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School food and nutrition

©FAO/Jim Holmes

School children need a good diet in order to grow, develop, be protected from disease and have the energy to study, learn and be physically active.

School food and nutrition programmes are key to achieve children’s human rights to food, education and health. Through complementary interventions such as school meals and food and nutrition education,pupils can improve their diets, develop healthier food practices, and extend these to their families and communities.

School food and nutrition programmes also support local agriculture, strengthen and diversify local food systems and help move people out of poverty by sourcing food for school meals from local smallholder farmers.

FAO’s role in school food and nutrition

FAO recognizes that schools are an ideal setting to support the nutrition and development of children and youth.

Schools reach children at an age when food and health habits are being formed. They also influence families, the school community and can be a channel for wider community participation.

Promoting better diets and nutrition through schools can create health and well-being benefits that extend beyond the classroom to households and communities. Linking school meal programmes to local food production can increase community involvement, strengthen and diversify local food systems, and improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. 

FAO works with governments to leverage schools’ potential through school food and nutrition programmes, supporting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of food security, nutrition, education and health for everyone. This work focuses on four main areas:

Key Facts

  • About 368 million children in the world are fed daily at school by national governments.
  • School Food and Nutrition programmes can help achieve several SDGs: SDGs 1 (No Poverty), 2 (Zero Hunger), 3 (Good Health and Well-being), 4 (Quality Education), 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) and 10 (Reduced Inequalities)
  • Food and nutrition education helps children and youth practice food choices that support both human and environmental health.
  • Linking school meal programmes to local production strengthens the connection between nutrition, agriculture and local economies The whole school community, including children, families, teachers, school staff, vendors, foodservice staff, civil society, government staff and local farmers, have an active role and responsibility in supporting healthier school meals and food environments.
  • Home-Grown School Feeding can improve the livelihoods of smallholders and the community, while providing safe and nutritious food to school children.

Food and nutrition education

FAO promotes a “whole school” approach to nutrition education, which involves all actors that influence children´s diets, including their families, teachers, school staff, smallholder farmers, foodservice staff, food vendors and others.

Educational lessons and practical activities that complement each other are integral parts of effective school-based nutrition education. Classroom lessons are paired with hands-on opportunities for students to experience, practice and be actively involved in learning about food, diets and health.

This comprehensive approach helps create positive attitudes and skills and helps pave the way for carrying healthy habits beyond school and into adulthood.

School-based food and nutrition education programmes encourage and empower children and their communities to take ownership of their own diets and food choices and become agents of change in local food systems.

School gardens are also commonly used as a learning platform. FAO encourages and supports countries to promote school gardens with educational goals to help students, school staff and families make the connection between growing food and good diets, develop life skills and increase environmental awareness.

Healthy food environments and meals

FAO supports governments in developing nutrition standards for school meals and policies for a healthier school food environment. The food environment shapes how foods are made accessible, affordable, desirable and convenient for children and communities. Healthy school food environments enable and encourage school communities (children, families, school staff, etc.) to make food choices that lead to better diets and well-being.

Home-grown school feeding programmes

FAO supports governments in developing Home-grown school feeding (HGSF) programmes, which purchase safe, diverse and nutritious food for school meals from local smallholder farmers.This approach aims at delivering healthy meals to children, while at the same time stimulating local agriculture and economies.

HGSF programmes augment the positive impact of regular school feeding programmes and promote multiples benefits. This approach can improve the access and availability of nutritious food for both schoolchildren and local communities; value local dietary habits and ingredients; support the adoption agro-ecological and/or climate-sensitive agriculture practices; create business opportunities for smallholder farmers and other vulnerable producers (including women, youth, and members of traditional communities).

HGSF programmes provide an opportunity to benefit local farmers, producers and processors by generating a stable, structured and predictable demand for their products, building the market and benefiting the wider local economy.

They enable the development of nutrition-sensitive and inclusive value chains that play an important role in shaping and strengthening sustainable local and national food systems.

Policy, legal and institutional environment

To be effective, school food and nutrition programmes need to be supported by national policies, regulations and institutions. At the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), governments committed to develop policies, programmes and initiatives to ensure healthy diets throughout life, including school food and nutrition programmes. To achieve these objectives, FAO supports countries in adopting the right policies and legal and institutional frameworks to implement comprehensive school food and nutrition programmes, with human-rights based approaches that bring together the diverse sectors, such as agriculture, health, education and social protection that are related to school feeding.

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