School food global hub

Colombia has specific guidelines and standards for the school meal programme which covers preschool, primary, secondary and middle school students, providing them with a morning or afternoon supplement and/or lunch. The country is currently working on a feeding modality for rural areas and indigenous populations, as well as the development of mandatory regulations for school food vendors.

School Food

School meals

Colombia has had a school meal programme (known as Programa de Alimentación Escolar – PAE) since 1926, which is currently led by the Food to Learn Unit of the Ministry of National Education. As of 2023, the programme was implemented in 97 territorial entities [1] certified in Education, reaching 9910 schools and serving approximately 5.8 million preschool, primary, secondary and upper secondary education students daily, 1.9 million of which in rural areas. The schools prioritized within the programme are:

  • All degrees in schools with “jornada única” (an educational strategy aimed at strengthening educational projects through the extension of the school day);
  • Pre-primary level of all schools;
  • Schools in rural areas and locations with a majority ethnic population, victims of the armed conflict or those with disabilities, prioritizing lower grades until reaching 100% of primary school and continuing with higher grades; and
  • Schools with low-income populations (in accordance with the Sisbén categorization), prioritizing lower grades and continuing with higher grades.

The programme provides a morning food supplement, an afternoon supplement or a lunch. The modality is based on the school’s infrastructure and can be:

  1. prepared on-site,
  2. transported hot meal (“comida caliente transportada”) prepared in a central kitchen and sent to the school, or
  3. an industrialized modality when there is no kitchen at the school.

Morning or afternoon supplements cover approximately 20% of students’ daily energy and nutrient recommendations, while lunch covers 30%. Currently, the modalities prepared on-site and the transported hot meal reach a 65% coverage; future plans are to reduce the percentage of the industrialized modality in favour of the other two.

From the Food to Learn Unit, a standard pattern for the three modalities is structured, as well as a guide for the preparation of the menu cycles by the nutrition and dietetics professionals of the school meal programme from each territorial entity. Details on the standard pattern by type of food supplement and modality can be found in the Technical Annex on healthy and sustainable eating in the PAE (2021).

The main characteristics of the guidelines for the standard pattern are:

Users of the guidance From the standard pattern:
·   Nutrition and dietetics professionals from the school meal programme of the territorial entity
Menu cycles:
·   Educative community
·   School feeding committees
·   Food handlers
School food covered Meals provided as part of the school meal programme
Objectives Establish the technical standards that the food supplement of the school meal programme must meet, as a guide for the design of menu cycles with territorial and cultural relevance, promoting healthy, sustainable and pleasant eating in the school environment.
Basis Energy, macro and micronutrients; list of exchanges, preparation guides (modalities prepared on-site and transported hot meal)
Food groups covered Fruits and vegetables; cereals, roots, tubers and bananas; meats, eggs, dried legumes, nuts and seeds; milk and dairy products; fatty sugars; and water (these groups vary depending on the modality)
Other guidance included Within the Technical Annex on healthy and sustainable eating in the school meal programme (2021), strategies to promote healthy and pleasant eating are also included (management of critical nutrients, the importance of the organoleptic qualities of foods and preparations, the use of seasonings and natural spices, the strengthening of traditional cooking and gastronomy) as well as food and nutritional education strategies.


Under resolution 335 of 2021, the guidelines, standards and minimum conditions of the school meal programme for the general population are issued. Likewise, there are guidelines or standards for the school meal programme for indigenous peoples, published under resolution 018858 of 2018, thus allowing the development and implementation of an Indigenous Food Plan between the territorial entity and the indigenous communities for those schools with a majority of indigenous population. For schools with populations mostly belonging to the black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal, Palenquero and Rom ethnic communities, work is currently being done on the development of specific guidelines in a concerted manner with the pedagogical commission; however, territorial entities continue to attend under the relevant menu cycles. The Food to Learn Unit has also made progress in the proposal of a school feeding model for ruralities. Law 2167 of 2021 and decree 0846 of 2023 back this new approach, and the design of a specific resolution for this model is currently underway.

