A Winning Combination
Pairing Learning with Food
By Karen Kerk, Coordinator, Thunder Bay and Area Food Strategy
Teachers, students, and community groups are excited to get back in the classroom to explore the wonders of learning about, growing/harvesting, preparing/cooking, and most importantly, eating delicious food. Here are some snippets of exciting schoolbased culinary happenings in Thunder Bay. Lakehead Public Schools’ senior elementary culinary program includes about 1,200 students each year who learn about nutrition, food prep, and cooking. In conjunction with the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, students can also acquire a safe food handling certificate. “The students think they are getting out of school to ‘play,’ they have no idea they’re learning about math, science, language, and culture,” says Todd Miller, who helped start the program in 2018. The Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board offers elementary and secondary culinary classes and programs to engage students and strengthen community connections. One example is a partnership between St. Ignatius and the Salvation Army, where students come and prepare food for clients. “The students have really connected with our clientele,” says Cathy Oleschuk, the program services director for the local Salvation Army. “They make food, but they’ve also made artwork and inspirational posters to hang around our facility that our clients really appreciate.” Land-based learning programs are increasingly popular as a way to connect with students. The Kendomang Zhagodenamnon lodge program offered at Hammarskjold pairs teachers with local Elders and Thunder Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre staff to co-deliver curriculum in outdoor settings that help honour Indigenous values and ways of learning. The program connects students to the environment through hands-on projects and real-world experiential learning activities such as wild rice harvesting, exploring the sugarbush, and cooking with fire. Community organizations like Roots Community Food Centre, Our Kids Count, and the Indigenous Friendship Centre have also forged partnerships with local schools to connect students with fun and delicious learning opportunities. A portable pizza oven is a great way to entice youth to the realm of cooking. “Learning about wood heat, making dough, and adding your favourite pizza toppings while exploring the garden and learning about the science around food are all more fun when you are outside,” says Airin Stephens with Roots Community Food Centre. “Why does pizza dough rise? Is the oven really 700 degrees? They really come out of their shells when cooking outside.” While these kinds of programs contribute to building community, studies demonstrate that kids need sufficient amounts of nutritious food for proper mental and physical development and to benefit from their education. School food programs are shown to increase consumption of healthy foods, reduce the risk of chronic disease, and improve mental health. Canada is one of the few industrialized countries without a national school food program. In the 2021 election, the Liberals pledged $1 billion to implement school food programs across Canada and to create a national policy for school food. Perhaps the innovative programs and partnerships in Thunder Bay can help to inform the national policy. Learning paired with food is a winning combination. Wishing all the students a delicious year ahead! To learn more about the coalition, visit healthyschoolfood.ca.