Nova Scotia

‘Affordable for everyone’: Lunch program to roll out this fall in N.S. schools

A group that advocates for healthy food in schools across Canada is welcoming the province’s long-awaited school lunch program with open arms.

The Department of Education recently shared that it will launch the first phase of the program this fall, focusing on making nutritious food affordable and accessible beginning with students from pre-primary to Grade 5 attending public schools.

“It’s been something that we’ve advocated for for a long time, and I’m just really excited to see how things play out in the fall,” said Lindsay Corbin, co-ordinator of the Nova Scotia chapter of the Coalition for Healthy School Food with Nourish Nova Scotia.

“I do think we need to manage our expectations that it’s not going to be perfect right out of the gate,” she added. 

Lindsay Corbin is Nourish Nova Scotia’s co-ordinator for the Nova Scotia Coalition for Healthy School Food. (Morgan Webb Photography and Film)

The provincial government has committed $18.8 million for the first year of the lunch program, which was included in the 2024-25 budget. The program will roll out over a four-year period and build to an estimated $100 million annual investment by 2027–28. 

Education Minister Becky Druhan said Tuesday 256 schools were selected for phase one of the program. The cost of buying lunch will be based on individual circumstances, though details are still being worked out, said the minister.

“It’s affordable for everyone and we know for some that will mean free.”

Cost of living ‘really challenging’

Corbin stressed the importance of this.

“We know that the cost of living is really challenging for so many Nova Scotians right now,” she said. 

“We have some evidence that shows if kids go to school and have access to both the breakfast and lunch program, that can help save families between $130 and $190 per child, per month.” 

The province established a school breakfast program in 2005.

Druhan said the lunch program will target younger students first, as they are proven to benefit most from healthy meals; however, the department plans to expand the program to all students as quickly as possible, and that work should start later next school year.

Still no updated food and nutrition policy 

Schools participating in the first phase of the program have received suggested models on how to provide these lunches, whether they be made in-house or outsourced through vendors, Druhan said in a letter sent to parents and guardians of some students in Nova Scotia.

In an interview, Druhan said her department is working with nutritionists on menu-planning to ensure the meals will be healthy, but also “delicious and appealing to kids.” 

But the minister was not able to provide an update on the food and nutrition policy for Nova Scotia public schools, which hasn’t been updated since it was implemented in 2006. 

A woman with long brown hair stands in front of several book shelves. She wears a white blazer.
Becky Druhan is Nova Scotia’s minister of education and early childhood development. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

In a 2022 report, Nova Scotia Auditor General Kim Adair said the policy — based on the 1992 Canada’s Food Guide  — was outdated.

Druhan said updates to the policy are underway, but she does not have a timeline. She emphasized the new school lunch program will be based on the most recent Canada’s Food Guide.

Feds to launch national school food program

The federal government announced its plans last month to launch a $1-billion national food program, which will be implemented over five years. It hopes to deliver meals to 400,000 students per year by the 2024-25 school year. 

Druhan said the province is still waiting for more details on that and how it can be incorporated into Nova Scotia’s programming. 

Druhan said she has told Jenna Sudds, the federal minister of families, children and social development, that Nova Scotia is moving “full steam ahead” on its lunch program, but is eager to hear about the federal funding. 

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