Colombia has been working on structuring the public school feeding policy within the framework of the Human Right to Adequate Food, with the challenges posed in the National Development Plan 2022 – 2026 “Colombia World Power of Education”. Life". In May 2022, a technical note on “Diversity, Relevance and Quality: the fundamental elements for public school feeding policy ” was published.

In 2019, the Ministry of National Education together with the Ministry of Health published a technical document for the regulation of tuck shops as a first step towards regulating the school food environment; however, as compliance is voluntary and the recommendations are general, mandatory regulations are currently being developed. Some territorial entities already regulate the sale of food in tuck shops on a voluntary basis, as part of the promotional strategy for healthy lifestyles (EPEVS) in the food component area.

Development of the guidelines for the standard pattern

The standard patterns are designed by the nutrition and dietetics professionals of the School Food Unit, considering the national guidelines of the Food-Based Dietary Guidelines for the Colombian population over two years of age, the advances in terms of regulation of critical nutrients, Resolution 3803 of 2016 that establishes the daily energy and nutrient recommendations for the Colombian population, and the national guideline for the promotion of fruits and vegetables, among others.

These patterns vary on the type of food supplement and type of modality, allowing a degree of flexibility for the design of territorial menu cycles, which consider eating habits and traditions, the availability of food in the region, the inclusion of gastronomy, local public purchases of food in accordance with the provisions of Law 2046 of 2020 and Decree 248 of 2021, as well as the time the student spends at the school. For the modalities of meals prepared on-site and the transported hot meal, the contribution of energy, macro and micronutrients include the calculations with and without Bienestarina [2].

The daily nutritional contributions by age group are calculated according to five levels: preschool, primary I (grades 1, 2 and 3), primary II (grades 4 and 5), lower secondary (7,8 and 9) and upper secondary (10 and 11).

In general terms, in a morning or afternoon food supplement in the form of a meal prepared on-site or transported to the school, the frequency by food groups is usually:

  • Meat, eggs and legumes group: three times a week
  • Milk and dairy products: every day
  • Cereals, roots, tubers and bananas: every day
  • Fruits: twice a week
  • Fats and sugars: every day as part of daily preparations

Regarding the morning or afternoon food supplement in the industrialized modality, the following foods are generally provided:

  • A UHT dairy product: every day
  • Ready-to-eat products from the cereal group (for example bread, shortbread, cookies, cheese sticks): every day
  • Whole or chopped fruit: three times a week
  • Dessert: twice a week

When preparing lunch, the frequency by food groups is usually:

  • Meat, eggs and legumes group: every day. Legumes should be provided twice a week, once with egg and once with meat
  • Cereals: every day
  • Roots, tubers or bananas: every day
  • Vegetables: every day, hot or cold
  • Fruits: every day, in juice
  • Fats and sugars: every day as part of daily preparations

Regarding water consumption, for the on-site and transported hot meal modalities, it is the territorial entity that decides the frequency of water inclusion in the meal according to regional acceptability; however, its inclusion must be carried out gradually. To promote this habit, the territorial entity must develop food education actions on the importance of water consumption among students, teachers, parents, etc.

The on-site and transported hot meal modalities cycles usually consist of 20 menus, while the industrialized modality of 10. Menu cycles are generally updated annually, although some territorial entities review them in case of low adherence and high food waste. In case of lack of availability of a food item, up to six exchanges (maximum two for the protein group) are allowed in the menu cycles with due justification from the service provider to the territorial entity. For the on-site and transported hot meal modalities, menu cycles must be accompanied by a nutritional analysis, a list of exchanges and a preparation guide.

The Food to Learn unit is reviewing the contribution of fortified foods, having carried out a study (Read technical note of micronutrients incorporation in the School Meal Programme) through the National University to identify the best way to increase the contribution of micronutrients in the school meal programme. The territorial entity will be responsible for deciding which micronutrients to reinforce in the food supplements.

