A new healthy foods policy in Fort Smith may inadvertently make youth sports harder to access, some residents claim.
The Fort Smith Minor Hockey Association subsidizes registration fees through arena canteen sales of fries, onion rings, and popcorn chicken, but that may change this fall.
The canteen is run by volunteer minor hockey parents.
Andrea Steed, president of the association for many years prior to her youngest child aging out last season, told Cabin Radio a broader menu – including healthier options – would put a strain on the group's financial and volunteer capacity.
That would make it difficult for the association to keep its fees the lowest in the NWT.
'Trying to eat healthier'
Mayor Lynn Napier-Buckley explained the new policy, which has yet to be drafted and approved by the town council, stems from a 2013 community wellness plan written after extensive public consultation.
At the time, the community made clear healthy eating was a priority.
The policy would affect two facilities managed by the Town where food is served: the Fort Smith Recreation Centre and the Fort Smith Centennial Arena. (The Canada Day fish fry is safe, Napier-Buckley said, because the fish isn’t deep-fried).
A deep fryer has already been removed from the rec centre canteen on the grounds it should be a facility promoting all-around wellness. The mayor added high school students, whose school is attached to the rec centre, also indicated they wanted healthier meal options at that canteen.
While it has yet to be determined what exactly the policy will stipulate, the Town is looking at removing the arena deep fryer or limiting its use. Canteen contract holders will likely still be able to sell traditional canteen food like hot dogs, burgers, and chips, but they may also be required to ensure healthy options are available.
“I haven’t heard feedback on the policy,” Napier-Buckley said. “What I have heard is that there has been feedback from athletes and coaches that they’re trying to eat healthier ... so it would be better for them to have those options.”
Steed said she first heard of the policy in passing from a previous director of community services.
She said the minor hockey association had not been asked for feedback in any official capacity, despite holding the canteen contract for more than a decade.
Steed agreed healthy food is important but said, “Nobody makes the choice to go to the arena to buy a salad.”
She added: “If I’m taking my kids to the arena to eat, I know I’m purchasing something that’s not necessarily the healthiest choice for them, but if I wanted on that day for them to eat healthy then I would cook for them at home.”
She said the association has tried offering simple, nutritious options in the past, such as apples, bananas, and oranges. They didn’t sell.
The same thing happened when she was volunteering at a volleyball tournament canteen.
“We tried to sell carrots and celery sticks with dip,” she said. “We made 38 cups and we sold seven.”
Steed believes a more complex menu would require more training for their 120 volunteers, as well as a financial investment in more refrigeration space to store produce.
“I don’t see [serving healthy options] as completely impossible, I just see it really cutting back on profits that are made – particularly if they take our deep fryer," she said.
"If you took that away, it probably wouldn’t be a feasible fundraiser for minor hockey.
“Our goal is that any kid that wants to play hockey can play hockey."
During the 2017-18 season, Fort Smith minor hockey fees were just $250 per child thanks to canteen sales.
In Hay River, families were charged $375 for their first child and $275 for additional children. In Yellowknife, fees ranged from $430 to $740 depending on the division.
Napier-Buckley said the Town would require a better understanding of the minor hockey association’s concerns before it can look at how to address them.