Nourish NS releases Local Food Lunch Toolkit

Are you looking to bring more locally-produced foods into your menus?
Nourish Nova Scotia has developed an exciting Local Food Lunch Toolkit to serve up healthy, delicious and easy-to-make recipes for schools and families.  While developed with Nova Scotia local products in mind, schools and families across the country can look to this new resource for ideas and inspiration!

Available in English and French, the toolkit is the first of its kind, designed specifically with busy food service professionals in mind. The goal? To help make the incorporation of local ingredients into scratch-cooking not only more accessible, but rewarding! The toolkit’s authors are food service professionals and know all too well how daunting it can be to create recipes from scratch for a large number of people, especially kids. This toolkit aims to alleviate some of that pressure  with the reassurance that all recipes have developed to align with the Canada Food Guide – and they have been tried, tested and approved by Nova Scotia students.

As a bonus, an adapted version was created for families to help take some of the stress out of meal planning, and encourage opportunities for families to cook together. 

We love that the toolkit provides detailed but flexible instructions, offering ideas for substitutions, considerations for allergies, and tips for allowing student choice with the ‘create your plate’ feature. The toolkit even has curriculum connections!

These recipes are sure to help bring more healthy, local foods into schools and households, and make life easier for busy food service professionals and families. It’s a win-win, as one of the supporting partners shares:

“This toolkit makes getting local, healthy foods into the hands of our school children and families that much easier – building strong and healthy communities for the future.”
– Carolyn Van Den Heuvel, Director of Outreach & Member Relations of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture

The Toolkit for Food Service includes:

  • Sample one-, two- and four-week cycle menus with task lists to make menu-planning simple
  • 19 recipes including local ingredient highlights, suggestions for toppings/sides, and tips & tricks
  • 3 extended recipes that also include shopping lists, cost guides, promotional tips for a school setting, and more!
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The Toolkit for Families includes:

  • Sample one-, two- and four-week menus with task lists for meal-planning at home
  • 22 recipes including local ingredient highlights and suggestions for toppings/sides
  • Families can try making favourite recipes at home, or schools can make family-size recipes to test their success!
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Looking for individual, downloadable recipes? Find them on the Nourish Nova Scotia website.

This toolkit was the combined vision of passionate school food service consultants Rosie Gair and Jenny Osburn. It was brought to life thanks to Nourish Nova Scotia in collaboration with Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, Western Kings Memorial Health Society and Farm to Cafeteria Canada.

Special thanks to all those who contributed:

Jenny Osburn, School Food Service Consultant – Co-author & recipe developer
Rosie Gair, School Food Service Consultant – Co-Author & recipe developer
Margo Riebe-Butt, Executive Director, Nourish Nova Scotia – Co-author & supervising dietitian
Alyce Casey, Program Support & Communications, Nourish Nova Scotia – Design Lead
Carolyn Van Den Huevel,  Director of Outreach & Member Relations, Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture – Working Group Advisor
Jesse Veenstra, National Director, Farm to Cafeteria Canada – Working Group Advisor

Check out our Q&A below with the toolkit’s co-authors and partners to learn more about why they developed this resource and how it can be used!

What excites you about the local food lunch kit?

Carolyn: I’m excited to see this local food lunch kit come to fruition. We know that families and schools are busy. Having this lunch kit will help make life easier. Not having to look up recipes or build your grocery list – it’s all in one easy to use place!

Rosie: This kit is practical and approachable. It’s the first tangible tool to support a bigger picture. It can be used to create change in food culture and can be used as a base for training and implementation in many public environments (that so often operate in silos). We’ve created versions of favourites that children love and will actually eat, rather than idealist plates that may read healthy on menus but remain unordered and uneaten.

Why was it important for you/your organization to create a tool targeted for food service professionals in particular?

Jenny: Rosie and I are passionate lifelong food service workers. It’s a very demanding job in many settings. We wanted to produce a guide for healthy school meals made with local food that aren’t overly complicated or time-consuming. We know how joyful it can be for food service workers when they feel great about the food they are serving and get positive feedback!

Margo: Food service professionals working in school and community settings have little time to learn and create new menus. Many rely on “heat and serve” processed food products because of time constraints.  But we know they want to serve more wholesome, from-scratch meals to students and clients. We also know they value food grown locally, and want to find ways to bring these foods into their menus. Up until now they’ve had little support to do so. This toolkit makes cooking wholesome meals from scratch (that children enjoy) simple and doable.

