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Hamilton public schools set to loosen belt on treats

Nutrition policy to only cover food and drink sold to students

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

Baking cupcakes for your daughter’s class to celebrate her birthday may soon no longer be a crime against the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board’s nutrition policy.

Proposed changes expected to go before trustees for approval in early December remove the word “serve” from the two-year-old policy, allowing students to now enjoy treats brought from home for special occasions like birthdays and holidays.

The revised policy would also no longer apply to teachers and staff, just food or drinks sold to students at schools.

Beyond letting staff eat and drink as they choose, the changes will give cooking classes the leeway to prepare foods that don’t meet strict guidelines on fat, salt and sugar.

They also scrap a four-per-year limit on off-site school fundraisers that sell forbidden treats like chocolate bars.

All other prohibitions – including against the sale of pop, coffee, donuts, ice cream, candy, gum and higher fat chips and french fries to students – would remain.

“Our policy now looks more like the provincial policy,” said trustee Judith Bishop, chair of a policy subcommittee that reviewed the rules following a formal consultation that drew 191 written responses, mostly from parents and guardians.

She said the subcommittee felt some uneasiness over relaxing the policy on served goodies and treating staff differently than students, but the board’s prohibitions go beyond those required by the province and aren’t always followed.

“It could mean that both food that is seen as healthy and food that is not seen as healthy is served in schools because the word ‘serve’ is now being taken out of the policy,” Bishop said.

“On the other hand, we all know that cupcakes and birthday treats and Christmas treats were made available at schools regardless of the policy,” she said. “The concerns from the community have been listened to.”

If approved, the revised policy would now exempt free breakfast and lunch programs because the food is served, not sold. The same is true for consumption of forbidden drinks like Gatorade at sporting events, as long as they’re not sold.

The policy would also no longer force every school to have a healthy eating action team or graduation ceremonies to adhere to the policy, which prohibits most sweets.

“One aspect to a good policy is (having) something that you can logistically implement within the context of an organization,” board chair Tim Simmons said. “I think this is a little more grounded in a go-forward way.”

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