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Healthy Eating Rules at Ecole Plamondon

Page history last edited by Corinne Hansen 4 years, 10 months ago

Healthy eating rules at Ecole Plamondon           

Submitted by Alberta Healthy School Community Wellness Fund


These days, the lunch room at École Plamondon School bustles with activity every noon hour. Sometimes the line-up is so long it winds its way out the door and down the hall!

But students aren’t waiting for hotdogs or chicken nuggets, the two most popular fast foods in North America according to Parents Canada magazine.

In fact, they are much more likely to be served a generous helping of homemade beef soup with locally-baked Russian bread, a potato casserole and salad, or beans with rice, to name just a few of the menu choices.

With the school’s new Wellness Policy in place, nutritious, affordable meals have become the norm.


Making the Move to Healthy Eating

While the Wellness Policy only came into effect recently (November 2010), the first steps toward creating a healthier school environment were taken about three years ago, explains Steven Reid, the school’s athletic director for the past six years.

Reid recalls, “We realized we weren’t offering appropriate choices. We were teaching about nutrition in the classroom, but healthy options weren’t available at the school concession.”

It wasn’t just the teachers who noticed the discrepancy between in-class instruction and in-school food choices. Destiny Campbell, an administrative assistant who supports the school’s Wellness Committee, notes, “Even the students were commenting on the limited number of healthy food choices. I think they were a bit embarrassed when sports teams from other schools came to town and we had so little to offer.” That was back when pop, chocolate bars, chips and hotdogs were the big sellers in the concession.

Prompted by observations from students, staff and parents, the school formed the Wellness Committee in 2007, to gather further information about people’s hopes for a healthier school environment.


Healthy Breakfasts Provide the Key to Good Learning

In September 2008, the Wellness Committee conducted two surveys; one to assess student nutritional habits and one to evaluate physical activity levels. Some of the results were—to say the least— surprising. The committee learned that 40 per cent of the 178 students in Grades 3 to 12 did not eat any breakfast at all and that, of those who did, 12 per cent chose foods with little nutritional value.

School administrators responded quickly; less than a month later, students were offered fruit and cereal when they arrived at school in the morning. The breakfast program has continued ever since, with approximately 70 students, mainly from the primary grades, enjoying a healthy breakfast each morning.


The Morning Rush                                              

Many students who attend École Plamondon School are sitting on a bus for close to hour before arriving at school. Colleen Shapka, treasurer on the school Parent Advisory Council (PAC) wonders if those early mornings might be one reason the program is so necessary.

She explains, “Sometimes parents are too rushed in the morning and breakfast gets skipped, or maybe children don’t feel like eating so early.”

The breakfast program is a good example of how the entire Plamondon community is working to provide healthy options for students. The PAC, private donors, local businesses (in particular, Extra Foods and the Plamondon Co-op), and Breakfast for Learning Alberta all support the program.


Hot Lunch Program: Nutritious and Inclusive 

As well as introducing the breakfast program, the Wellness Committee wanted to improve the meal options available to students through the hot lunch program. The committee successfully applied to the Alberta Healthy School Community Wellness Fund, with much of the grant earmarked for updating and renovating the school kitchen and student dining lounge.

Of course, a new kitchen can serve up an unhealthy menu just as easily as an old kitchen, so while renovations were underway the Wellness Committee got cracking on creating a School Wellness Policy that focused on providing healthy food options.

The comprehensive policy sets out expectations in a number of areas. Significant changes have occurred as a result of implementing the policy:

  • Vending machines no longer contain pop; only 100% juice drinks and water are available.
  • The majority of choices available at the concession are from the "Choose and Serve Most Often" category of the ANGCY (Alberta Nutrition Guide for Children and Youth).  This includes items sold during sporting events and at after-school activities such as dances, Christmas concerts, and fundraising events.
  • Teachers regularly encourage students to drink water.
  • Teachers do not use food to motivate or reward learning.  Instead, they use activities such as extended recesses or extra gym time.
  • Serving sizes follow those recommended by Canada's Food Guide and the Alberta Nutrition Guide for Children and Youth.
  • Nutrition education is integrated into other subject areas and into activities beyond the classroom.


As well as promoting nutrition, the policy “makes affordability the primary consideration when setting prices.” The most expensive meal on the January 2011 menu, for example, was ginger lemon beef and broccoli with pasta, for $4.50. Most meals, however, cost $3.50 and the variety is impressive.

While affordability is one aspect of inclusiveness, cultural sensitivity is another. Instruction in the school is done in three languages: English, French, and Russian. At lunch time, the school is committed to accommodating the close to 50 per cent of its students who are from a Russian Orthodox background.

The Wellness Committee, which includes a representative from the Russian community, wants to ensure that the Russian students can enjoy the hot lunch program at any time of year. Campbell says, “At certain times, our Russian students practice fasting and they have dietary restrictions—such as no oil or dairy products—for a significant part of the year. By having our bread baked locally by a Russian baker, we can ensure that the dietary requirements of our Russian students are met.”

As a parent of two children at École Plamondon, Shapka experiences the positive effects of the hot lunch program first hand: “I’ve been making lunches for years and it can be a tedious job. It’s nice to have the convenience to be able to order lunch for our children. Plus, it’s a bonus to know their lunch will be a healthy one.”


Next Steps

With the nutrition program well underway, the Wellness Committee is now focusing its efforts on expanding students’ physical and recreation options.

The students at École Plamondon School have a long sporting history, primarily in volleyball and curling. “We used to be known as a volleyball school,” says Reid. “Now the students are also involved in basketball, track and field, golf, and wrestling.”

As well, the intramural program is no longer simply open gym time; rather, students have the opportunity to learn about and play organized sports in a friendly, non-competitive, learning environment.

Reid has been instrumental in developing these initiatives. “I think we’re doing a better job of balancing what we teach the kids and what we offer them at school,” says Reid. “We still have a long way to go, but we’re getting there.”

École Plamondon School, part of the Northern Lights School Division No. 69, is located in Plamondon, 20 minutes west of Lac La Biche.

For more information contact Steven Reid @ (780)-798-3840 or at  Steven.Reid@nlsd.ab.ca.



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