School Food and Nutrition

FAO and WFP side event of School Meals Coalition Week explores the importance of nutrition guidelines and standards for school food


On 14th October, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) jointly held an online event titled "Nutrition guidelines and standards for supporting healthy diets and the right to food in schoolchildren and adolescents".

School meals play a critical role for the growth and wellbeing of millions of children and adolescents around the world. In vulnerable contexts, school meals can constitute a significant part of children and adolescents' diet and the only nutritious meal they eat. Within the ongoing global food crisis, they can also provide respite to affected families.

"Regular, nutritious and free school meals are a great opportunity to positively impact the health of young people. The cost-of-living crisis is having a huge impact on families, and regular access to nutritious food at school can make a huge difference. This is why, all around the world, governments should listen to young people about their experiences of school food, in order to improve systems and promote health", stated in the opening Dev Sharma, Co-chair of Bite Back 2030's National Youth Board.

Given their role, it is imperative that school meals, as well as the other foods that are available in schools, respond to children's nutrition, education and sociocultural needs and priorities. Nutrition guidelines and standards (NGS) are rules and regulations designed to improve the nutritional quality, as well as the overall adequacy, of foods and meals in schools, contributing to ensure the right to food for children and adolescents.

FAO and WFP, in the framework of a project supported by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture of Germany (BMEL), are designing a global methodology for countries to define and implement their nutrition guidelines and standards for school food. During the event, technical experts from FAO and WFP explained the main outcomes and objectives of the project. As the methodology will be piloted at sub-national level in Cambodia and Ghana to test and review it, and to gather feedback from local stakeholders, a presentation also showcased the expectations, opportunities and challenges that the project faces in Cambodia.

A particular focus was given to the School food global hub, launched in June to provide experts and professionals with technical resources about school food and nutrition and its related topics, and other users like schoolchildren, adolescents, school staff and families with a platform to share their experiences and ideas about school food. The presentation therefore highlighted the areas in which users can play an active role, thus contributing to the global discussion around school food.

The event also featured the inputs and views of external partners and stakeholders, who underlined why ensuring nutritious foods in schools is important for supporting children and adolescents' right to adequate food, and how setting nutrition guidelines and standards for school food can support achieving this objective.

"Guidelines and standards help to ensure both product and dietary quality of school food, as well as production practices, helping to raise the standards of school food. Of course, these need to be flexible enough to be adapted to local contexts; they must promote links with other health, hygiene and nutrition-related activities; and must provide additional guidance for school food environments to help shift towards positive behaviours", explained Stineke Oenema, Executive Secretary of UN Nutrition.

"When you bring the right to food into the conversation on nutrition guidelines and standards, it can do several things, as it frames people as rights-bearers, means that accountability must be taken into consideration, and makes it easier to be consistent and flexible. The right to food also allows for guidelines and standards to align with the cultural and social contexts of particular communities" stated Michael Fakhri, the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.

The event took place within the Coalition Week, a series of events organized by the School Meals Coalition to discuss what needs to be done to ensure the world stays on track to ensure that all children have access to a healthy meal in school by 2030.