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Jenny Osburn serving up healthy food in schools talk in Kentville

Kings County resident Jenny Osburn is passionate about getting more healthy food options into local schools.
Kings County resident Jenny Osburn is passionate about getting more healthy food options into local schools. - Contributed

‘Get them hooked on healthy’

KENTVILLE, N.S. - Jenny Osburn, Select Nova Scotia’s 2011 Local Food Hero, signed on to give a talk Nov. 27 at the Kings County Museum about her passion – getting healthy, nourishing, local food in our schools.

When it comes to improving the quality of food served at school, says Osburn, there are opportunities and challenges to us as a community. This, along with her work in the cafeteria of an Annapolis Valley school, formed the basis of her talk.

“The Valley is the breadbasket of Nova Scotia, so it should follow that we teach our kids about the foods we produce here and get them hooked on healthy, local food for life,” says Osburn.

As a parent, Osburn says, it's important to let your school know if you're happy with the food being offered. You can also take a look at Nova Scotia's nutrition policy to see if your school is meeting the guidelines. If not, it's time to start talking with the administration and other parents.

“If we are to pay for school kitchens with our tax dollars, we need to trust that they will serve our children a good, healthy lunch every day,” she says.

There is also a brand-new campaign led by Nourish NS to #standup4schoolfood that interested people can join to encourage the federal government to provide lunch for every student in the country, like other G7 countries, explains Osburn.

Osburn says changing school food for the better is a key opportunity to making real change in our communities. Improving health outcomes, making efforts to break the cycle of poverty, and the multiplier effect of spending our food dollars in Nova Scotia will have a positive impact on all of us. Giving our youth the best chance at meeting their potential will ensure the vibrancy and viability of our towns, villages and rural communities, she adds.

Knowing a short meeting of the Kings Historical Society would precede her talk, Osburn says she reflected on how food has changed over time while developing her presentation.

For example, Osburn says that when she went to elementary school, her only hot lunch was a hotdog day once a week and she always brought packed lunches.

In the decades that have since passed, our food system has changed drastically, she says. Highly processed foods have now replaced many of the nutritious foods we ate in the past, and we are experiencing a health crisis in all of Canada, and particularly in Nova Scotia.

Osburn says that families are busy and working more hours than ever. Serving an excellent school lunch would be a wonderful way to way relieve some of that pressure from parents.

“In order for that to work well for all families, we need to trust that the food served in schools isn't going to make our children sick,” she says. “That's challenging in part because as a community we are losing our food knowledge, making it ever easier for food companies to sell us convenient processed foods.” There's a tremendous opportunity to improve sales through better food, lowering the cost for everyone, she says.

When asked if we are returning to our grassroots of how food used to be prepared, Osburn says yes and no.

“Even with our food obsession today, on average we don't spend as much time actually cooking for our families as in previous generations,” she says.

We need to lead the way at schools towards eating what nourished us in the past. We have to go slowly so kids can adapt, but school is a great setting for them to experiment with new flavours. Every family has their unique food culture and traditions that could contribute to school menus, says Osburn.

Since she has started advocating for better food in our schools, Osburn says she has noticed a difference and is inspired by the many people working hard to improve school food in our communities.

“When we started the salad bar at Berwick School last May, we knew it would work because we had seen it in action at Falmouth Elementary. Seeing is believing!”

This simple strategy has a big payoff: it’s vastly increasing vegetable and fruit consumption in children and staff. By improving the food, there has been a big increase in sales, she says. Now other schools are looking to add salad bars and higher quality, more local menu items.

“I'm hopeful that the AVRCE will play a role in encouraging this shift,” she adds.

She hopes people of all ages will respond to her message and see that healthy food for all children, regardless of income, is well within our reach. But since it's going to take all of us, she says she’s happy to hear feedback.

If you go

Osburn’s talk, Healthy, Nourishing, Local Food in our Schools is slated for Nov. 27 at 7:30 p.m. in the courthouse of the Kings County Museum, 37 Cornwallis Street, Kentville. Admission is by freewill offering.

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