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Improving Nutritional Intake Through Environmentally Sustainable School Food Programs



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Healthy eating supports optimal growth, development, and academic achievement. Food insecurity and overweight are concerns in school-aged children, and food literacy skills are declining. The structure of our society has led to little connection between people and their food, including where it comes from and how to grow and prepare it. This is occurring at the same time the looming environmental crisis is compromising our ability to produce food. Schools can promote healthy eating, yet, at the time of preparing this dissertation, there is no national school food program in Canada. School food programs that do exist often have insufficient funds to operate but should be designed to include healthy food options along with sustainable food system strategies such as teaching about growing, harvesting, and preparing food, along with composting and reducing waste. In paper 1, I conducted a scoping review to determine promising practices for school food programs in Canada. The search included 17 peer-reviewed and 18 grey literature articles covering 23 programs in 10 provinces. School food programs should address social determinants of health, food systems, and environmental and economic sustainability Paper 2 describes a cross-sectional assessment of foods that children in grades 4-8 in and around Saskatoon had in their lunches. A School Food Checklist (SFC) and digital photography were used for data collection. Diet quality was compared amongst students in schools of three types: urban schools that have a meal program (n=3), urban schools that do not have a meal program (n=3) and rural schools without a meal program (n=3), with the total sample containing lunches from 773 students. The diet quality of all students needs improvement. In Paper 3, I describe a multi-case study including two Community schools. Data was collected through interviews with teachers and Nutrition Workers, observations, document review of curriculum and policy, and by using the School Food Environment Assessment Tool Checklist. Barriers and facilitators to implementing sustainable food systems were identified. Community Schools are in a strong position to be leaders in the area of school food if they prioritize sustainable food systems, develop supportive policies, and include community members.



School food program, school meal program, sustainable food systems in schools, elementary school, health promotion, Canada



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Community Health and Epidemiology


Community and Population Health Science


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