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07 Feb, Tuesday
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Montreal Families

Teaching kids to eat local, healthy food

Sonia Chablo, a fifth grade teacher at St. Lawrence Academy Senior School in Lasalle, is always looking for ways to help her students learn about the environment. She has helped them write a newsletter filled with advice about going “green” and asked the Home and School association to purchase reusable cloth bags for each child. Chablo faced a challenge when she decided to tackle the question of healthy food, looking at ways children could eat more fresh food.

Some children had never been to one of the city’s farmer’s markets and regularly ate pizza and drank soft drinks for supper. Others had families where snacking, rather than regular family meals, were the norm.

Then Chablo heard about a local organization called Equiterre that tries to help people make more environmentally-friendly choices in terms of farming, food, transportation and fair trade.

The non-profit organization had recently created a program for schools and daycares called “Soup’s On” (in French, À la soupe) that included a kit filled with hands-on activities about eating healthy foods. For example, students would be asked to re-create a farmer’s market, taking on roles as both buyers and sellers, and discussing where the food might come from and how it would be priced and used in recipes.

Chablo decided to try out some of the activities with students in the school’s environment club, which meets weekly at lunchtime. The children did a project about seasonal produce, which encouraged discussion about the environmental impact of importing foods, such as strawberries to Quebec in the winter.

“The kids really started to think about what they eat,” Chablo said. “Some even went home and starting looking through their refrigerators and cupboards and talking to their parents about where their food comes from.”

Then Equiterre helped arrange a visit to the school from Richard Williams, who works at the ecological farm at the Cap St. Jacques Nature Park. Chablo says her kids, who tend to lead a very urban lifestyle, were intrigued by his farm tools and peppered him with questions about how he grows and tends produce.

Mélissa Mayer, pedagogical advisor for the Soup’s On program, says Equiterre has worked closely with teachers and students to ensure that the activities are engaging and dynamic, adding that kids have embraced the program’s ideas. “Every time we test activities, students really participate and get involved,” she says. “They are very concerned about the topics explored in the kit and really make the link to their personal life. They often want to know what more they can do for the environment and how they can adopt more responsible food choices and better eating habits.”

The kit can be downloaded for free from the Equiterre website or purchased on a CD for $5 from the group. This fall, based on feedback from the program’s users, Equiterre will be publishing a revised kit with a more multicultural focus.

“We’ve included fruits and vegetables that can be found in other countries, but that can also grow in Quebec such as bok choy,” Mayer says. “We also created a substitution list for imported fruits and vegetables to help families to make more in-season and local choices.” For example, the kit suggests buying a locally grown pear in place of a cactus pear from Mexico.

The revised activities also encourage kids to think about the global impact of choosing local produce. “We introduce the importance of diversity on our plate, meaning vegetables and fruits of all colours, by comparing it to the importance of diversity in our environment where each living species has a role to play,” Mayer says. “We also talk about the importance of diversity in our society and we compare our eating habits in Quebec to the ones in other countries.”

For more information, call (514) 522-2000 or visit www.equiterre.org.

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