How do you hope people will use the toolkit and what impact do you hope it has for them?

Jenny: My hope is that people will start where they are comfortable and use the recipes that work best for their community. When it’s practical, we hope they can add on some of the “Create Your Plate!” options. This adds flavour and nutrition, and nothing boosts participation more than having a say in what goes on or alongside your lunch! 

Rosie: Ultimately, I hope that it makes healthy local food exciting and desirable for kids, creates learning opportunities, shifts eating habits and culture in schools, and is accessible to all students. The kit offers many tools to support cafeterias and training.

Why is now the right time for this tool?

Margo: In Nova Scotia, our newly minted Premier Iain Rankin has highlighted in his mandate letters to Agriculture and Education in particular the need to get more locally-produced foods into schools. 

Jenny: Rosie and I were drawn together after doing this work for years in different areas of the province, so it was definitely the right time to put our heads together with some organizations that have the same goals! During the time we worked on this, the focus on food security and building capacity to feed ourselves has grown. 

Carolyn: Unfortunately, the pandemic shone a light on the lack of healthy foods in our schools and communities. It also brought attention to the importance of our local food supply chain. With an increase in awareness around local food and the desire for communities to come together, this seemed to be the opportune time for this project.

Rosie: This tool provides part of a solution that focuses on operations and ground level conditions. This is a time that we can combine efforts and share the work that has come before us through sharing progress, resources, system set-ups and expertise on securing investment to move shared visions forward through a greater collective impact.

What were some important considerations when designing recipes and sample menus?

Jenny & Rosie: We considered many things including student popularity, parental buy-in, health policies, local ingredients, presentation, and the ease of preparation and practical operations for food service workers.

We developed these recipes while working in schools, so we got to test them with hundreds of students and received plenty of feedback that shaped our choices. We have also been lucky enough to collaborate with knowledgeable food service workers and cooks, with delicious results. 

The “build your own adventure” style of eating appeals to more people too.  It is important to gain trust and then introduce new foods and bigger menus once that trust and buy-in is there and the operational efficiencies built.

Alyce: Design-wise, the images of full plates for each recipe bring in pops of colour while connecting visually to Canada’s Food Guide. A key part of the recipe design was also to highlight certain ingredients in green on the sidebar to show that they can be obtained locally (some may not be aware that you can get local tomato puree or whole wheat flour)! And the suggestions for sides & toppings can be used to create a “salad bar” to accompany each recipe so that everyone has the power to “Create Your Plate.”

In your experience, what is some of the most needed/practical information for enabling food service professionals to cook from scratch with local food? How did this influence the design of the toolkit?

Jenny & Rosie: Without additional time, remuneration, food subsidies and marketing expertise, it is important to support food service workers to cook from scratch through menus and tools. These can create efficiencies and buy-in quickly while meeting healthy food policies.  

Two things that can get in the way of having enough time to cook with local food from scratch are (1) having a menu with too many options and therefore (2) needing ordering systems that are too time-consuming to track. Our method is to streamline menu offerings to one item that can suit many tastes and the dietary needs of most students. We do this by having them create their own meal with a salad or toppings bar or (in pandemic times) by serving these items on the side of delivered meals. Even if a child doesn’t want the meatball, they may be excited to have the mashed potatoes and veggies that go with it. And serving a child’s favourite fruit with a meal they aren’t yet sure about is a great way to encourage them to try new tastes! 

Local is integrated directly into these recipes and as such provides a guide to the potential to incorporate local rather than it being an afterthought.

If you could share one thing with the world about your experience cooking and serving local food in schools, what would it be?

Jenny & Rosie: Serving local food in schools creates a lot of excitement and community goodwill. This can lead to great things happening in your cafeteria through increased engagement! 

We have found that many parents will order lunch for their child if the program is well-promoted with a clear ordering system, if their child enjoys it, and they feel it is a good value. Finding ways to serve economical, healthy local food that kids will enjoy at school is a big win for everyone.

Children are the best positive influence on one another, so the more children that eat local healthy food together, the more others will come on board. And then eating healthy local food becomes the norm and not the exception. 

Margo: Well nourished children do better in the classroom and in life. It’s as simple as that.

This toolkit was developed thanks to a partnership between:

The co-authors would also like to provide special thanks to Sue Le Blanc who helped inform the vision for this toolkit. Sue’s time working in Nova Scotia school cafeterias provided valuable insights into popular dishes and menus among students.