Health topic: Nutrition Health Promotion

Put nutrition policy in place

What's it about?

School nutrition policy sets the direction for healthy eating at school. It’s a written directive that lays out standards for food and drink that is:

  • Sold in school cafeterias, canteens, and vending machines, or as part of special events (like smoothie day or hot lunch day)
  • Served through school breakfast, lunch, or snack programs
  • Available at school events or through fundraisers

School nutrition policy is a powerful tool that can shape attitudes and expectations among students, staff, and families. It can make healthy eating the norm at school, and can reinforce eating well at home and in the community.

School nutrition policy doesn’t apply to food brought from home, like snacks or lunches.

Students may not have control or influence over food brought from home, and should not be stigmatized or shamed for it.

 

What's involved?

This strategy involves crafting evidence-based, effective policy. Here’s what you can do:

 

Get to know our provincial guidelines

In Alberta, school nutrition policy has two levels:

  • Alberta Education sets the policy direction for school authorities, and recognizes the Alberta Nutrition Guidelines for Children and Youth as the best practice standard.
  • School authorities have autonomy to develop their own policies, aligned with provincial direction and tailored to suit their unique circumstances.

Across the province, school nutrition policy is voluntary and most school authorities (74%) have one in place. Here are some examples of what these policies can involve:

  • Limits on the sale of food and drink high in sugar, fat, salt, or caffeine (like candy, fried food, and sugar-sweetened drinks) in school cafeterias, canteens, and vending machines
  • Expectations that food prepared or served at school use cooking methods that don’t add much fat or sodium (like baking, roasting, steaming, or stir frying)
  • Calls for food served at school events to reflect Alberta’s diverse student body, with vegetarian or vegan options, internationally-inspired items, or food that is rooted in traditional Indigenous culture
  • Clear expectations within requests for proposals (RFPs) or contracts for school food supply or service

School nutrition policy might sound restrictive, but it doesn’t have to be. The Alberta Nutrition Guidelines for Children and Youth set clear direction on what should be sold, served, or available most often, sometimes, and least often. There's plenty of room for local innovation and flexibility, and targets to work toward.

Use AHS’ quick reference tool, A guide to offering healthy food and drinks in schools, to help you choose healthy options to sell, serve, or make available.

Make policy connections

School nutrition policy goes hand-in-hand with other school health policies. With attention to these areas, you can be sure that policies complement and reinforce each other. Consider: 

  • Requirements for serving food in your school authority including in cafeterias, breakfast or lunch programs, and in classrooms.
  • Requirements for Food Safety Alberta Certification of school staff.
  • Standards for safe food storage, handling, and serving.
  • Provincial guidelines for supporting students with medical needs, like food allergies or celiac disease.
  • Approaches to open or closed campuses at lunch—there is some evidence that open campuses may undermine school nutrition policy because they allow students easier access to food and drink sold in convenience stores or fast food outlets.

 

Reflect on the policy development process

Whether you’re just getting started with school nutrition policy or well on your way, it’s a good idea to reflect on the most effective way to develop your policy and bring it to life. In school health, we call this the policy development process:

  • Developing the policy
    • Pulling together a policy team
    • Taking stock of what’s already happening when it comes to food and drink at school
    • Thinking about the changes you’d like to see, and your level of readiness for change
    • Using best practices to write your draft school nutrition policy
    • Reviewing your policy with others, and re-writing it until it’s ready
  • Implementing the policy
    • Raising awareness of your new policy and what it’s intended to do
    • Explaining the policy in a way that creates buy-in and support
    • Figuring out if or how the policy will be enforced
    • Problem-solving any challenges that come up
  • Monitoring the policy
    • Figuring out what’s working with your policy (and what isn’t)
    • Using data to understand the impact of your policy
    • Making continuous improvements

Want to dig deeper into the policy development process?

Email schoolhealthandwellness@ahs.ca to connect with local AHS health promotion facilitators or Registered Dietitians.

 

How it connects

School nutrition policy has been shown to influence the extent to which students choose healthy food and drink while they’re at school, and may affect choices outside of school hours too. It’s linked to decreased risk of obesity, chronic disease, and tooth decay.

Effective policy is a critical part of a whole school approach to healthy eating. It lays the foundation for strong environments, practices, and partnerships within a school authority or school.

You might also like these related topics:

 

Resources

Healthy vending toolkit
Alberta Health Services

Request for proposal: Healthy food product specifications
Alberta Health Services

School food vendor checklist
Alberta Health Services

School menu checklist
Alberta Health Services

 

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