Feeding children is a challenge. Have you ever spent time convincing a three year old that broccoli tastes like cupcakes or makes your hair sparkle, only to have it thrown across the table or later into the garbage?

Well, it’s even harder for schools.

Some parents come up with their own incentives to get kids to eat nutritious food, but schools are responsible for feeding over 368 million school-aged children lunch. This task is bigger than dealing with picky eaters (though in order to decrease food waste this is important). Schools are under pressure to provide nutritious meals and people have come up with some interesting ways to help out.

1. Seamless for school lunches

Image: Flickr: PINKE

This one shouldn’t be shocking because there’s an app for everything, but I was still surprised by this school delivery app. Choicelunch allows parents to choose healthy lunch options they know their children will eat. Parents can filter lunches by allergies, too. If parents’ don’t know what their kids will or will not eat, the company even does research on what foods kids don’t eat, which cuts down on food waste.

2. Speed dating for farmers and schools

Image: Flickr: Gene Han

At a ranch in San Diego, CA, a man and woman sit together overlooking rolling hills and the ocean. They chat with each other and swap phone numbersbut it’s not what you think. They are not looking for love or friendship. Instead, they are talking about exchanging local produce. Representatives from school districts come and meet with local farmers to talk about purchasing and providing fresh local ingredients in school lunches.

I personally think that this is the best speed dating outcome to date (and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an app for it soon).

3. Students serving lunches in Japan

Image: Flickr: Angela Earley

In Japan, school lunches are referred to as kyūshoku and school lunch has not changed much in the last forty years. School meals still consist primarily of vegetables, rice, and fish or soup and are made by scratch from local ingredients. Besides the fish, what’s the catch?

Students don’t just wait in line and sit at tables—they take turns serving lunch. Student involvement in serving and preparing lunches promotes nutrition education. Participation also saves funds that would be spent hiring staff to serve lunch that can then go toward purchasing quality ingredients.

4. France’s sliding scale to pay for lunches

Image: Flickr: Gatanass

According to Oxfam, the wealthiest 1 percent own 48 percent of the world’s income.

Income inequality exists in every country and, yes, it also affects school lunches. Wealthier kids have no problem buying lunch or coming to school armed with a nutritious meal, but poor kids often struggle to get food that meets their nutritional needs.

In France, wealthier families pay more for school lunch and families that cannot afford as much pay less. This system presents schools with the funding needed to provide quality lunches for all children.

5. One program feeds 120 million children

Image: Flickr: Global Partnership for Education

India was criticized harshly on the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NP-NSPE) after 23 children died and others became sick from contaminated lunches. But feeding 120 million children is not easy. NP-NSPE is the largest school lunch program in the world. A quality healthy lunch should be available to all children, but the NP-NSPE is a step in the right direction. With more funding, infrastructure and quality control to assure no children get sick, India can successfully nourish and educate children.

6.  Garden to cafeteria—schools growing food on campus

Image: Flickr: Kaiscapes

Sometimes quality control can go too far. Schools that have the capacity to grow their own food should be able to eat it. But in countries like the US, there are strict regulations forcing schools to outsource cafeteria food to big companies. Schools are still growing food, though. For example, Edible SchoolYard NYC  teaches children how to measure plots, grow, harvest, and cook all from on-site gardens.

Still, I want programs like these to be able to use the fresh vegetables, fruits, and herbs as ingredients in school lunches. This takes commitment but can save money and cuts down on the environmental impact of shipping and packaging school lunches.

7. Free lunches in Laos keep girls in school

kids eating lunch in laos
Image: Flickr: World Bank

Countries like Sweden, Finland, Estonia, and the Czech Republic offer free lunches, but the benefits are a little different when free lunches are offered in Laos. The lunch that theNational School Meals Program provides for school children in Laos is a big incentive for children (especially girls) to stay in school when families cannot provide lunch at home. The value of feeding children outweighs the need to keep children home to do household chores and promotes both nutrition and education.

Ending poverty starts with education. But when children are hungry, learning suffers. Schools need funding, infrastructure like kitchens and staff, and access to fresh ingredients to provide the healthy lunches that every child needs. It is possible to end hunger for the 66 million children that cannot focus in or attend school because they are malnourished.

If you want to help make this a reality, TAKE ACTION NOW by signing a petition calling on the US Congress to support global food security.


Defeat Poverty

7 unusual ways students are getting fed

By Meghan Werft