School Food and Nutrition

Healthy food environment and school food

The availability of enjoyable, safe and nutritious food, supported by a healthy food environment is fundamental to foster better diets in schools. Implementing standards and policies, together with developing the capacities of school communities, is a top priority in promoting healthy school food environments and meals around the globe.

The school food environment refers to all the spaces, infrastructure and conditions inside and around the school premises where food is available, obtained, purchased and/or consumed (for example tuck shops, kiosks, canteens, food vendors, vending machines); also taking into account the nutritional content of these foods. The environment also includes all of the information available, promotion (marketing, advertisements, branding, food labels, packages, promotions, etc.) and the pricing of foods and food products.

Food environment shape how accessible, affordable, desirable and convenient specific foods are. A healthy school food environment allows and encourages the school community (children, families, school staff, etc.) to make food choices that are consistent with better diets and improved wellbeing.

There are different ways in which governments can shape school food environments to be more supportive of healthier diets and improved nutrition. These include:

  • setting and enforcing nutrition standards for school food, meals and snacks;
  • making nutritious foods more affordable, through subsidies;
  • restricting the sale and advertisement of food products rich in fat, sugar or salt.

The public and private sectors can make other important efforts, including the voluntary adoption of standards for sale of foods, the reformulation of food products or the creation of codes of conduct for marketing and advertisement.

FAO provides technical support, develops guidance and strengthens the capacities of government institutions and other stakeholders to implement nutrition standards for school food and meals and to develop policies for healthier school food environments.

In particular, setting nutrition standards for school meals and for the foods available in school premises and surroundings, can improve the quality of diets of schoolchildren and adolescents. This is especially true when these standards are developed and implemented using a “whole school” approach. This means involving local farmer associations to determine what is feasible to procure; and involving student and parent associations in the development and acceptance of menus. These type of standards are more successful when they are integrated within broader policies (education, school health, local agriculture development, social protection).

The development of capacities and participation in food and nutrition education of all those involved in implementing the standards is also critical for the best possible results. These efforts include:

  • how to prepare meals and know which foods, combinations and conditions are best suited for children’s health and wellbeing;
  • how to promote these foods, support their consumption, reduce waste, and add value to their role in improving diets and food environments.