Tips & Tools for Nutrition Awareness

The Aboriginal Head Start program ensures that children are provided with nourishing food on-site, helping meet their nutritional needs and fostering their ability to learn and develop. All programs offer snack time, while some provide breakfast and lunch, as well as celebrations and feasts for the families. Many centres feature traditional foods as part of the cultural experience. Stephen Bujnowicz, Program Consultant with the PHAC, BC Region, explained that each AHS centre addresses the component areas differently, and that some sites have Aboriginal nutritionists and dieticians that visit and provide expertise and information.

“The children are given healthy nutritional food to sustain them throughout the day, which will help their learning process.”
- Lise Tougas: ASCD Support Worker, Awahsuk AHS

“We did a lot in our Head Start to ensure the children were not hungry in the morning. The first thing we would do was make sure they were fed, and at the end of the day when they were leaving, double-check.”
- Renata Heathcliff: Cultural Teacher, Prince George AHS

Traditional Foods

The First Nations Health Council has prepared an illustrated list of all the traditional foods of British Columbia. This colourful and informative collection describes different types and preparations of fish, seafood, oolichan oil, animals (moose, deer, small mammals), birds, roots and berries. Click to download their Traditional Foods Fact Sheet.

There are always stories that accompany traditional foods. Elders enjoy teaching others about their food customs since their childhood memories about hunting or collecting, preparing and sharing foods with family usually remain vivid with tastes and smells and good feelings. These occasions often provide opportunities for also sharing songs that accompany berry picking or hunting, and stories of rituals and celebrations that marked a child’s growing up.

Our Food Our Stories: Celebrating our gifts from the Creator is a National Aboriginal Head Start resource that contains recipes for traditional foods and stories about them. This book offers ideas for parents and staff to use with children and families in AHS programs and for celebrations and events. This book is available in both English and in French (Notre cuisine, nos histoires : Célébrons les dons du Créateur) from our Resources page.

  • Post your menus and highlight when traditional foods is on the menu to encourage parents to join in. Parental awareness and curiosity about the foods may inspire increased participation.

  • Some programs have consent forms signed by parents giving their children permission to eat traditional foods.

  • Share food that is prepared in class with the children and their families.

  • Plan evening ‘Culture Classes’ for the whole family and hold a potluck where food is shared from the participants’ different backgrounds.

  • Grandparents and Elders often enjoy talking about the foods they ate as children and how they were gathered, hunted and prepared. Invite Elders to share stories with the children and parents at Circle Time, and to make bannock and other foods with the children.

    “The children in this program know where their food comes from and because of that, they respect Mother Earth.”
    - Tom Finnie: Past Elder, Comox Valley AHS

Licensing Regulations for Preschools

Be aware of the Licensing Standards that apply to serving traditional and all foods at the AHS preschool. If your program is licensed under the Community Care and Assisted Living Act, then the following Child Care Licensing Regulations are applicable:

  1. A licensee must
    1. ensure that each child has healthy food and drink according to the Canada's Food Guide, and
    2. promote healthy eating and nutritional habits.
  2. If a child's record includes, or the child has a care plan that includes, instructions respecting food and drink for the child,
    1. the requirements of subsection (1) (a) do not apply to the extent that they are inconsistent with those instructions, and
    2. the licensee must comply with those instructions.
  3. A licensee must ensure that the food and drink given to a child is sufficient in quantity and quality to meet the developmental needs of the child, having regard to
    1. the child's age,
    2. the number of hours the child is under the care of the licensee, and
    3. the child's food preferences and cultural background.
  4. A licensee must ensure that children are not
    1. fed by means of a propped bottle,
    2. forced to consume any food or drink, or
    3. left unsupervised while consuming food or drink.
  5. A licensee must ensure that safe drinking water is available to children.
  6. A licensee must make available to parents information on the food and drink given to children.
  7. A licensee must ensure that food and drink are not used as a form of reward or punishment for children.

    For more information, go to:

Here are the Food Permit Criteria for Community Care Facilities April 2013.

  1. Provide Food Safe training to parents and extended family members who participate in the preparation and preservation of cultural foods for the program.

  2. Make use of Snack Times to provide an opportunity for learning new words in Native languages, sitting quietly and singing a prayer with Elders before eating.

  3. The First Nations Health Council offers Childhood Health and Wellness Resource Booklets on many health topics including nutrition. Growing Up Healthy describes how parents can provide a safe and nutritious diet for their infants and young children.

  4. Take children on Field Trips to local vegetable markets and gardens help them understand where their food comes from.

  5. Create a small garden at the preschool: homemade or purchased Planter Boxes are a good way to grow salad greens for children to pick at snack times.

  6. Young Urban Farmers offers tips about gardening with children.

  7. Read to children about farmers and how produce gets from the field to the table. The ‘Farmbrarian’ lists lots of children’s books about growing good food at

  8. Add a ‘Fruit and Vegetable Stand’ play station to the playroom with plastic fruits and vegetables, gardening tools and clothes, money, etc. to foster learning of many concepts.

  9. Encourage Healthy Alternatives: cut out pictures of foods and make a poster that show healthier choices, such as fruit juice instead of pop; rice cakes instead of chips; nectarines instead of candy bars; and so on. Model healthy snack alternatives, such as carrot and celery sticks, apple slices, homemade muffins, etc. Ask children to participate in preparing snacks to encourage them to do this at home.

  10. A Place for Sacred Plants in the Preschools: Candace Hill (Brown-Bear-Woman) is a Métis traditional healer with over 20 years of knowledge in holistic nutrition and herbalism. She created a sacred circle 6 years ago with preschool-aged children for the Aboriginal Head Start program, teaching them about smudging, drumming, singing and most importantly, nutrition. For more info, check out her website called Walking in Balance

    “Awahsuk has a Family Drop-in for parents of children in the 0–3 Early Learning Program. Brown Bear Woman co-facilitated the Support Group by sharing teachings about nutrition and alternatives to red meat and dairy, as well as offering yoga and an organic breakfast. People loved it!”
    - Vanessa Hickman: Program Coordinator, Awahsuk AHS

  11. Healthy Eating Through Stories and Play is a workshop offered by Sandra Bodenhamer from the Vancouver Native Health Society. Click for more VNHS Programs & Services.

  12. Health Canada has sponsored the Children’s Oral Health Initiative, to help inform parents and caregivers about proper Dental Therapy and promote holistic practices to prevent Early Childhood Caries (cavities).

    “One dad came back years later to thank us for changing their lives. He said when his daughter first started preschool here, the family just ate junk food in front of the TV. She would tell them, ‘No chips, buy carrots’ and ‘Let’s sit at the table instead of in the living room.’ The dad said, ‘Now every meal is good food and we eat together as a family, because of Head Start.’ It’s great when parents encourage the children to share their learning at home so everybody benefits.”
    - Maria Evenden: Parent & Staff, Power of Friendship AHS