Learning From Experience

WFP has been implementing and coordinating school meals for 45 years. In 2009 we undertook a review of this extensive field experience (Learning from Experience) which highlighted the good practices and lessons learned.


  • Finding 1: The quality and sustainability of school meals is dependent on understanding and commitment to the programme at the decision-making levels of the government, as well as its embedment in national policy frameworks; 
  • Finding 2: The costs of school meals are high for most low-income countries. Interim funding solutions including multilateral, bilateral and food aid contributions are needed to support governments with school meals, but countries need to include school meals in the national budget as early on as possible;
  • Finding 3: Handover arrangements need to be planned well in advance with the Government. School meals may need to be periodically re-designed to allow for a smooth transition;
  • Finding 4: Effectiveness of school meals depends on four main design factors: a sound, in depth-assessment; clearly definining project objectives; adequate targeting; appropriate modalities and food basket;
  • Finding 5: Institutional set-up and implementation arrangements are directly linked and need to be adapted to the context;
  • Finding 6: Involving communities in the design and implementation of school meals increases the the programme’s sustainability.


The following key conclusions may help further establish the elements of a new approach for enhancing the impact of current and future school meals programmes:

  • School meals efforts should be harmonised within the same country under a common framework of government ownership and commitment. In some countries, several models of school meals are implemented without coordination.
  • Strengthening the planning process with systematic stakeholder consultations. School meals are only part of the solution. Many sectors and actors have a stake in school meals. Integration within the broader country social protection and education agenda is needed to achieve significant results. Synergies between school meals and school health and nutrition education initiatives need to be ensured through coordination mechanisms and systematic consultations.
  • Targeting criteria must ensure that school meals reach the neediest. This may mean phasing out support from some areas to others that are more vulnerable, targeting all schools within a district rather than scattering resources in several districts and not covering all schools.
  • Choosing the most appropriate implementation modality and food basket is crucial to programme implementation. On-site meals, snacks and take-home rations have advantages and trade-offs that need to be analysed and compared according to the country context. Modalities should be chosen in accordance with programme objectives. The food basket should be tailored based on nutritional objectives, fortification requirements and whether the food can be locally produced. In several cases, the first step towards successful transition to government ownership is a locally procured food basket.
  • Linking school meals with local food production is an important step for sustainability which requires careful planning and a phased approach. Transitioning to local procurement benefits the transport industry, small businesses and processing plants, small farmer cooperatives and women’s groups. Careful planning helps minimise risks linked to local procurement, such as a more unstable food pipeline and weaker food safety and quality control mechanisms.

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