteers greet every child by name and keep their eyes open for other issues the children might be facing. They try to identify those who might need extra time at breakfast before class, Liston-Hanley said.

School staff notice an improvement of students’ attitudes, performance and how they feel about their day, Liston-Hanley said.

Students who don’t attend breakfast (or who just need more fuel), can check out the snack table with a variety of healthy snacks.

Apples are the most common produce provided, but the program also offers strawberries, bananas, grapes, even the occasional watermelon.

Fresh vegetables are a harder sell to the students, but they do make up part of the offerings.

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Port Hope’s Cameco Corp. supports that school’s nutritional offerings.

The Egg Farmers of Ontario has also helped out by sometimes sending bags of hard-cooked eggs, preboiled and pre-peeled, Liston-Hanley said.

The organization has also provided grants to ensure that the children get more eggs in their diets, in the form of scrambled, baked-in products and frittatas.

Kolisnyk said that the beauty of Food For Thought is that the schools can create programs that fill their kids’ needs. For example, the bustling atmosphere of a high school might be better served by a Grab and Go program than a sit-down breakfast in the gym.

“I just came from Stockdale Public School, and they offer both,” she said, displaying her photo of that day’s breakfast — 50 colourful plastic bowls, each with an egg, chunks of local cheese and sliced strawberries, served with a glass of milk.

“Children are barraged with messages on the quick fix. The teacher (at Stockdale) this morning was engaged with the children, talked to them about protein and what a good source of protein is — all kinds of lessons come out that schools can incorporate into their programming,” she said.

At St. Joseph Elementary School in Cobourg, breakfast program co-ordinator Brenda Liston-Hanley takes stock of supplies.
photo: Cecilia Nasmith

One of their recent donations came from the annual 100 Mile Diet event hosted by St. Andrew’s United Church in Grafton. Organizer Bev Silk said that, from its inception 10 years ago, the donation-at-the-door proceeds have gone entirely to Food For Thought. In recent years, this has produced about $1,000. For some years now, Food For Thought has passed it along to one of the event’s long-time exhibitors, Moore Orchards.

Heidi Behan, who owns the Hamilton Township farm, said this donation buys three to four bins of apples, plus they also donate some.

They mix in a great variety of apples, but Behan said she finds that most children don’t have a preference between sweet and tart, as long as it’s a good, firm apple.

Behan and her husband, Patrick, bought the farm from her parents, Eleanor and Ivan, who planted the first apple trees here 40 years ago.

Behan agrees with the philosophy behind Food For Thought.

“Hungry kids can’t learn,” she said.

Having an apple there for a child to pick up sounds like a little thing, she said, but it could make a difference for a child who may not get enough to eat or might feel that no one cares.

“It’s a small thing, but it could be a big thing,” she said.

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