Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Guest Post: More on that Dreamy Ottawa School Food Program

This guest post is from Sally Collins, a local teacher and real food enthusiast who was inspired to try to make a difference in her students' education by ensuring their education included a healthy focus on healthy food. Here's a follow up highlighting some of what she's done with the $50,000 grant she received from Ontario's Ministry of Education in support of healthy eating initiatives.
In my guest post on June 2nd, 2014, I told you about the $50,000 healthy eating grant that our high school, Norman Johnston Alternate, had received. In that post I outlined our plans for spending it. Since then, we’ve had a chance to follow through on many of those ideas, including building raised garden beds and growing produce that students use in our nutrition classes. Additionally, we built a new kitchen, had a dietitian and guest chefs visit, and took students to work in a gourmet restaurant. It’s been a busy time to say the least!

One initiative in particular I’d like to share more with you today is the healthy eating camp we ran at the end of October. Two colleagues and I took eighteen of our students to Camp IAWAH, near Westport, Ontario, for a three- day cooking and eating extravaganza. It was a blast!

At the camp, the students cooked all our meals under the guidance of the camp chef. Between meals, my colleagues and I taught the students about kitchen safety, food labels, the food industry, nutrition claims, and basic nutrition. We knew the students would have low tolerance for a classroom setting so we taught them primarily through games and other highly participatory activities.

On the last day, students began their major projects. They worked in groups to plan activity days that would be held at the school throughout the school year. The purpose of these days would be to encourage their peers back at home to get excited about healthy eating. One group planned a veggie race that would involve classes competing to design aerodynamic vegetables on wheels while enjoying some vegetable snacks. Another group planned salad-bar days for the whole school. Yet another group designed an Iron Chef competition. Students would compete to see who could make the best dish given certain parameters, such as “include quinoa”.

Along with the official healthy eating activities, we also had time for indoor rock climbing, a terrifying night hike, and a camp fire with complete with cheesy songs, like “Down by the Bay”. We didn’t get a lot of sleep, but it was worth it!

A healthy eating camp like this one could be feasible for almost any school, even without the benefit of a grant, because it follows the model of many outdoor education classes that are currently being offered. We tied all of our activities to a food and nutrition course from the Ontario curriculum, so students were able to earn a food and nutrition credit from their work at the camp as long as they followed through with a few remaining assignments. If your high school would like to provide more food and nutrition classes to students but doesn’t have flexibility in its timetable, you might consider this as an option. If any teachers or administrators would like information on costs or access to our schedule, instructional materials, or teaching activities, my colleagues and I are happy to share. The only hitch is that if you improve on our plans, you have to return the favour and share with us! You can contact me at: sally.collins@ocdsb.ca.

I’ll close with reflections from some of the students who were at the camp,
I learned how to read the nutrition facts behind the food we eat. I loved everything about the camp and really hope I get the opportunity to do it again with all the same people,” Natasha Paquette.

I learned cooking is not really as hard as it seems,” Cara Ladouceur.

There are a lot of things that I could take back and use at home, like why you season chicken. There are also a lot of salads that I learned to make,”
Taylor Lalonde.

The kitchen staff were amazing and made cooking fun,” Samuele-Lyn LaRocque.

I loved working with actual cooks,” Justice Shanks.

I have learned helpful tips and trips on how to replace unhealthy food that I like with healthier options, while still retaining flavour. I have learned how to read labels and recognize what is healthy and what is not. Now that I know how to be more health conscious I can share that knowledge with people around me,” Cameron Jette.
Sally Collins has been teaching with the Ottawa Carleton District School Board since 1998, but just started teaching food and nutrition two years ago. This was when she developed a passion for cooking and eating real food as she worked towards her own 85lb weight loss. She is now somewhat of an evangelist, telling the unenlightened how much better life can be with healthy food. She especially loves cooking for her family, Scott, Sage (7), and Riley (5).

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