A new healthy lunch program is coming to schools in New Westminster to improve student nutrition and reduce stigma around subsidized school meal programs for vulnerable students.
The district is testing the lunches at a handful of schools this week and plans to launch the program at the first three schools in early February.
“The great thing is everyone is eligible,” said Karim Hachlaf, superintendent for the New Westminster School District.
The meals cost $5.75 each, and parents who choose to participate can select from an online menu beforehand.
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The district polled parents before bringing in the program and, Hachlaf said, the majority supported the idea.
“We had over 1,300 parents participate in our survey with 93 per cent of them in favour of a food program available to all students on a daily basis,” he told Stephen Quinn, the host of CBC’s The Early Edition.
A portion of the cost will help subsidize meals for students and their families who otherwise struggle to buy them. The program also draws on CommunityLINK funding, provided through the Ministry of Education to support meal programs for vulnerable students.
“[Part of] our goal was to shift meal programs away from a stigmatizing emphasis for vulnerable children,” Hachlaf said.
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A number of other districts offer hot lunch programs for students who otherwise would go hungry.
Since the meals are available to all and nothing visible gives away whether it was subsidized or not, Hachlaf hopes it will eliminate some of the stigma around accessing school meal programs.
Beyond improving food security, Hachlaf emphasized the relationship between healthy eating and education.
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The district has hired a school nutrition co-ordinator to help with the implementation and outsourcing of the menu to a caterer.
“We’re pushing for a program to link the conversation about food to the school curriculum and really encourage healthy eating habits that could well inform student behavior for a lifetime,” he said.
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École Qayqayt Elementary will be the first school to bring in the program on Feb. 5, followed by Queen Elizabeth Elementary and Queensborough Middle School.