School Feeding Programs: A Way to Promote and Propel Learning – By Sogoni Cyril

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A cup of pure millet porridge served at a primary school in Turkana County, Kenya.


Every child has their own unique nutritional needs depending on their age. Children
under the age of 5 years old who are malnourished may have stunted cognitive
development and learning capabilities into their adolescent and adult life. Children
require adequate supply of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and fluids in
their daily diets for optimum growth and development.
School feeding programs (sometimes referred to as school meal programs) are
interventions that regularly provide nutritious foods to children and adolescents
attending school. According to the World Food Program, school feeding programs are
estimated to provide at least 418 million children worldwide in at least 176 countries from
all income levels with meals on a daily basis. This makes the school feeding programs the
most extensive social safety net.
The Government of Kenya initiated school meal activities in 1980 in collaboration with
development partners as a core development intervention to support the country’s
achievements in the education sector. Kenya launched a Home-Grown School Meals
programme in 2009 as a nationally-owned and Government-led programme and started
giving hot meals to more than half a million children who were initially fed through the
World Food Program.
Through the ministries of education, health, agriculture, livestock and fisheries
respectively, the government committed to strengthen the school feeding programmes
in a three-pillar approach, enshrined in the National School Meals and Nutrition Strategy
of 2017-2022. The plan was based on strategies to:
1. Provide regular meals every school day throughout the school year.
2. Acknowledge nutrition and nutrition education as core components of school
3. Link smallholder farmers with the demand for school meals by procuring food
commodities directly from these suppliers where possible.
Currently, the national home-grown school meals programme in Kenya is reaching about
2 million school-going children, while WFP complements efforts in feeding those in
hard-to-reach areas. However, not all the schools have been able to benefit from this
intervention due to recurrent droughts which affect crop yields, inflation and the
COVID-19 pandemic that paralysed economies and kept children out of schools. Schools
that are able to offer meals across the country often provide porridge made from pure
maize or millet flour during morning breaks. Lunch menus often offer cooked meals that
range from single dishes based on staple cereals and legumes. A common dish in Kenyan
public schools is that of maize and beans, commonly known as “githeri”, which some
children may find unpalatable when repeated over and again in the school menus.
Animal-source foods, fruits and other varieties of vegetables are rarely included in the
menus since most of the schools can not afford them.
The majority of school going children across the country do not access diversified and
nutritionally adequate diets. This exposes them to nutrient deficiencies. Many of the
health conditions that are most prevalent among children in low-income communities
have significant effects on education, causing absenteeism, leading to grade repetition or
dropout, and adversely affecting their potential. School meal programs should be
well‐designed to provide sufficient energy, protein, fat and micronutrient content for
children’s age and baseline nutritional status. The meals should also be prepared using
methods that preserve nutrients and make the food appealing. Nutrition education and
school gardens (for educational purposes) can also be used as complementary
interventions to strengthen the feeding programs.
When linked to nutrition and education, well-designed, equitable school feeding
programmes contribute to child development through increased years of schooling,
better learning and improved nutrition. School feeding provides consistent positive effects
on energy intake, micronutrient status, school enrolment and attendance of children,
according to Lamis et al. School feeding has emerged as the main intervention for
children in schools around which other elements, such as deworming or
supplementation, are delivered. “The effects are particularly strong for girls. School
feeding programmes have demonstrated effects on reducing anaemia in primary
school-aged children and adolescent girls”, says Adelman.
According to the United Nations, school feeding programs can help developing countries
and their development partners meet a number of goals including the eradication of
hunger, achieving universal primary education, and closing the gender gap by giving boys
and girls equal opportunities for completion of primary schooling. There is increasing
evidence that effective school feeding programmes improve both access to schools and
learning. “Benefits of school feeding on children and adolescents include alleviating
hunger, reducing micronutrient deficiency and anaemia, preventing overweight and
obesity, improving school enrollment and attendance, increasing cognitive and academic
performance, and contributing to gender equity in access to education”, says Dongqing et
The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) report revealed that the nutrition
status of children has been improving, with national stunting, wasting and underweight
rates decreasing significantly in 2022 compared to preceding years. The government can
leverage on Public Private partnerships (PPPs) to ensure access to better quality and
nutritious meals by children in schools through home grown school feeding programs
and other highly effective interventions in order to further improve the nutritional status
of children and boost education outcomes further. Low-income countries need to be
supported to explore novel and effective ways of funding school feeding programs
through sustainable financing initiatives so that they can transition to self-reliance.
National governments also need to identify ways to strengthen the connection between
school meals, food systems and climate change!
Although the benefits of school feeding are well-documented, controversy remains over
the effectiveness of school feeding programs, according to Kristjansson et al. Experts at a
School Feeding/Food for Education Stakeholders meeting concluded that there is little
evidence for nutritional benefits of school feeding and that school feeding only enhances
learning when other improvements in school quality are made. According to McIntyre,
school feeding programs address a symptom, rather than the root causes of hunger and
that they may be stigmatising. There is a gap in current research as most studies focus on
government-owned school meal programs and exclude any pilot projects or scalable
programs coordinated by non-governmental entities.

By Sogoni Cyril.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Terry

    Worth reading. A good piece Cyril 👌 👏

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