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A Quick Guide To School Meals

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WFP is working towards a world where school meals are universal. School meals are an effective safety net, helping to ensure every child has access to education, health and nutrition. In the fight against hunger, school meals are a sound investment in the future of the next generation. WFP is supporting the International School Meals Day (#ISMD2016) on March 3, 2016. This quick guide helps to explain school meals around the globe.

1. What's WFP's role in school meals?

WFP has a dual role: it provides children directly with school meals, and it also supports governments in developing national programmes that act as a safety net and education ‘booster' for the most vulnerable people. WFP is increasingly focusing on the technical assistance role, to ensure governments have the political and financial means to introduce quality programmes.

2. How many children and governments does WFP assist with school meals?

Over the past few years, the number of children WFP has directly provided food to ranges from 18 to 25 million. This consists mainly of primary school children. WFP assists almost an equal number of boys and girls. Currently WFP supports programmes in 74 countries – almost every country where it works. In nine countries, WFP provides only technical assistance to governments.

3. What does a school meal look like?

A school meal isn't necessarily a meal. It can be breakfast or lunch, a snack, such as a high-energy biscuit, or a ration of food or cash that children can take home to their families. This is called a take-home ration, which usually consists of rice or micronutrient-fortified oil. If the food comes from local producers, it can improve the local acceptability, dietary diversity and freshness.

4. What are the main objectives of school meal programmes?

School meals are beneficial in many ways and can be tailored to address specific needs:

  • Safety Nets: School meals are the most prevalent safety net worldwide. They can help families support their children's education while protecting their food security. They help break the "cycle of hunger and poverty" by increasing the chances of children becoming healthy and productive adults.
  • Education: A daily school meal allows children to focus on their studies rather than their stomachs. It helps to increase enrolment and attendance, reduce drop-out rates and improve cognitive abilities. Where there is a gender gap in key, education-related areas, school meals can be complemented with take-home rations to provide further incentive.
  • Nutrition: In poor countries, school meals are often the only regular and nutritious meal a child receives. Without them, hunger and micronutrient deficiencies can cause irreversible damage to children's growing bodies. When school meals are combined with deworming and micronutrient fortification, the effects of that investment are multiplied. This is especially so when they are tailored to specific nutritional needs, such as those for adolescent girls or children affected by HIV/AIDS.

5. What are the long-term benefits of school meals?

Students who receive extra years of schooling as well as the proper nutrients to improve their learning capacity will greatly improve their chances of employment and of earning more over their lifetimes. Girls who stay in school longer will be healthier and will in turn have healthier children at a later age. In this way, school meal programmes have benefits that last for generations.

6. How do school meals support households?

A take-home ration of food or cash is often provided to the families of students. Also, when a meal is provided at school, it frees up funds the family can use to provide food to other children or to invest in their household.

7. How does WFP provide technical assistance?

To promote the sustainability of programmes, WFP supports governments in three areas: building of systems and creation of school-feeding policies that are embedded in broader social protection frameworks; implementation and operational ability; and organization of funding. This includes analyzing market structures and the effects of different models, such as providing cash, vouchers or in-kind food. WFP also enables the transfer of knowledge and exchange of expertise through South-South and Triangular Cooperation. WFP's Centre of Excellence in Brazil is a key hub in this work.

8. What are home-grown school meals?

Home-grown school meals provide locally produced and bought food to school-aged children with the aim of maximizing benefits for children, farmers and communities. It promotes agricultural development and expands market and economic opportunities by building direct links between school demand for fresh and local products, and supply from smallholder farmers at local or national levels.

9. What is different when school meals are provided in an emergency?

In emergencies, delivering potentially life-saving nutrients to children is the central goal, rather than building longer-term systems. School meals help keep children in school during both emergencies and ongoing crises. They also promote protection of children and instil a sense of hope. WFP often increases school meals in response to armed conflict, natural disasters, food crises and financial crises.