- 418 million
- children are receiving school meals globally
- US$1 invested
- in school meals has a US$9 return on investment
- 73 million
- vulnerable children are still in need of school meals
The World Food Programme’s (WFP) supports governments to ensure that all school-aged children have access to school meals and are healthy and ready to learn
Every day, millions of children around the world go to school on an empty stomach – hunger affects their concentration and ability to learn. There are also millions of children – particularly girls – who simply do not go to school because their families need them to help in the fields or perform domestic duties. In conflict-affected countries, children are twice as likely to be out of school than their peers in stable countries – 2.5 times more likely in the case of girls.
School meal programmes can help address many of these challenges. They are a multisectoral game changer that improve children’s education, health and nutrition. More broadly, they support the whole community by providing an important safety net, and by strengthening food systems and economies.
WFP has more than six decades of experience working with governments to support their school meals and health initiatives, having collaborated with more than 100 countries to set up sustainable national school meal programmes. WFP’s ultimate goal is to encourage and facilitate national government ownership of these programmes – a transition that has already happened in 50 countries.
WFP primarily provides technical assistance to governments to improve the scale and quality of national programmes and to innovate and test new approaches. Through this work, WFP helps influence the quality of life, access to education and nutritional status of 106 million schoolchildren in 77 countries. When needed, WFP also provides in-kind assistance. In 2021 alone, 15.5 million schoolchildren in 57 countries received nutritious meals and snacks from WFP.
Better health and nutrition through school meals allow children to learn and perform better, broadening their educational opportunities.
School-meal programmes also act as an incentive for families to enrol their children in school and keep them there. Relieving parents from having to budget for lunches, they lead to savings of about 10 percent of the income of vulnerable households. By dissuading parents from marrying their daughters off early, which halts their education and can result in early pregnancies, school meals empower girls.
School meals and complementary health interventions help build what is known as ‘human capital’ – the sum of a population’s health, skills, knowledge, experience and habits.
School meals programmes are often sourced from local smallholder farmers – under an approach known as Home-Grown School Feeding. This benefits local economies and supports the establishment of better-designed, sustainable food systems that are gender and climate sensitive. Making meals more sustainable can substantially reduce national greenhouse gas emissions. In many countries, school meals are the largest source of government procurement of food.
Countries recognize these multisectoral benefits: in 2021, in response to the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on schoolchildren, governments established and now lead the global School Meals Coalition. WFP is a proud supporter and serves as the secretariat of this group, which aims to restore, strengthen and improve school-meal programmes worldwide.
WFP will continue to support governments and pursue the goal for every child to have access to a daily, healthy meal in school by 2030. A special focus is on the 73 million vulnerable children who did not receive school meals even prior to the pandemic. WFP’s ten-year school feeding strategy, published in January 2020, reaffirms the organization’s commitments.
School meals also contribute to:
School meal programmes play a key role in helping children realize their potential, both for themselves and for their communities. Investing in human capital development of children are among the most effective and productive investments that countries can make.
School health and nutrition, including school meals, provide an incentive for families to send their daughters to school and helps the girls stay there - especially during adolescence. This can effectively prevent early marriage and delay first pregnancy, both of which can trap women into poverty and social exclusion.
Sustainable food systems
Home-grown school feeding has the potential to not only create demand for more diverse, nutritious and traditional foods, but also creates stable markets, boosts local agriculture and food systems, and impacts rural transformation. Local procurement also leads to shorter supply chains, resulting in lower carbon emissions and paving the way to a green future.
School feeding is one of the largest and most widespread social safety nets in the world – benefiting 418 million children worldwide. School meals’ benefits also extend to the families of beneficiaries and whole communities by boosting vulnerable families’ disposable income by about 10 % and by creating jobs.
For many children, school meals are the only meal they receive a day. School meals can promote macronutrient and micronutrient adequacy in children’s diets and can set children on the path towards healthier eating habits. Through these benefits, school meals are an important tool to combat the triple-burden of malnutrition.