Learn what communities across Alberta are doing to improve food environments in their recreation settings!
The Healthy to Play project, spearheaded by the Sexsmith Wellness Coalition, introduced healthy food options into the community arena. With the help of a local dietitian, Sexsmith’s concession rolled out a comprehensive engagement plan to create a new menu featuring inexpensive, healthy options. First, the Coalition worked with the vendor to establish a collaborative plan that sought to better understand existing barriers, and to ensure that the vendor felt supported. This partnership, built on a foundation of respect and understanding, was instrumental in building project momentum. Exciting recipes were taste tested, new equipment was purchased, and fruit and vegetable cups were offered as a quick, easy healthy option. The coalition then turned their attention to cultivating community support for change. Surveys were sent to parents of children registered for hockey and figure skating programs. These surveys identified who was buying food, and what options were of interest. The results helped inform the updated menu. Once updated, community members were made aware of the new menu through marketing and promotional emails. The Coalition also set up menu boards advertising the new healthy options that were set up in prominent locations in the community. To further establish support, the operator provided daily samples of the new menu items, so patrons could try the new healthy options. At the end of the season, the operator noted that the healthy menu options sold quickly and that they attracted new customers – the healthy menu was popular enough that it would be continued into next season!
In 2019, the Viking Carena Complex partnered with the Alberta Hockey Super League to be one of the primary hosts for local hockey tournaments. In response to this new influx of people who would be spending their weekends at the Carena Complex, the Viking Carena Kitchen began thinking about how they could best support the athletes, facility user groups, and ultimately live up to the high expectations of the Hockey Super League. Their top priority was a healthier menu with options that were affordable, appealing, and delicious. The Viking Carena kitchen looked to Communities ChooseWell, and their Healthy Community Grants program, to cover the cost of renovating their kitchen. Previously only equipped to serve deep-fried foods, the kitchen received a big upgrade. Equipment purchases included soup warmers, new fridges, a cold buffet server, and advertising sandwich boards. Today, the Carena Kitchen is fully prepared to deliver a fresher, healthier menu, which features wraps, bowls, and a healthy breakfast bar. They also offer a team meal program that allows visiting hockey teams to pre-order healthy meals for the whole team. Using both local food and freezer prepared meals, Viking has found success in making healthy and balanced meals fast and appealing. They take great pride in their reputation for being the best arena kitchen around!
At the brand new Seven Chiefs Sportsplex, Tsuut’ina Nation was committed to starting their food program off right. Fresh Routes Mobile Market was contracted to visit the community once a week to sell fresh produce and groceries at the recreation facility. To ensure early buy-in from the community, the Market partnered with several local programs like the Pre-Natal Program which offered attendance vouchers for the market. Another partnership with the Elders Program offered transportation to and from the market for the participating Elders. The partnerships paid off! Feedback from the weekly patron surveys at the market showed that the market saved families time and money, and offered them a chance to try new foods and recipes. Additionally, 80% of the families reported that they were eating more fruits and veggies as a result of the market. Based on these successes, the Nation is now looking to expand the reach of the market, by increasing the number of locations throughout the community.
Healthy food in recreation settings doesn’t just mean healthier options at the concession or in vending machines. In 2019, Siksika Nation took a unique approach to healthy eating in recreation by contracting the Fresh Routes Mobile Market to set up a mobile grocery store at the Deerfoot Sportsplex. The Mobile Market set-up shop once a month and sold fresh produce, breads, and other shelf stable options to the community at reduced market prices. However, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the market has evolved from monthly to weekly visits. Community members can now buy their food at popular public spaces like the sportsplex, community centre, and the grocery store parking lot. The Market has become an integral part of the community. It is a fixture at cultural and community events such as Pow-Wows, and even supports local farmers by allowing them to use the market to sell their fresh eggs.
Through their Healthy Fuel for Athletes program, the City of Medicine Hat began their journey to making the healthy choice the easy choice. The municipal Recreation Manager, and Food Services Manager partnered with a local dietitian to review the menu for opportunities to take it to the next level. They implemented ways to “opt for healthy” including burgers that automatically come with a whole wheat bun, removing the classic “burger and fries” combo meal, and adding more vegetables to the menu. The team in Medicine Hat even made progress towards marketing and promoting this new menu. With grant funding from Communities ChooseWell, they purchased televisions to feature their rotating menu, and highlight healthy specials with eye catching pictures.
The Town of Taber has shown that starting small can pay off big, and that quick wins can earn you community buy-in. To support healthier behaviours at their facility, the Taber recreation team took steps to acquire a public water fountain. With funding from a 2019 Communities ChooseWell Grant, the Town purchased a water bottle refill station that they placed in their aquatic center, providing water for the children, youth, and families using the center. In order to introduce healthier food options, the team also worked with their contracted operator to offer smoothies at the concession. To support the contractor, the recreation team hosted an educational community booth in their hockey arena during a tournament weekend which offered free samples of the new smoothie to drive up sales. Many community members were thrilled at the new changes to the menu, and with the addition of the water fountain they are looking forward to more changes to come.
The Town of Okotoks followed an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to promoting healthy eating at their recreation centre. Step one: the options for pop drinks were significantly reduced, and unhealthy options were placed out of the line of sight. To further boost sales of their healthy options, the town worked with their vendor to create a promotional campaign. They used punch cards to reward patrons who purchased healthier options at the concession. After an initial drop in sales, the vendor has now realized an increase in healthy food sales! Since then, Okotoks has introduced a healthy food and drink policy into their vending and concession contracts. Operators now need to provide a minimum percentage of healthy options on their menu to be able to operate in the facility! The new policy helps ensure long lasting healthy change.