It’s hard to believe that some children in Canada go to school hungry and return home with an empty stomach. That should never happen in a country like ours. But it’s just as perplexing to me that we don’t provide organic food to all children and make learning about nutrition as important as reading, writing and arithmetic.
More than anything, parents want their children to grow up healthy and happy. And one of the main methods for ensuring health and happiness is the food they eat.
Last month, I called for the creation of a new national movement of committed Canadians who would unite in support of seven core principles to make our country better and more prosperous. One of those key principles is to make sure that every kid in Canada has a healthy organic meal at school and learns more about nutrition by growing their own food.
The benefits of doing so are numerous. For one, healthy children are better able to learn. When children have access to a healthy school lunch, they are more likely to succeed in school and in life.
And what parents wouldn’t want school cafeterias across the country to serve healthy meals, instead of things like pizza, hot dogs and French fries? These foods not only contain high levels of sugar, salt, processed carbohydrates and unhealthy fats, they also often contain chemicals, preservatives, stabilizers, artificial colors and simulated flavours.
It’s no wonder that a growing number of children are physically unfit. According to the Government of Canada, 30 per cent of children between the ages of five to 17 are overweight or obese.
Children who eat poorly are also more likely to develop long-term health problems, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease. Healthy meals would definitely cost more in the short term, but could potentially save billions of dollars in health-care expenses in the long run.
In addition to providing organic lunches, we should also establish educational programs where children learn about the nutritional benefits of foods and the critical role that food plays in human health. They should also learn how to grow organic foods — a skill that will serve them well throughout their lives and give them a greater chance of being healthy.
Children in grades 1-6 should spend a few hours each week learning about the importance of healthy eating, including taking field trips to local farms and greenhouses, while students in grades 7-12 should spend one entire day per week in studies and hands-on on learning related to planting, nurturing and harvesting farm-grown produce. This learning will take place outdoors at farms during the spring, summer and fall, and inside greenhouses during the winter.
Students would plant seeds, fertilize the soil, water the vegetables and herbs, weed the gardens, prune the orchards and harvest the fruits and vegetables. All the food that students help grow would be free of pesticides, herbicides, GMOs and chemicals. Best of all, most of the food grown by the students could end up being served in their own school cafeterias.
I believe children would really enjoy digging in the soil, planting seeds and then nurturing those vegetables and fruits. And I think they would also enjoy eating the foods they have grown and harvested with their own hands. No food ever tastes as good as the food you grow yourself.
The sad truth is that too many children are going to school hungry and eating foods that have little nutritional value. Ultimately, it’s up to us as parents and grandparents to band together and push for change. We can do much more to ensure that our children grow up healthy and happy, with the same opportunities for health and prosperity that previous generations enjoyed.
The fact is, if you’re healthy, you think more clearly. You have more energy. And you’re able to get the most out of life. At the end of the day, it’s much easier to be happy when you’re healthy. That’s the greatest gift we can give to our children.
Frank Stronach is the founder of Magna International Inc., one of Canada’s largest global companies, and an inductee in the Automotive Hall of Fame.
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