Think it’s easy to have fish on the lunch menu at a school in Newfoundland? Think again


Given that Anthony Paddon Elementary School in Musgravetown, Newfoundland is just yards from the Atlantic Ocean in a province that for much of its 500 years of colonized life had a economy largely linked to the sea, one would think that fish would be an easy menu option for lunch.

However, that is not the case, as a provincial charity found when it held a special cod dinner for the school’s students.

“Fish is not on the menu at any of the other schools in which we operate and, to my knowledge, it is not on the menu at any other school in the province,” said John Finn, chef of the School Lunch Association.

To put that into perspective, the nonprofit operates out of 41 schools, primarily in the St. John’s metro area with a few schools in the northeast Avalon Peninsula and Gander, serving more than 6,500 students and spending $50,000 a week on food. .

But none of this is locally caught fish.

John Finn, executive director of the School Lunch Association, said it took a lot of planning to organize the special lunch. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

“There are a lot of challenges with fish-related allergies,” he said. « There are also challenges in schools with ventilation. There’s a bit of prep work involved. There’s a whole supply side as well. »

Despite the odds against him, Finn wanted to cook a local lunch with fish caught in the ocean that surrounds the schools he serves.

He started checking out schools to see if anyone else would be interested and found Janice Harnum at Anthony Paddon Elementary.

« I said, ‘John, we have no fish allergies,' » the manager said. « Our school is right by the ocean and we teach a lot about fishing, so it was a perfect opportunity to come on board. »

Janice Harnum, principal of Anthony Paddon Elementary School, praised the locals’ food. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

With a plan and a school in place, Finn set out to find fish to feed the nearly 200 students.

It turned out that two students at the school had a grandmother with connections: Geraldine Prince of nearby Princeton Seawater Fisheries.

But it wasn’t going to be just a meal; everyone wanted to make it an educational lunch, something Prince supported.

« I think we need to get kids interested in fishing, » she said.

« It’s a wonderful industry that I’ve loved since I’ve been in it and would love to see our young people take more interest in it. »

Gearldine Prince of Princeton Seawater Fisheries used the meal to teach students where their food comes from. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Much like the meal prepared by the few chefs hired in the school kitchen, Finn added another ingredient — from researchers at Memorial University — to help teach students about the sea they see every day on the school path.

Students spend the day traveling from class to class participating in various fishing-related activities, including Prince, who showed students how to catch fish.

« There aren’t a lot of those skills being passed on because we have an aging population and a lot of people have left fishing, » she said.

« Kids growing up today don’t see much of that. »

As for the food — Wednesday’s meal also included vegetables from Three Mill Ridge Farm, just across the water in Lethbridge — it was a resounding success with the students.

« The fish was delicious, » Harnum said.

« The most amazing thing was that the students were asking for seconds. I couldn’t believe it. »

The School Lunch Association served more than 100 cod lunches on Wednesday. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

As for the School Lunch Association seconds starting again, Finn doesn’t rule it out.

« We can definitely build on today’s success, » he said.

« I think that’s the first thing we’re going to do now, we’re going to go back and do a reassessment of how the day went and and and and assess it. »

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