By Janey Thornton, PhD, GCNF Board Member – written on behalf of the Global Child Nutrition Foundation (GCNF)
Over the last ten years, school meal programme advocates have increasingly raised the awareness of the importance and value of school meal programmes across the world. Advocates have come from accepting the fact that girls probably won’t even get to go to school and that students in school are likely not to get fed to now hearing a rallying cry to ensure that all kids have access to school, and that while in school all kids have access to a healthy meal. While we recognise that we’re at all spectrums of the goal, we are seeing an amazing increase in the attention being afforded to school meals in countries worldwide. We are no longer just seeing fortified biscuits in developing countries but now are beginning to see a greater abundance of nutritious, locally-grown foods being served in schools. As a member of the Board of Directors of the Global Child Nutrition Foundation (GCNF), I have seen the impact of increased awareness of school meal program benefits around the world.
During the GCNF’s annual international Global Child Nutrition Forum, we always have one day devoted to school visits. That’s truly the highlight of the Forum for many of us. It’s empowering to sit and talk to students in their classrooms and in the areas where they eat. You can see the excitement in eyes and hear the pride and delight in their voices as they talk about school meals. We often have visited with parents who are doing the food preparation–sometimes in a school kitchen and sometimes outdoors over an open fire. These are often the same schools where parents, and sometimes even the students, have grown the foods being prepared. And their excitement and pride is contagious. We hear reported time and time again that school meals not only help students perform better in school, but actually more kids are able to attend school when meals are available.
We’re finding that more and more countries are not only recognising the importance of seeing that kids are fed at school but they’re also developing regional and national programs that will help in the funding of these programs. They truly understand that this financial commitment is not only an investment in the health and well-being of the children being fed, but is a true investment in their country for the many years to come.
International School Meals day is just one more avenue that helps students realise that the changes that are occurring are not just happening in their school or in their country but is a movement that is growing worldwide. These students will grow and development into our world of tomorrow recognising how much more we have in common with each other than we have differences. They will come to realise that the one catalyst that often draws us all together and has such an impact on global citizenship and the global economy is food!