Diversity at Mealtimes

An intricate part of the Ontario Ministry of Education pedagogy: How Does Learning Happen? (HDLH) highlights the importance of building relationships with children and families. Vanier Co-operative School-age Program has found a way to embed the four foundational conditions of HDLH “Belonging, Well Being, Engagement and Expression” through their enrollment process as it relates to the inclusion of diversity at mealtimes.

The foundation of engagement is reflected during the enrollment process which engages families, children and educators to build relationships that support the child within the context of his or her families’ culture and diversity. As part of the enrollment process, a food survey is conducted with the parents, as they know, their child best. The child’s top 3 favourites from each food groups are highlighted as well as food allergies, restrictions, intolerances and special dietary information.  

The foundation of belonging is reflected in the preparation of culturally sensitive menus. International flavours and multicultural dishes are served throughout a child’s enrollment. A minimum of two weeks of menus are prepared in advance and posted at the kitchen, dining room, program rooms, entrances and parent bulletin boards. Special consideration is planned for a child’s first week of meals and snacks which include their preference to provide an overall feeling of comfort and familiarity.

The foundation of well-being is reflected through Vanier Co-operative’s goal to offer food the children enjoy which contributes to healthy growth and development. Food is an integral part of the experience at child care. It provides the children with the security and comfort of regular meals and snacks. What centres feed the children in their early years can influence eating habits, health and body weight in later life.

The foundation of expression is reflected during the social aspect of mealtimes. Food offers nourishment, but it also provides opportunities for practicing fine motor and self-help skills.

Simple inclusion in our daily lunch and snack menus is demonstrated from vegetarian pasta to a naan pizza or from a ground turkey taco salad and dirty rice with refried beans to a vegetable biryani or from a Thai tilapia with basmati rice to a cheese and broccoli frittata with roasted potatoes. Multiculturalism can be translated into an inclusive food menu embedding the four foundational conditions. Who better to resource a diverse menu than from the wealth of parents’ and their cultural histories?

Kathy Arsenault, Coordinator BA, RECE
Vanier Co-operative School-age Program

Lisa Sletcher, Resource Consultant Team Leader
Children’s Integration Support Services