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Fruits and vegetables lacking in many kids lunchboxes

Thunder Bay District Health Unit aims to turn eating habits around through its Healthy Kids Community Challenge, encouraging pop-up fresh food markets, community gardens and a school food and garden co-ordinator.
Frank Pullia
Coun. Frank Pullia puts the finishing touches on a breakfast burriot on Monday, May 8, 2017 at the Thunder Bay District Health Unit (Leith Dunick,

THUNDER BAY – Not enough Northwestern Ontario kids are getting their recommended daily dose of fruits and vegetables.

Staff at the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, together with community partners, is working to see those numbers improve.

They are somewhat distressing.

According to statistics provided by the Healthy Kids Community Challenge, 59 per cent of children between two and 17 consume fewer than five servings of vegetables and fruits each day. Just 43 per cent of boys in grades six to eight, and 53 per cent of girls in the same age category, can make the claim.

It’s part of a disturbing trend province-wide, said the TBDHU’s Marianne Stewart on Monday, launching a program aimed at turning the statistics around.

The third theme in the Healthy Kids Community Challenge, the program will bolster Take Back the Kitchen at Our Kids Count, help create community gardens for Indigenous families, neighbourhood pop-up fresh food markets and the hiring, with Roots to Harvest, of a school food garden co-ordinator.

Cooking classes are also part of the mix.

“We don’t want to see a decline in the consumption of fruit and vegetables. We want to see an increase, with all those protective factors for chronic disease, more vitamins and minerals and micro elements,” Stewart said.

“It makes you feel healthier and gives you energy to live your life.”

Unfortunately for a lot of parents, it’s a heck of a lot easier to toss their kids a bag of chips or an ice cream treat instead of a bowl of apple slices or carrot sticks.

The cost can also be prohibitive.

“We need to increase food skills and we need to teach parents quick and easy ways to prepare veggies and fruits to get into lunches,” Stewart said.

“And the other thing is we do acknowledge that fresh fruits and veggies aren’t accessible to all children and families. So we’re encouraging consuming fruits and vegetables in any manner you can.”

Canned pineapple slices or beans and frozen peas or blueberries will do the trick, she said.

“It’s another way you can increase you consumption,” Stewart said.

Megan Bellinger, a public health dietitian at the health unit, said a little prep time is all it takes to be able to include fruits and vegetables in every meal or snack a child eats.

“You can definitely make it taste great as well,” said Bellinger, who scrambled a few eggs and laid out a selection of greens, carrots and spreads to whip up a quick and healthy breakfast burrito.

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Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith is Dougall Media's director of news, but still likes to tell your stories too. Wants his Expos back and to see Neil Young at least one more time. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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