Making school meals healthy for our children and planet

Shifting school meals and schools into a new paradigm to address public health and territorial, social, and environmental resilience: This is the aim of the SchoolFood4Change project.

This article was written by Amalia Ochoa, Sustainable Food Systems Coordinator, and Monika Rut, Sustainable Food Systems Officer, at ICLEI Europe.

Schools have the potential of being the place where young people learn about healthy diets, and where a sustainable food culture can be promoted and experienced.

The EU-funded SchoolFood4Change project builds on this potential, seeing schools and school meals as catalysts for systemic change on a broad societal level. The project will provide innovative, evidence-based solutions and tailored, locally adaptable good practices for schools, school meal providers, responsible public authorities, and policymakers, in line with the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy, Food 2030 Agenda and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The focus lies on education and empowerment of children and adolescents, given their vulnerability to diet-related conditions and disadvantaged environments on the one hand, while, on the other hand, acknowledging their transformative power and ability to drive change.

To achieve the ambitious goal of enabling community-wide food system change, SchoolFood4Change engages 3,000 schools as catalysts for food system transformation, impacting 600,000 young people through 16 cities and regional governments across 12 European countries and radiating into society at large.

SchoolFood4Change is coordinated by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability and brings all relevant school food actors to one table: from students, parents and teachers, farmers, chefs, and canteen staff to experts from sustainable food procurement, dietitians, and local enterprises.

At the heart of the initiative lies a triple action approach of innovative food procurement, the promotion of planetary health diets and cooking, as well as the Whole School Food Approach (WSFA).

Innovative sustainable food procurement is an effective tool for change as it helps fulfil the state’s duty of care, particularly concerning vulnerable groups such as children and students. The project will provide locally adaptable procurement solutions that have the power to make healthy and sustainable meals available in all schools in Europe, leaving no child behind.

Over 10,000 cooks and canteen staff will be trained in Planetary Health Diets, following the recommendations of the EAT Lancet Commission, empowering them to cook school meals that are both delicious and sustainable.

The WSFA holistically engages the entire school community to develop healthy and sustainable eating activities. For children it includes food education, gardening, preserving, and cooking food together as well as school-farm twinning. The WSFA also involves other actors from the farm to fork chain, such as farmers, cooks, and local businesses. Its impact through SchoolFood4Change will radiate into society at large, reaching more than 2 million EU citizens.

SchoolFood4Change will run until 2025 and will broaden its impact by collaborating with a range of European and global cities and food-related projects through a suite of tools and replication activities including twinning programs, youth engagement, and tailored policy guidance for sustainable food system transformation.

For more information, please visit https://schoolfood4change.eu

Photo credit: Yan Krukov via Pexels

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