It’s estimated that around 418 million children around the world are receiving school meals on a regular basis. Many families rely on school meals to provide vital nourishment to their children – and for some, the school meal is the only meal a child will eat in a day.
From an education perspective, school meal provision is about academic performance too. Studies show that school lunches can improve educational outcomes and help children learn how to create a healthy lifestyle for themselves – and healthy, nutritious food has a bigger positive impact on academic performance than low-nutrient meals.
Some countries have government funding to support school meal provision, and others rely on support from non-profit organisations. In all cases, it’s clear that school meals are an important resource for the health and education of the next generation – and building relationships between educators and the F&B industry will help to continue the work of improving access to school meals, and the quality of those meals.
According to research by UNICEF, more than 39 billion school meals were missed globally during the COVID-19 pandemic. During lockdowns in some countries, all school food provisions were cancelled. And this caused a nutrition crisis.
As well as being vital for the nutritional health of children from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, school meals are a big incentive for many children to attend school at all. UNICEF noted that 24 million children were at risk of dropping out of school as a result of the pandemic – and for the most vulnerable, school meals are sometimes the only reason that children remain in education.
A recent report by Food Matters live explored current school feeding initiatives in different countries around the world.
Brazil’s National School Feeding Program, for example, serves around 40 million children across all public and community schools, and guidelines require that school lunches must provide at least 20%-70% of each child’s daily nutritional needs. The program also requires that city school feeding programmes must use at least 35% of their school meal budget to provide food from small-scale food producers. And in 2018, four cities announced that all public school meals would be 100% plant-based, as part of the Sustainable School Program, in partnership with Brazil’s Humane Society International.
In Japan, school meals are provided in all nursery and primary schools, and in almost 90% of junior high schools. Menus are prepared by nutritionists, who also run nutritional education programmes in schools, through which they teach both staff and students about food hygiene and healthy nutrition. This extends beyond the school gates, too – nutritionists work with families to provide healthy eating and food hygiene education to improve their diets at home.
Then there’s Sweden, where free school meals are available to all children between the ages of 7-16, and to most young people aged 16-19. Teachers and students usually eat together, and there’s a focus on an open, continuous dialogue during mealtimes about food and health. School meal providers are required to ensure that school lunches cover at least 30% of a children’s daily nutritional needs. And in 2012, a free digital platform called SkolmatSverige (School Food Sweden) was launched – to give schools feedback about the quality and safety of their food provision, the social impact around it, the environmental impact, and the organisation and policy that governs it.
These are just a few examples of good, carefully thought out school meal programmes around the world. And what they tell us is that there’s a lot of knowledge and experience worth sharing between nations, educators, non-profits, and F&B companies – to help every school meal provider continue to improve their provision.
Children benefit from strong relationships between food producers, food educators, school teachers, and governing bodies. When collaboration enables a comprehensive understanding of pupils’ needs and of the potential positive impact of school feeding programmes, then it’s possible to do more than just feed children at school.
School meals can improve academic performance and enable healthy lifestyles long-term; which contributes to a wider society that has a healthier approach to food and nutrition. At InFlavour, we’re bringing together the people involved in school food provisions at every level – because we know that quality food is essential for education.
Are you an educator, policy-maker, or school meals provider? Register now to attend InFlavour 2024.
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