Students at Roseau Valley School (RVS) in Dominion City will enjoy free lunches for another year, thanks to a $75,000 grant from the federal government.
Through the school's lunch program, students currently have access to a free nutritious lunch once every two weeks, thanks to previous support from the Manitoba Government's Teacher's Idea Fund.
Vice principal Jennifer Collette says the feedback has been amazing
"I would say that 98% of our students have utilized that program. It's healthy food, right? Kids are trying different salads that they've never tried, different ingredients. Some of the feedback from kids is like, 'I actually really like salad now.' I think the focus on it being healthy food has been excellent. I recently just surveyed students and what came back was that it makes their school day better - they don't have to worry about packing a lunch."
However, Collette added, it costs quite a bit of money to feed an entire school.
"The proposal we put in was for $75,000 and that was approved, so we will be able to continue on our lunch initiative for an entire school year, which just shows how people are seeing the value in food equity and food security for students and how that impacts them."
Initially started late last year, Collette says the lunch program has significantly impacted the school in a positive way. Not least is being able to involve students enrolled in the Foods and Nutrition program in preparing the lunches.
"There's kids using their class time to help chop up ingredients, which is also awesome when you can use students and include everybody in a full circle process ... pretty cool!"
Despite the success of the program, Collette says they were uncertain whether the province would provide more funds to keep it going.
"We made a proposal to Indigenous Service Canada because we had seen such great success in this lunch program and we wanted to be able to continue it. We weren't sure if the Teachers Idea Fund was going to be offered a third year. We would qualify for this (the federal grant)," she explained. "So, we were doing one lunch bi-weekly. We'll be offering it once a week till the end of June. Next school year, we'll be able to offer the lunch initiative once a week from September till June."
While the physical benefits of good food may be obvious, Collette points out that students gain academically as well.
"At RVS, we really do believe in taking care of people's basic needs first. We've been able to run an amazing breakfast program. We have seen the benefits in that and this is just a one-up from that. We've been able to do those things together with the breakfast program still running and with the lunches, it totally improves students' well-being at school. When people eat nutritious meals, are ready to start their day, it makes a huge difference."
The food programs have opened up many conversations about the impact of healthy eating.
As they develop data collected from the currrent programs, Collette says they hope to show the enough benefits to help sustain the programs beyond one year.
A recent survey revealed that two lunch favorites at RVS are taco salad and chicken caesar salad.
Collette says the expanded program will maintain a focus on healthy eating while exploring new options such as a soup bar.