SFU students and friends Muskan Jammu, Ritu Mehra, and Harbir Dhaliwal won a $2,000 grant in the Student-Community Engagement Competition and will be using it to address food security and improve nutritional education in their "Let's Do Breakfast" program for elementary students. Background photo: Freepik

SFU students feed minds as well as bodies with healthy breakfast program

May 08, 2023

by Sharon Mah

The Faculty of Health Sciences is profiling FHS students whose projects received funding from the 2022 SFU Student-Community Engaged Competition. Harbir, Muskan, and Ritu’s story is the final instalment of a three-part series. 

Fourth year SFU students and long-time friends Muskan Jammu (Health Sciences), Ritu Mehra (Biology), and Harbir Dhaliwal (Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology) have plans to do breakfast – with hundreds of elementary school children in the Lower Mainland.

The trio won a 2022 Student-Community Engaged Competition Award for $2,000 for their ‘Let’s Do Breakfast’ project which seeks to educate school children from kindergarten to Grade 7 about the benefits of eating a healthy breakfast. The group is undertaking several tasks but will focus primarily on developing and publishing pamphlets with fun activities to help kids accessing breakfast programs learn evidence-based facts about why it’s important to start the day with a healthy meal.

“Our plan is to establish an innovative new way to combat food insecurity in schools,” says the trio. “Engaging young children in nutrition education is an essential part of our program. We [want to create a] positive perception towards healthy breakfasts, and show the importance of eating healthy.” The group believes that when kids create a positive relationship with healthy food, it becomes easier to make healthier food choices. “We hope students take what they have learnt and apply it to their lives as they grow up.”

Dhaliwal, Jammu and Mehra came up with the concept for ‘Let’s Do Breakfast’ during their first year as SFU students – they were sitting in the SFU Mezzanine at the school’s Surrey campus discussing their childhoods when they discovered that they shared experiences of struggle. “We put together our experiences, the knowledge we accumulated in our degrees at that moment, and [the] drive to make a difference, to start a program focusing on providing more information and distribution of healthy breakfasts,” they explained. “Since we all are [studying sciences], this project reflects our interests and knowledge accumulated from science-based courses.” 

When the COVID-19 pandemic occurred, the three students quickly recognized that their plans for ‘Let’s Do Breakfast’ would need to be adapted if they wanted to implement a creative and innovative way to engage with and deliver their nutritional messages to children. In 2021, they volunteered at an elementary school in to better understand the dynamics of running a school breakfast program, and drew inspiration from the success of the pamphlet-based Summer Reading program at Strawberry Hill Library in Surrey, BC for their proposed activity and learning materials.

To encourage young children to engage with the pamphlet content, the group created a mascot, Bertie the Banana, a cartoon character that narrates nutrition facts, tells several banana-themed jokes, and encourages students to participate in a stamps-based rewards program that allows them to win prizes. “We thought the best way for children to want to engage in our program and learn at the same time was to incorporate games, puzzles, and fun questions.” The trio plans to create a series of pamphlets for students to engage with over the course of a school year.

Although Dhaliwal, Jammu and Mehra will be completing their degrees in the near future, they intend to keep supporting this work into the next chapter of their lives. “We are so excited and grateful to have our program in our community. Since we are still in the initial stages of our program, we can’t wait to continue working with students, providing them with healthy breakfasts, all whilst educating them about what consists of a healthy breakfast.”