The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have launched a project to improve the diet of school-aged children, with support from the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL).

In many countries, school meals represent a significant portion of children’s daily diets, and it is vital that these directly contribute to their nutrition needs. The initiative – “School food nutrition guidelines and standards for safeguarding children and adolescents’ right to food” – will produce a new methodology, to aid government stakeholders and institutions develop and implement nutrition standards for healthier and higher quality school meals for children of all ages.

The project will also produce guidance for schools to implement hands-on food education strategies, including how to use school meal menus as learning materials in the classroom or how adolescents can use the standards to come up with nutritious meals. Interventions to further improve the school food environment, such as restricting the marketing of sugary beverages on school premises, will also be promoted.

A key part of the project will focus on supporting national actors to integrate the new nutrition standards into legislation, by conducting legislative studies and providing capacity development. Lastly, community ownership will be promoted at all stages of the process by strengthening, for example, school-level mechanisms where students and parents can report non-compliance with the nutrition standards.

“Through this comprehensive toolkit and technical support to improve school meals, the broader school food environments and procurement processes from local food systems, FAO aims to support governments and institutions in providing healthier school food to children and adolescents, therefore marking a step forward towards ensuring their Right to Food,” explains Nancy Aburto, FAO’s Deputy Director of the Food and Nutrition Division.

“We have a global consensus now around the need for school meals and its benefits to various sectors. School meals go far beyond the plate of food – they can impact education, nutrition, health, agriculture and food systems,” says Carmen Burbano, Director of the School-based Programmes Division at WFP. “For these programmes to unfold their full potential we need to work on the next generation of school meal programmes – programmes that contribute to sustainable food systems and ensure that children receive healthy and nutritious meals.”

The methodology and guidance package will be piloted in two countries, Cambodia and Ghana, to gather direct feedback on their usefulness. Both will be then adjusted and finalised through regional and global workshops.

The project is in line with the commitment of support that five United Nations agencies have made towards the global School Meals Coalition and its aim to ensure that every child gets a daily, healthy meal in school by 2030.

It also contributes to the achievement of several Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG 2 (Zero Hunger), 3 (Good Health and Well-Being) and 4 (Quality Education).