School food global hub

FAO and WFP lead Expert Panel on school meal nutrition standards at Global Forum for Food and Agriculture in Berlin


On 18th January, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) led the Expert Panel "School meal nutrition standards as a tool to support the right to food in schools" in the framework of the 16th Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) in Berlin, Germany.

During the Expert Panel, stakeholders with different expertise and backgrounds discussed how to step up actions to meet commitments and targets in relation to schoolchildren's right to food. The event was opened and moderated by Nancy Aburto, Deputy Director of FAO's Food and Nutrition Division. The first session saw Fatima Hachem, Senior Nutrition Officer at FAO, presenting the FAO-WFP project that aims to develop guidance for governments to set context-specific and data-driven school meal nutrition standards using a food systems and right to food lens, and to enhance the global recognition of nutrition standards for school meals as instruments for protecting children and adolescents' right to food.

"Governments around the world are making significant investments in their school meal programmes, so it is necessary to ensure that these effectively contribute towards the diet and nutrition priorities of children and adolescents, with a particular focus on the most vulnerable. A way of doing so is by defining and implementing context-specific and evidence-informed nutrition standards which go beyond the nutrient composition of meals, to also integrate recommendations on meal experience, socialization, equity, social justice, environmental sustainability and food learning"  explained Fatima Hachem.

The following panel discussion saw the participation of Neema Lugangira, Member of Parliament of Tanzania, and of Fernanda Pacobahyba, President of the National Fund for Education Development of Brazil who, although not physically present in Berlin, had provided her inputs to the discussion in advance.

Neema Lugangira highlighted the significance of prioritizing the incorporation of mandatory school meal nutrition standards into legislation. She also outlined specific actions that parliamentarians can take to support children's right to adequate food in schools.

"When school meals are not provided, it is important to regulate the school food environment, which includes the areas surrounding the school premises, to ensure that the food that vendors are selling contributes to schoolchildren's health and nutrition needs. On the other hand, when school meals are provided, the food is not necessarily nutritious – and kids should not be receiving a meal for the sake of a meal, but it should be a nutritious one. Nutrition standards have the potential to regulate both cases, contributing towards the health and wellbeing of schoolchildren" stated Neema Lugangira.

Fernanda Pacobahyba provided remarks on the integration of nutrition standards into the legal framework of Brazil's National School Feeding Programme. As one of the co-chairs of the School Meals Coalition, she also elaborated on the benefits she envisions for member countries to adopt holistic mandatory nutrition standards for their meal programmes.

"Bringing mandatory nutritional standards at the centre of the debate among member countries could be a first step of a partnership process that could lead to implementation with less confrontation in each territory. The results can be achieved more quickly and will certainly have a positive impact, generating new healthier eating habits throughout society, not just the school community" said Fernanda Pacobahyba.

The session was completed by Bite Back activist Jacob Rosenberg who, drawing on his own experience, presented the role of youth advocates to support the nutrition quality of school meals and overall a healthier food environment.

"Our school lunch time provides a unique time for students to connect, chill and relax, and we should be able to do this without presence of unhealthy food, as school is the one place where students can be guaranteed a healthy nutritious meal every day. We need to stop the flood of unhealthy junk food in schools: our young activists across the United Kingdom have made a stand against unhealthy options, kicking out foods that are packed with fat, sugar and salt" recounted Jacob Rosenberg.

Sigrid Müller, the Deputy Director of WFP's Global Office Berlin, gave the closing remarks for the event.

"School meals can have a transformative impact on food systems and future food demand by teaching students to make personal food choices that are healthy and planet-conscious. My three key takeaways for today are: we need to establish and implement nutrition standards that are based on context-specific and multisectoral evidence; we need to involve students and school governing bodies when making decisions about standards; and we need to enshrine the standards into legislation to guarantee schoolchildren and adolescents' right to food" she concluded.