Report on school lunches raises concerns: SRCE pledges to implement recommendations

GUYSBOROUGH- Nova Scotia’s Auditor General Kim Adair released a performance audit report on healthy eating in schools last month. While the report had good things to say about breakfast programs in public schools across the province, it raised concerns about school cafeteria oversight, compliance with School Food and Nutrition Policy and third-party food service providers.

The key findings of the report noted that, “Almost all Nova Scotia schools offer a free, generally compliant with policy, breakfast program. Breakfast programs are serving healthy food.”

It’s later in the school day that the provision of healthy food is lacking. The report states that a majority of schools are not complying with the Food and Nutrition Policy for lunch: “Only 40 per cent of tested schools followed the policy.” And, in cases where cafeterias are run by third-party entities, compliance with the policy was found in only nine per cent of the schools the report researchers visited.

The report also found that many Regional Centres for Education did not monitor and weren’t aware of what foods were provided in the schools in their district. They also did not have a dedicated nutritionist or dietician on staff nor did they make use of the assigned Public Health Nutritionists supplied through Nova Scotia Health.

Of the 20 schools that fall under the umbrella of the Strait Regional Centre for Education (SRCE), only 16 have cafeterias, all of which are run by a third-party.

The Journal asked the SRCE to address a number of issues raised by the Auditor General’s report on Healthy Eating in Schools and received comment via email from SRCE Coordinator of Communications Deanna Gillis on Sept. 23.

Gillis began by stating that the SRCE would work in collaboration with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to implement the recommendations of the report and noted that all SRCE, “schools provide students with access to a breakfast program that serves healthy food options daily. In addition, all schools offer healthy snacks to students at various locations throughout the school to support student well-being and achievement.”

Pertaining to third-party run cafeterias, Gillis wrote, “The SRCE has a service contract with a third-party provider. Staff has worked collaboratively with the provider to successfully address food and nutrition concerns that have come to our attention.”

As for nutritionists, the SRCE doesn’t have one on staff but does, “work closely with a nutritionist from Public Health through our Health Promoting Schools Committee,” wrote Gillis.

“School staff do monitor the food served in schools. However, we recognize there is work to be done and we will continue to collaborate with and support our schools and service provider to ensure we are complying with the provincial Food and Nutrition Policy…We recognize there is a need to ensure greater accountability from all partners and will work with Education and Early Childhood Development to update and implement a modern policy. Together our goal is to provide students with equitable food programming.”

Despite the shortfall in the current system in public schools when it comes to healthy food service, Gillis pointed out that the SRCE has a milk program where all students receive milk daily, free of cost and, “all Grade Primary students receive a water bottle at the beginning of the year to encourage water consumption throughout the day.”

The full Healthy Eating in School’s report is available online at https://oag-ns.ca/audit-reports/healthy-eating-schools.

Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal