When a child celebrates a birthday, parents often bring in sugary snacks to share with their classmates, but that tradition is changing at a number of Edmonton schools.
Twenty-one schools in Edmonton are part of the APPLE initiative, aimed at encouraging active living and healthy eating; 15 are in the public school system, while six are in the Catholic district.
St. Kateri Elementary in the southeast part of the city is an APPLE school.
The school has parents sign a commitment to providing nutritional foods for their children.
St. Kateri also celebrates birthdays and holidays differently.
“We encourage parents to bring in healthy snacks – rather than cupcakes, sugars, cakes and things like that,” Kindergarten teacher Nicole Carignan said.
“Because there are so many allergies to nuts and things like that, fruits and vegetables are the healthy choice.”
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At snack time, Carignan’s students pull out lunch-kits packed with apple slices, yogurt, cucumbers and carrots.
If parents want to do something other than bring a healthy snack to celebrate a special occasion, they’re encouraged to donate a birthday book to the school – one their child can read with classmates.
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If parents miss the reminders in the newsletters and agendas and bring in something unhealthy, the teachers can improvise.
“That child is excited to bring that in,” Carignan said. “So, we might just cut the cookie up to allow the child to distribute it and then just educate the parent afterwards in saying: ‘Thank you so much for bringing something in, but next time let’s consider something healthier’ and explain why.”
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It’s an initiative parents are largely on board with.
“That is the way it should be,” Jimmy Phul said. “The alternates that we have, the veggies and the apples and fruits and stuff, that’s the best way to go.”
“I love being part of an APPLE school,” Laura Anderson added. “I think there’s way too much sugar in our diets anyway.”
Even the kids are warming up to the idea.
“I like healthy food,” Grade 1 student Annabelle Harasym said.
Her mom says less sugar means a sweeter child.
“I’ve noticed a huge change in my daughter,” Meghan Harasym said. “When she comes home from school, she’s actually happy.”
A nutritionist explained that behavioural change makes sense.
“Refined sugars and carbohydrates release very quickly into the bloodstream so that can cause hyperactivity,” Christal Sczebel with Pure and Simple explained. “It’s also a big immune suppressor.”
Still, she says treats should never be outlawed completely.
“I don’t think deprivation or restriction is good at all,” Sczebel said. “That can create a poor relationship with food.”