Five UN agencies support 60-country School Meals Coalition

Five UN agencies announced support for a programme to quickly improve the nutrition of more than 150 million young students missing out on school-based food and health services because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a joint declaration released at the UN headquarters on Tuesday, the agencies committed to assisting the School Meals Coalition, a group of more than 60 countries.

The agencies said the coalition aims to give every child in need the opportunity to receive a nutritious meal in school by 2030. The alliance is also committed to “smart” school meal programs, combining regular meals in school with complementary health and nutrition interventions for children’s growth and learning, Xinhua news agency reported.

“School meals are so much more than just a plate of food,” UN ambassador Jukka Salovaara of Finland told reporters at a briefing. “It’s really an opportunity to transform communities, improve education and food systems globally.”

The announcement said, “School health and nutrition programs are impactful interventions to support schoolchildren and adolescents’ growth and development. They can help to combat child poverty, hunger and malnutrition in all its forms. They attract children to school and support children’s learning and long-term health and well-being.”

The coalition will work to restore the school meals and other health and nutrition programs that were in place before the Covid-19 pandemic. It hopes to expand them to reach 73 million children not covered before the pandemic and raise their quality in part by establishing standards and linking them to local food production where possible, the agencies said.

“School meals are very important for the recovery of our society from the impact of the Covid-19,” said Olivier Richard, head of the Sustainable Development Unit at the French mission to the United Nations. “Those school meals keep the children at school and improve their nutrition, their health and their educational performance.”

The five agencies said school meals could serve as springboards for food system transformation. Where possible, they can use locally grown food, supporting national and local markets and food systems, improving opportunities for smallholder farmers and local catering businesses, many led by women.

The UN agencies supporting the coalition are the Food and Agriculture Organization, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the UN Children’s Fund, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization. More than 50 partners, including non-governmental organizations, civil society, foundations and other groups, also said they would support the coalition.