Ontario students can no longer buy candies, chocolates, caffeinated pops, and energy drinks on school property. All food and beverages sold in publicly-funded elementary and secondary schools will have to follow the Ontario government’s School Food and Beverage Policy. This new policy includes a set of nutrition standards for providing healthier food and beverages sold at schools, including cafeterias and vending machines.
The policy was announced in January 2010 and took effect last month.
At Elmira District Secondary School (EDSS) the policy was introduced last winter in preparation for the changes.
Craig Allen, food service manager for JC Vending that operates cafeterias and vending machines in 12 of the 16 high schools in the Waterloo Region including EDSS, said the company started implementing the more nutritional foods as soon as the government made the announcement.
“There were going to be some major changes so while some of the suppliers had not really started on it, we knew we had to get the ball rolling,” said Allen. “We have worked with suppliers to meet the guidelines over the last year and a half. During the summer, some of our major suppliers like the chip supplier had reformulated some of their products so that the sodium levels met the requirements.”
The changes made to the cafeteria menu include smaller portions with lower sodium, decreased fat and increased fibre content.
‘Some of the portions are smaller to meet the requirements. With our cookies, for example, we had to reduce the size in order to meet the fat content allowed in the (policy),” said Allen.
A smaller cookie also meant lower prices for students. Prices may have gone down on a few products but have been increased on others to offset the more expensive healthier ingredients.
“Using real cheddar versus a processed cheese has forced us to increase the price of certain items as well as some of the lower-sodium meats,” he said. “Working within the confines of that, I have tried to decrease the portion sizes to help reduce the prices. I am trying to keep it as close as possible to last year’s prices for the students.”
Allen said that some products could not be replaced and are no longer available as they would not meet the standards.
“There are not a lot of major changes to the menu only certain ingredients have been changed to make the items healthier than the past.”
The cafeteria still offers French fries but instead of using greasy deep fryers, they bake the fries in an oven and use fries that do not have a high sodium content.
Still on the menu are chicken burgers, all-beef burgers using extra lean ground beef, and pizza with low-sodium pepperoni. Every sandwich is served on a whole-wheat bun with real cheddar cheese, as the company can no longer use processed cheeses.
The vending machines have been tougher to reorganize, said Allen, as the company has had to ditch all the chocolate bars and no longer offer any caffeinated beverages. The machines now supply granola bars and baked chips and popchips, which are popped instead of fried, as well as pita chips and popcorn.
Students have raised questions about the changes in the food.
“We just explain that the government legislated that we can’t serve certain items any longer and that we now offer healthier alternatives to our pervious items,” said Allen. “We still do offer diet caffeine-free pops and we find the kids adapt pretty quickly. We have begun to see sales increase in sandwiches, subs and wraps.”
Last year as the changes began to appear students protested not only the food but the change of going from a school-run cafeteria to an outside company running the dining hall. Allen said this new school year has seen a return of the students to the cafeteria.
“They are starting to understand that we have good food and offer a healthy meal for them to eat,” said Mina Franklin, head cook at EDSS cafeteria.
JC Vending is a local company and has hired employees that live in Elmira to make the food.
“One thing we tried to do is have the ladies working in our cafeteria do their own shopping and buy locally produced, in-season fruits and vegetable products as opposed to getting it in from a big supplier. It has become selling point for us.”