The technical annexe on healthy and sustainable eating also includes standard patterns for students in boarding schools, thus covering 100% of their daily energy and nutrient needs through the delivery of five meals as a reference: breakfast (25% of RDIs), morning snack (10% of RDIs), lunch (30% of RDIs), afternoon snack (10% of RDIs) and dinner (25% of RDIs). However, nutrition and dietetics professionals can modify the standard patterns and the number of consumption times, as long as 100% of the daily recommendations for energy and nutrients are provided according to the grade and school level of the students. For the predominantly indigenous locations, the provisions of Resolution 18858 of 2018 for the design of the Indigenous Food Plan are in place.


Each territorial entity has a team in charge of the different stages of the school meal programme: planning and initiation, contracting and enlistment, execution and monitoring, closure and evaluation, as well as compliance with the technical guidelines and standard patterns. The nutrition and dietetics professionals of the school meal programme are in charge of food planning, technical monitoring of the implementation of food and nutritional education strategies, and promotion of healthy and sustainable eating. At the school level, the school feeding committees, composed of the principal, parents, student representatives and teachers, also support monitoring and oversight tasks. The territorial entity is responsible for training the committees to carry out this monitoring process. Through the service provider, food handlers must be trained in the menu cycles and their preparation guidelines in compliance with current health regulations in Colombia.

As part of the agreement between the Food to Learn Unit with FAO, in 2022 a pedagogical plan was developed to promote healthy eating and food culture of the school meal programme in rural areas. From this pedagogical plan, five thematic areas were prioritized from preliminary qualitative research:

  1. the consumption of viscera (since their consumption has been reduced);
  2. increased consumption of milk and dairy products;
  3. the reduction in consumption of ultra-processed products as well as critical nutrients (sodium, saturated fats, trans fats, sugars);
  4. the increase in water consumption; and
  5. the reading of nutritional labelling.

As a result, in 2022, educational material such as healthy eating posters, infographics, guides for teachers and videos were published for use in school. In 2023, progress was made by each territorial entity in the implementation of this pedagogical plan, involving students, teachers and parents through the nutrition and dietetics professionals who take into account the particularities of each context.

Jointly with FAO, a gastronomic laboratory pilot project was also carried out in thirteen schools to promote food culture, the reduction of food waste and the school as a setting to learn how to eat well. As part of this project, several materials and tools were developed.

Monitoring and evaluation

Law 2042 of 2020 establishes community surveillance (e.g. parent associations of school feeding committees) as an essential part of the school meal programme. The committees support the monitoring of the school meal programme in the school, mainly compliance with the contracted coverage and menus, status of the food delivered, quantities of food and conditions of the school cafeterias. Likewise, the committees must meet once every two months and write a management and results report. These are sent to the territorial entities with annotating updates and progress for their evaluation.

There is also a social participation mechanism through which two public round tables are organized during the school year. The first round table is held at the beginning of the school meal programme operation or at most three months after the start of the programme; during this session, aspects related to the operations (e.g. coverage, modalities, etc.) are discussed. The second is carried out in the second half of the year to present the progress of operations, improvement plans and so on.

[1] The departments, districts, municipalities and indigenous territories are territorial entities. The law may give the character of territorial entities to the regions and provinces that are established, in the terms of the Constitution and the law.

[2] Bienestarina® is a supplement of high nutritional value that has been administered to the most vulnerable populations in the country since 1976. It is produced by the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare (ICBF) and consists of a pre-cooked food based on a mixture of cereals, legumes, whole milk powder with vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. Currently, the inclusion of Bienestarina is the responsibility of the territorial entities in agreement with the ICBF.


School-Based Food and Nutrition Education


Kira and Sohara from Colombia

Kira and Sohara from Colombia explain how the school food programme contributes to schoolchildren and adolescents’ good health and development.



La Unidad de Alimentos para Aprender (UApA) y la Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Alimentación y la Agricultura (FAO) presentaron a las 96 Entidades Territoriales Certificadas (ETC) del país los resultados de la investigación y diseño del Plan Pedagógico para la promoción de la alimentación saludable y recuperación de la cultura alimentaria en el PAE.