At Ridley, we want our students to feel good and do good. As a leader in positive education and wellbeing education, our educators intentionally teach the habits of mind, body, and spirit so that students are primed for learning and success — now and long after graduation. An integral part of training the habits of mind, body, and spirit is the teaching of healthy eating and sleep habits, which features prominently in our health and physical education programming, itself guided by the belief that a healthy body is the pathway to a healthy mind.
A number of recent studies seem to confirm these claims. As physician, author, and former Harvard Medical School instructor Dr. Eva Selhub explains, “what you eat directly affects the structure and function of your brain and, ultimately, your mood.” However, not all food is created equal. High-quality foods, that is, foods high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourish the brain and provide fuel for the body, while conversely, low-quality foods (e.g., processed or refined meals) can impair brain function and worsen the symptoms of mood disorders such as depression. With regards to academic performance, another study published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that students who eat clean and are physically active “tend to have better grades, school attendance, cognitive performance (e.g., memory), and classroom behaviour.”
Each day at Ridley, our students are nourished with a considerable selection of healthy and delicious food options, which are served in our inspiring gathering spaces, Williams Hall and The Great Hall, and prepared by the expert staff at Chartwells Canada. Chartwells’ dedicated chef and kitchen staff strive to ensure that Ridley students, faculty, and staff alike have access to healthy and delicious snack and meal options each day. At Ridley, snack breaks and meal times are built into the day, allowing students to refuel and nourish their bodies for maximum performance. Additionally, these daily experiences allow teachers to develop deeper connections with students while also modelling and teaching appropriate table manners and etiquette.
After a long COVID-19 break and an overwhelming shift to remote work and learning, Chartwells’ staff found themselves asking how they could re-engage members of the community with new healthy food initiatives as the pandemic halted to a close. “We started with a blank slate wall, then asked ourselves, ‘how can we incorporate nutrition and wellness into this picture?’” says Maggie Bartold, Director of Operations for Chartwells at Ridley College.
This formerly empty canvas has evolved into a rich tapestry of initiatives which promote healthy eating and wellbeing across the Ridley community—two of which are detailed in the sections below.
In November, Chartwells officially launched its Healthy Paws programme, which teaches the foundations of Canada’s Food Guide and the different food groups represented within it to our Lower School students.
Far from simply explaining the groups, these weekly sessions, led by Chef Grant Spencer, engage students through compelling imagery and storytelling. Each food group is symbolized by a leaf on the “Tree of Growth,” itself modelled upon the Chartwells logo, with each weekly session dedicated to the respective food groups. Appropriately, these sessions began with water—an essential facet of growth, both for plant and human life. From there, the groups will proceed through the food groups, with students walking away with the knowledge of how to build a healthy plate and nourish their minds, bodies, and souls through food.
An additional symbol in this programme is the figure of Hank the Tiger (Cub), adding another dimension to the nourishment piece. By starting with Hank as a growing Tiger cub, the children can identify with him and watch him grow as he is “fed” over the course of the year until, at the end of the school year, he is fully grown, providing a valuable lesson about the advantages of healthy eating. Together, these two images create a powerful visual for our Lower School children, providing a simple and colourful message that will keep them engaged and interested while providing the necessary foundations for them to lead healthy and sustainable lives in the future.
The “Snack” Programme
There are a number of reasons we get “snacky” at nighttime. Studies suggest these cravings sometimes come as the result of overly restricted food intake in the daytime. They can also arise from habit or boredom and, in some cases, have been linked to various eating disorders. Regardless of the cause of these urges, it is imperative that when we choose to eat late at night, we make healthy choices.
With the rapid expansion of online food delivery platforms, such as Skip the Dishes, Uber Eats, and Doordash, the temptation to opt for fast food late at night can be overwhelming. To empower students to make good choices, Chartwells and Ridley have implemented a late-night snack programme in our boarding houses.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, Chartwells staff delivers and stocks our boarding house kitchens with healthy, balanced snacks—items such as fruits and veggies, yogurt, freshly baked items, etc.—in order to ensure that students have what they need to stay healthy and develop good habits. These snack deliveries consist of five snack options each run and are currently on a three-week rotation, at which point students and Heads of House are consulted and asked to let us know what they would like to see next. In addition to deliveries, Café Nights run twice a week, every Monday and Wednesday, in the Great Hall.
Eating healthy should not feel like a punishment, so we are delighted to work with our community members to best provide them with delicious, nourishing fuel for their busy lives!
Chartwells will continue weekly Teaching Kitchens with Chef Grant on Saturday mornings, with its Fit+ balanced plate initiative at the core, as well as continue to drive and expand local food and sustainability initiatives on campus. Keep an eye on our blog for more stories about these exciting events in the future, as well as on the Chartwells website, which contains vital information about the organization and its various initiatives.