School health in action:

The power of a nutrition procedure

Policy in partnership

Rocky View Schools (RVS) and Alberta Health Services (AHS) have a long history of promoting eating well at school. For more than a decade they’ve worked together to champion the RVS nutrition administrative procedure, a framework for how RVS schools encourage and support healthy eating. The procedure sets out the RVS approach to food and drinks sold or available at school. It also covers related topics, like allergies, food safety, rewards, fundraising, and special events.


Evaluation through observation

By 2019, the RVS nutrition procedure had been in place for nearly ten years. Both partners were keen to take a formal look at how the policy had shaped school food environments. They had a hunch the procedure had rolled out well, but wanted to better understand its value and impact. 

With the support of RVS leaders, AHS staff visited nine schools to gather qualitative evidence of how the procedure was affecting students, teachers, and whole school communities. They made observations, took photos, and gathered documents (like menus and recipes) to find out what was really going on. 

Here are some of their key observations. Many of these examples continue to this day.

School food programs
  • Free daily breakfast and snack programs, open to all students
  • Taste-testing activities to get students to try new foods for breakfast or snack
  • Mini-fridges in common areas, stocked with healthy grab-and-go items (like fruit, cheese, and yogurt)
Healthy options for school events 
  • Vegetable and fruit platters for classroom celebrations
  • Air-popped popcorn and water served at school dances
Non-food rewards to celebrate student success
  • Recess parties and games
  • Extra time outside
Promoting water as the drink of choice
  • Water bottle refill stations and water fountains available at school
  • Encouraging students to keep their water bottles handy in the classroom
Supports for students with allergies
  • Signs on classroom doors to raise awareness of allergens
  • Training for teachers and school staff on how to respond to an allergic reaction


Reporting back

After each school visit, AHS staff created infographics to highlight the successes they had observed. They also noted any areas of concern and offered ideas for improvement. For example, they helped staff at one school brainstorm ways to shift away from food-based rewards, and joined a staff meeting at another school to suggest options for healthier hot lunches.

Next, AHS staff and RVS leaders worked together to create a final reporta collection of stories, photos, menus, and other forms of qualitative data. Taken together, these data helped explain where the policy had been successful, and where there were gaps.


The next frontier

The final report concluded with some practical recommendations to strengthen the procedure as it moved into its second decade. Here are some of the key suggestions:

  • Develop tip sheets to better explain how the procedure can be applied, with examples from different schools
  • Offer professional learning for school food program staff, with a focus on:
    • Sharing resources and success stories
    • Creating and taste-testing new recipes
    • Connecting with community partners in school nutrition (like AHS public health dietitians and public health inspectors, community organizations, local businesses, and funders)
  • Reach out to school councils to raise awareness of the procedure
  • Create monthly themes to boost interest around key topics (like hot lunch options, milk programs, canteen menus, and food-based fundraising), and share resources for each theme with teachers, students, and families  

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