Toronto middle schools and junior highs should make kids stay on school property at lunch to prevent them from wandering over to a mall or hot dog vendor and buying junk food, a task force recommends.

But to do that, school cafeterias need a makeover — they must be brighter, more appealing and offer better food choices, says the report from the Toronto District School Board’s nutrition task force.

Trustee Michael Coteau acknowledges it will be controversial to keep young students at school, but says it’s worth it because nutrition has been proven to be key to their health, behaviour and school success.

“I think if we had more vibrant, youth-friendly places to eat, with background music and programs that could be running, it would make it more interactive and more fun,” said Coteau, the task force chair, adding more nutrition education in the classroom is also needed.

The move wouldn’t prevent kids from going home, they’d need written parental permission to go off property.

Students, however, are not convinced. Bowen Pausey, who is in Grade 8 at Glen Ames Senior Public School in the Beach, brings his lunch most days. On Fridays, he heads to Queen Street East for pizza, subs or Tim Hortons. It is a weekly ritual that gives him time with friends and a break from the school.

“I wouldn’t like that at all,” the 13-year-old said of having to remain on site for lunch.

He’s no fan of caf food — “the salads don’t look too pleasing, the fries are always cold, but the cookies are good because (the cook) makes them homemade” — but said if it improved, and the prices dropped, he’d consider eating there.

For two years, the task force has looked at ways to improve student nutrition and, given the current economic meltdown, more families will rely on snack and lunch programs, it notes.

The Toronto District School Board runs 424 nutrition programs for 78,000 students at a cost of more than $10 million from provincial and municipal funding, parent contributions and local donations, using countless volunteers.

The report notes that Canada is the only Western nation not to have a national, federally funded nutrition program for children and asks Toronto trustees to lobby federal government to change that.

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