Every day, countless children across the globe turn up for school on an empty stomach, which makes it hard to focus on lessons. Many simply do not go, as their families need them to help in the fields or around the house.
For all of them, a daily school meal can mean not only better nutrition and health, but also increased access to and achievement in education. It is also a strong incentive to consistently send children to school.
In 2016, WFP implemented or supported school meals programmes in 69 countries. It directly provided school meals to 16.4 million children in 60 countries. It also built the capacities of 60 governments, which led to improved national school meals programmes for another 45 million children.
Programme particulars vary between the provision of breakfast or lunch, or both. Some programmes provide complete meals, while others distribute fortified, high-energy biscuits or nutritious snacks, such as date bars. Food and/or cash rations are handed out to families as incentives to keep children in school on condition that they attend regularly.
Food is procured locally when possible. In 46 countries, school meals programmes are linked to local smallholder farm production, combining nutritional and educational benefits with a positive impact on local economies. Partnering with civil society, school meals programmes can help build trust in national education systems and foster social inclusion. In Tunisia, where the national school meals programme reaches 240,000 children in 2,500 schools, local youths are employed as caterers, ensuring local ownership.
Programmes can be tailored to target specific groups of children, including those forced into child labour, or those whose lives have been affected by HIV/AIDS. They can also prevent early marriage for girls and child pregnancies, and help girls access better paid jobs through education. In Malawi, a joint programme by the government, WFP, UNICEF and UNFPA has been designed specifically to tackle various cultural barriers preventing girls from attending school.
During crises, school meals successfully meet basic nutritional needs while getting children back to the classroom. In Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, school meals are helping Syrian refugee children improve their nutrition and continue their education, investing in their own – and the region’s – future.