‘All the fun stuff, all gone’: BC’s school food guidelines would impact bake sales, fundraisers

A Surrey mom says the province’s new proposal on food in schools is far too restrictive, and could mean the end of popular and profitable fundraisers like pizza day.

Until April 30, the province is inviting feedback on a draft set of guidelines that apply to school cafeterias and vending machines, but also to what can be sold or served at parent-organized hot lunch sales, fundraisers, classroom celebrations, and sporting events.

Cindy Dalglish is the president of the parent advisory council (PAC) at Ecole Woodward Elementary. Hot lunch sales organized by groups like hers, she says, are key to raising money for equipment, supplies, and extra-curricular activities.

“All the foods to avoid are all the things that PACs currently use. No more hot dogs, no more pizza, nor more popcorn, no more freezes, all the fun stuff, all gone,” she says.

The new proposal divides food into two categories: foods to offer, serve or sell; and foods to avoid.

The first category includes fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, whole-grain bread products and pasta, legumes, lean meats, plain yogurt, unsalted nuts, and eggs.

The list of things to avoid includes cookies, cake, ice cream, chicken nuggets, French fries, popsicles, processed cheese, pudding, hot chocolate, chips, and sugary cereals.

“The impact to the community, let alone fundraising dollars, is just too great based on these very restrictive and very expensive guidelines,” Dalglish says.

“We’re talking about food that is so much more expensive than what we’re used to doing for hot lunches. Where it hits the hardest is, especially, in the elementary schools, where they do a lot of fun, community events throughout the year.”

Dalglish says, at her school, these parent-organized, food-based fundraisers bring in about $20,000 per year. Dalglish says pivoting to provide the approved foods would significantly drive up the cost, and that participation would plummet.

“Kids won’t eat it,” she says.

The guidelines were last updated in 2013, and Dalglish thinks they were just fine the way they were. Those only applied to foods that were sold, and he divided them into three categories: sell most; sell sometimes; and do not sell. There were also separate guidelines for elementary and high schools.

“I’d like (the government) to stop policing what people want to feed their children. That’s totally out of their purview, and there are a lot of other priorities that they need to be spending their resources and energy on right now,” she says.

“It’s not every day that kids are eating these foods, just let them have fun… It’s about healthy habits. Everything in moderation – including treats – needs to be apart of that.”

Further, Dalglish worries that the guidelines stigmatize foods that some lower-income families may eat simply because they’re more affordable.

“To eat healthy, like they’re suggesting in those guidelines, is super expensive, and the average family can’t afford that,” she says.

“Here in Surrey we have such a diverse population and range of family incomes, there would be so many people that this excludes.”

The updated guidelines are being brought in, according to the province, to better align them with the 2019 updates to the Canada Food Guide and to create a “gold standard” for nutrition.

“The Guidelines for Food and Beverage Sales in BC Schools have been developed to support healthy food environments at school by increasing access to healthy food while limiting access to unhealthy food,” the province’s draft reads.

“Through food programs, cafeterias, vending machines, fundraisers and more, schools provide many of the meals, snacks and beverages students consume in a day. Providing nutritious foods to students at school supports their learning, mental well-being, and healthy growth and development.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix, asked about the guidelines last week, stressed that consultation with parents is ongoing.

“We’re going to be working through this with parents, making sure that we improve the quality of food and food education in the school system,” he said.

“We want to model good dietary behavior, we want to model that in our school system. So do parents, and so that’s something we’re going to work on together.”

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