School Food and Nutrition

School food for supporting children’s right to food

22/06/2021

The right to food, understood as the right to feed oneself in dignity, is a long-standing international human right. Regular access to nutritious food – a building block of this right – is key for improving both individual well-being and the socioeconomic advancement of families and communities, and is instrumental for achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Schools provide a concrete setting for the operationalization of this right. Every day, millions of children and adolescents consume food during school hours. By providing nutritious food and meals, schools can effectively contribute to supporting the right to food of these often-vulnerable groups; moreover, school meals can have a wider positive impact on social inclusion, gender equality and, in the case of home-grown school feeding programmes, on local food systems.

Given the importance of school food to children’s diets, it is essential that it responds to their nutrition, education and sociocultural priorities and are aligned with the possibilities of local food systems and available resources. This can be enabled by setting and applying nutrition guidelines and standards (NGS)— that is, as a set of rules, principles and recommendations that define the composition and preparation of foods and meals. 

The relevance of NGS is generally recognized— these can improve the nutritional quality, quantity and adequacy of school food; however, their development is often input-intensive, requires technical capacities and involves the coordination of various sectors. Not all countries, especially low- and medium-income ones, have the information, time or resources to carry out these processes, and as a result many have not established their NGS or have some criteria that need to be revised. 

Through a project financed by the German government, FAO in collaboration with WFP, other international agencies, national stakeholders and local right bearers, is therefore designing a standard methodology to define NGS. Quantity, quality and adequacy are not the only aspects that will be considered: the many other factors that influence the composition of school food will be included in the model, such as what is available locally, kitchen and preparation infrastructure, what is eaten and its social and cultural meaning, and so on. In this way, while ensuring that school meals respond to the nutritional requirements of pupils, it will be flexible enough to be applied to diverse contexts.

Additional tools and measures will also be developed to complement the NGS to enhance their impact, ensure their effectiveness and facilitate their integration in national policy and legal frameworks (as a protection of the right to food). These measures can also ensure that there is consistency and coherence between school meals and the wider school food environment— meaning that food brought promoted and sold in the proximity of schools, or again consumed by teachers and other role models, does not compete with or contradict the aims of the meal programmes and food education strategies.

By ensuring regular access to nutritious and adequate school meals, focusing on the school environment as a whole, and integrating regular food learning opportunities, future adults can be equipped with the necessary knowhow and skills to select, prepare and enjoy the consumption of nutritious foods with their families and communities. The improvement of child, adolescent and family nutrition and well-being, and the contribution to the realization of the right to food in low and middle-income countries, is therefore ultimate envisioned goal of the project.