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School Food and Beverage Policy

In January 2010, the Ontario Ministry of Education announced a new School Food and Beverage Policy governing all of Ontario's publicly funded elementary and secondary schools. The policy aims to create an environment where the healthiest choices are the easiest choices for students to make. It reinforces the knowledge, skills, and attitudes regarding healthy eating that children learn in the Ontario curriculum. Introducing nutrition standards is one part of the government's plan to develop healthy learning environments and improve student achievement. Research shows that children who eat a healthy diet are more attentive, more ready to learn, and more likely to be successful in school. All food and beverages sold in schools for school purposes must meet the nutrition standards set out in the policy. This includes food and beverages sold:

  • in all venues on school property (e.g. cafeterias, vending machines, tuck shops)
  • through all programs (e.g. catered lunch programs, milk programs), and
  • at all events (e.g. bake sales, sports events).

Since the policy has been implemented, you may notice some changes at your elementary school. The menu prepared for lunch days has changes, and you may see that there are fewer bake sales being held at your school. Additionally, certain foods that do not meet the requirements of the policy will not be sold at your child's school, such as candy or chocolate. High schools have also undergone some changes to adhere to the new policy requirements. The cafeteria menu has changed. Many of the same food items are still being offered, but they will be prepared in more healthy way. Food and drink choices in vending machines will change, and drinks with caffeine will not be sold to students.

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Nutrition Standards

The nutrition standards of the policy are based on the principles of healthy eating outlined in Canada's Food Guide. They are intended to ensure that the food and beverages sold in schools contribute to students' healthy growth and development. The policy divides food groups (fruits & vegetables, grain products, milk & alternatives, and meat & alternatives) and beverages into three categories:

Healthiest (Sell Most) - These products are the healthiest options, and generally have higher levels of essential nutrients and lower amounts of fat, sugar, and /or sodium. These products must make up at least 80% of all food choices available for sale.

Healthy (Sell Less) - These products may have slightly higher amounts of fat, sugar, and/or sodium than the Sell Most products. They cannot make up more than 20% of all food choices available for sale.

Not Permitted - These are products that generally contain few or no essential nutrients and/or contain high amounts of fat, sugar and/or sodium (e.g. deep-fried and other fried foods, confectionary). Food and beverages in this category may not be sold in schools.

The guides and online tools provided on this webpage will provide a better understanding of these categories, and how they work to improve health and nutrition in our schools.

As an example, a typical school cafeteria menu may look very similar to the menu that existed prior to the introduction of the nutrition standards. For example, a hamburger may be considered a "Sell Most" choice if it is prepared with extra-lean ground meat, whole grain bun, fresh lettuce and tomato. However, it may not be "permitted for sale" if it is prepared with regular ground meat, white bun and processed cheese.

Guides and Online Tools

Nutrition Standards For Ontario Schools
Describes what the Sell Most, Sell Less, and Not Permitted nutrition criteria are.

School Food & Beverage Policy Resource Guide
A comprehensive guide to help schools to understand and apply the nutrition standards.

School Food & Beverage Policy Website
Provides school board staff, principals, and individuals involved in the sale of food and beverages in schools the information details required to implement the policy.

Nutrition Standards Tool
An online tool for assessing food and beverages that has a Nutrition Facts table to see if the choice complies with the Trans Fat Standards, and to categorize the food or beverage as Sell Most, Sell Less, or Not Permitted.

Creating Healthy Menus Tool
An on-line tool to select healthy ingredients for creating healthier entrees, soups, and side dishes.

Exemptions to the Standards

The standards do not apply to food and beverages that are:

  • offered in schools to students at no cost;
  • brought from home or purchased off school premises and are not for resale in schools;
  • available for purchase during field trips off school premises;
  • sold in schools for non-school purposes (e.g., sold by an outside organization that is using the gymnasium after school hours for a non-school–related event);
  • sold for fundraising activities that occur off school premises; and/or
  • sold in staff rooms.

Also, a school principal, in consultation with the school council, may designate up to 10 special-event days throughout the year. On these specially designated days, food and beverages sold in schools would be exempt from the nutrition standards. Although special-event days allow greater flexibility with food and beverages, schools are encouraged to consider selling food and beverages that meet the nutrition standards, or non-food related items, for all celebrations.