International School Meals Day: A ‘Whole School Food Approach’ is needed!
Brussels, March 9th 2023 – Every year, many European organisations and institutions take the International School Meals Day as an occasion to raise awareness on the importance of providing healthy and sustainably produced meals to children. With the cost of living crisis impacting access and affordability of food, and with one in three kids in Europe being obese or overweight, this year’s theme “Our changing food – methods, menus, and meals” of the awareness day, which takes place on the 9th of March, highlights the need to pay attention to what is served in schools.
Besides changing the recipes and ingredients of dishes served in schools, there are many related changes and tasks schools can commit to, to ensure that children have access to sustainably sourced food and develop healthy eating habits.
Fair Trade Towns and Fair Trade schools are participating in the EU-funded project SchoolFood4Change to spread a new food culture from the plates in school canteens to the plates of everyone else, by following a ‘Whole School Food Approach’ (WSFA). The Fair Trade Advocacy Office supports these Fair Trade towns, schools and involved actors which are testing new ways of transforming food and school meal times. In total, SchoolFood4Change collaborates with more than 3,000 schools, supported by 43 organisations across 12 countries, creating a European support network with the opportunity to inspire each other, share good practices, advice and learning experiences. In times of increasing food prices and living costs, shortages of various raw materials and the climate crisis, the provision of school food, which is good for our health and the planet, and adequate education on related topics, such as the (local) food culture and cultivation, become more relevant, which is why many schools are welcoming the opportunity to participate in the project.
After kicking-off the work with participating schools, they now face the task of putting into practice the ‘Whole School Food Approach’ – a task that requires teamwork and involvement from school staff, school chefs and other staff, schoolchildren and other stakeholders, such as local government councillors and technicians, who often administer the school cafeterias. To provide schools and local/ regional authorities with the best possible support, SchoolFood4Change experts have developed guidelines and concepts to accompany schools’ change processes. The goal is to enable schools to offer and promote healthy and sustainably sourced food; and to empower pupils in making good food choices.
The ‘Whole School Food Approach’ is based on the fact that young children do not automatically prefer unhealthy food. In fact, teaching children about nutrition in school is associated with stronger implicit attitudes that healthy food is tasty. It’s a matter of creating the environment, in which children and youngsters prefer to eat healthy and sustainably sourced food.
The revision of existing public food procurement processes, i.e. the purchasing of food and canteen services by public authorities that administer these public canteens, constitutes an important step in the chain of providing healthy and sustainable meals in schools. Sustainable public food procurement is seen as a strong lever for transforming our current food system to a more sustainable one.
When it comes to food consumption, eating behaviour and nutrition knowledge, schools can be catalysts for systemic and multi-actor change. As local and regional governments often have the task of administering school cafeterias, they need to be provided with adequate support and guidelines to enable them to provide healthy and sustainably sourced school meals to all children.
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The EU-funded project SchoolFood4Change was launched in January 2022, together with [name organisations relevant for national/ local context] and [X] other partners spread across Europe. SchoolFood4Change aims at engaging schools as catalysts for a transformation towards a sustainable food system. Therefore, the 43 organisations from 12 European countries, coordinated by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, bring all relevant school food actors to one table: students, parents and teachers, farmers, chefs and canteen staff, sustainable food procurement experts, dietitians, and local enterprises. The heart of the project is a three-fold approach that includes sustainable food procurement, the implementation of planetary health diets and the holistic “Whole School Food Approach”. In the first year, the project teams have engaged schools and laid the foundations for a shift towards more sustainable food, by introducing the ‘Whole School Food Approach’ to participating schools.
SchoolFood4Change is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme. It started in January 2022 and will run for four years. Findings will be replicable within and beyond the EU.
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