Proposed school food guidelines too restrictive: PAC

Volunteer parents and students are busy preparing food for the breakfast program at Clearwater Secondary School (Submitted photo)Volunteer parents and students are busy preparing food for the breakfast program at Clearwater Secondary School (Submitted photo)
Lillian Robertson, left, and Phoenix MacFayden serve up breakfast at Clearwater Secondary School. (Submitted photo)Lillian Robertson, left, and Phoenix MacFayden serve up breakfast at Clearwater Secondary School. (Submitted photo)

B.C.’s plan to update food and drink guidelines for schools has parents concerned about the effect it will have on fundraisers and student events.

The province’s proposed 2022 Guidelines for Food and Beverage Sales in B.C. Schools – deemed a voluntary guide to a “gold standard for nutrition” – highlights the best practices for foods offered, served or sold in schools, including in fundraisers or parent-organized events such as hot lunches.

The guidelines identify foods that should be avoided, including cookies, energy and protein bars, chips, fruit cups, deli meats, hot dogs, sweetened milk products and anything deep-fried. Lunches brought from home are not affected by the proposed guidelines.

Leesa Schilling, a mother of two and president of the Barriere Secondary School PAC, said a move towards stricter guidelines would affect fundraisers, such as the Easter Purdy’s fundraiser underway. Under the proposed rules selling chocolate wouldn’t be accepted.

“We wouldn’t have that anymore,” Schilling said. “If we did decide to have a bake sale, and we had to follow those guidelines strictly, I don’t think we’d sell any.”

Kirstin MacDonald, chair of the Clearwater Secondary School PAC, said members host various events to “encourage and foster the importance of community, such as a family barbecue at the beginning of term and a turkey dinner at Christmas.

Under the proposed guidelines, many components of these meals would fall under the “foods to avoid” category, including stuffing and gravy – due to sodium – as well as the dessert table and cranberry sauce, because of the sugar content.

MacDonald said food from these events is also sent home with students in need. During the COVID-19 pandemic, local restaurants helped with care packages for students in lieu of the normal turkey dinner.

“This is all done at no cost to the students, staff (or) community partners,” MacDonald said in a letter to the Times. “The meals provided were healthy and balanced, but would not fit into the new proposed guidelines.”

One of the volunteer parents, she added, leads a breakfast program at CSS once a week and values whole foods and locally-grown produce. Many of the items currently offered wouldn’t be allowed under the guidelines, such as bacon, ham and crispy potatoes. The meals are offered at no cost to students or parents.

“These meals are hearty, healthy and since they are served in the school, it encourages the students to be on time to be served,” said MacDonald. “We, at the CSS PAC, recognize the importance of eating a healthy, balanced diet, but the foods offered by PACs often serve a multitude of purposes. It can help grow a community.”

The proposed guidelines published jointly by B.C.’s health and education ministries, are open for feedback until April 30.

The Barriere Elementary School PAC declined to comment on the guidelines Tuesday.

MacDonald noted the number of fast-food outlets within a three-minute walk of the Clearwater high school are likely having more of an impact on student nutrition than what’s offered at schools.

Schilling said PACs need more time to respond.

The BSS PAC meets the first Monday of each month, which means they met just before the survey roll-out.

She has since been scrambling to get the link to other PAC members and will reach out to the school principal to share the information with students as well.

“They’re rolling it out in a way that just feels icky,” she told the Times. “It doesn’t feel like they’re asking for our input, really, because it seems like they already have it all mapped out. That’s where it’s worrisome to us.”

She said PACs weren’t consulted up to this point and it feels like an all-or-nothing kind of deal.

“I think as a group we would probably say, none then, because we’re not going to restrict everybody in this way.”