My parents put serious effort into my school lunches. They tried making my healthy snacks exciting so I wouldn't fall victim to all the unhealthy options available at the school cafeteria. Let me tell you, however, that this little girl went crazy with her paper route money at the school cafeteria.
These days, health-conscious parents like mine can put their worries to rest; new provincial regulations carefully monitor the types of food allowed in Ontario schools. Our well-loved students can have access to healthy and nutritious options in the 7-8 hours they are at school.
The new School Food and Beverage Policy (aka PPM 150) requires Ontario school boards to scrutinize and organize all food and beverages sold on school premises according to regulations, in order to ensure the majority of options available to students are nutritious and healthy. Ontario school principals had to be in compliance with the regulations by Sept. 1st 2011, so if you’re interested in selling your product in schools – premade, processed, or fresh – it’s time for a cram session. Step into the Ontariofresh.ca classroom.
The Ontario Ministry of Education has defined 3 categories for categorizing food and beverage options sold in schools:
- Unhealthy foods that are no longer allowed (make up 0% of all options available, classified as “No”). Examples include: chocolate, most sodas, most potato chips, sauces higher in sugar and sodium, and nearly anything deep-fried.
- Minimally nutritious options (no more than 20% of all options available, classified as “Sell Less”). Examples include pizza that is lower in fat, most cheese, some pasta and crackers, and cookies that are healthier-than-the-average-cookie.
- Healthier fare (at least 80% of all available food choices, classified as “Sell Most”). Examples include all fresh vegetables and fruits, quinoa, plain and naturally flavoured yogourt, and some whole-grain breads.
As part of your reading I’ve assigned the Ministry’s Nutrition Standards for Ontario Schools, which was built using Canada's Food Guide.
Complying with PPM150 is not simply a matter of passing a test or inspection. It's about knowing how your product is labeled The legislation itself is complex, but food sellers (whether it’s processed, premade meals, or raw ingredients) can use the Nutrition Standards Tool to compare their product’s nutritional value against school regulations quickly and easily. By entering in certain nutritional details (such as fat content, sodium, calcium, etc.), sellers can find out which category their product falls into. Which nutritional details apply varies according to product type, and whether elementary or secondary schools are the target audience.
Some school boards have a list of pre-approved vendors that they work with, which can only be determined in a conversation. Most will have some sort of compliance agreement, to ensure that the product they're buying remains consistent. The only way to find out how each works is to initiate contact and figure out how to wiggle yourself into their strategy.
Once they know how the product is labeled, food sellers can start marketing products properly or changing their ways to make their product more flexible for schools. This can be as simple as changing the type of oil/cheese/meat used in processing and production, altering portion sizes for premade meals, and just knowing the right language to pitch the product to school boards (“my vegetable meal is a great option for your school. Because of these great ingredients I’ve included and these nasty ones I’ve cut out, it fits into your “Sell Most” category and makes your job easier!”)
The best news yet? “Boards and schools should […] offer, when available and where possible, food and beverages that are produced in Ontario.” (1)
Markets change and sometimes we must too, for the good of our economy, environment, and the health of future generations. We’ve given you the education, now go forth into the world and apply your learning!
(1) Ontario Ministry of Education. Policy/Program Memorandum No. 150: School Food and Beverage Policy. 4 October, 2010. <http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/extra/eng/ppm/ppm150.pdf>
- Madeline Ritchie, Program Assistant