How One Program Provides Healthy Meals for CNC Children and Their Families
The Unemployed Help Centre of Windsor is a community hub, offering a number of services to both immigrants and the community at large. These services allow the centre to work together as a team to bring healthy meals to families with children registered in the CNC program.
Chefs enrolled in a pre-apprenticeship learning program, also located at the centre, prepare the food in a state-of-the-art community kitchen. As part of their on-the-job training, they cook food for various members of the community, including 200 meals per day for seniors and a daily soup lunch all clients who access services at the centre. This busy kitchen also serves up morning and afternoon snacks for children in the CNC program, as well as a lunch that includes their parents.
“The students from the Greater Essex County District School Board are the hands that also prepare healthy food for the children and parents in the CNC program” explains June Muir, CEO of the Unemployed Help Centre of Windsor Inc. It is a win/win situation because the students are learning new skills, feel they are giving back to their community, while earning a credit towards their grade 12 diploma.”
Homemade, balanced and nutritious meals are delivered for the families to enjoy together in the CNC room, while the CNC staff have their lunch break. Parents do not have to worry about making lunches, and everyone eats the same thing.
“Nothing is out of a box, they make it fresh, and most meals are hot. They bring it in on a nice little cart, it is like they are getting catered service,” says Maxine Deleersnyder, the program supervisor.
These shared meals have become a great time for families to socialize with their children and other newcomers. It also provides the perfect setting to share recipes. The program welcomes suggestions from both ECEs and parents, and even created an album with various family recipes from around the world. Children are then introduced to some of those foods through the snacks and lunches.
The menu includes a variety of Canadian items, as well as multicultural dishes. A large proportion of families are Arabic, so food restrictions are in place for many. If the chefs-in-training include meat, they make sure it is halal. The menu is posted the week before in the classroom, informing parents what they will eat on a daily basis.
“Lunch items include typical Canadian food, so they can experience that. They also prepare more recognizable items, such as rice, hummus and vegetables. One of our chefs is Arabic himself and is familiar with what some of our families like,” shares Maxine. “We also have a lot of fun with food and try to make it festive, but still healthy. For example, they made spinach muffins for St. Patrick’s Day.”
Special attention is paid to food allergies. If parents indicate their child has an allergy when they register, there is a group meeting with chef, food handlers, and ECE workers. A picture of the child, along with their allergy information is posted in the kitchen and in the CNC room. And, with everyone eating the same meal and families into bringing food from home, the program can control what food enters the space.
IRCC funds the CNC program’s snacks, but much of the food used to prepare the lunches comes from the centre’s Plentiful Harvest Food Rescue program. Over 10 million pounds of food from area farms have been rescued since 2012. Fundraising and donations cover any items that are not grown locally.
For newcomers who are struggling, these lunches represent more than a purely social experience—it might be their one solid meal of day. The chefs recognize this, so lunch is prepackaged for them and is quite a large portion. Some parents take it home to enjoy later or share with the rest of the family.
Many parents whose children are in CNC also take advantage of other services offered at the centre, including the food bank. It is set up like a grocery store where they can shop on points. The employees speak multiple languages to help families create nutritious meals, including halal options. In fact, some clients of the food bank volunteer there to get Canadian work experience. When it comes time to seek work, there are also employment services onsite.
“The reason we can do this is that we have so many amenities and programs under one roof,” adds June. “We are a one-stop-shop for everyone, and we are so proud of what we do.”