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Best Practices for School Food Programs

Updated: Dec 7, 2020

In September 2018 Kimberley Hernandez (Dalhousie University), Rachel Engler-Stringer (University of Saskatchewan), Sara Kirk (Dalhousie University), Hannah Wittman (University of British Columbia) and Sasha McNicholl (Community Food Centres Canada, previously with the Coalition for Healthy School Food) published The case for a Canadian national school food program in the Canadian Association of Food Studies journal Vol 5 No 3 (2018).

This research identified several principles based on best practices that can ensure that school food programs live up to their full potential:


School food programs welcome all students in a school community. They are offered at no cost or subsidized cost to families, and administered in a non-stigmatizing manner. In a shared cost model, payment is made in a way that ensures privacy. Programs are promoted to ensure that all students have access to healthy food in school daily.


School food programs focus on the provision of whole foods, and in particular vegetables and fruit. A focus on the provision of a variety of vegetables and fruit (such as requiring lunches to include a minimum of two servings daily with variation) helps to simplify the task for schools and districts. Focusing on the foods that do fit within a healthy diet also provides an important modelling opportunity.


Programs are sustainable financially and in terms of capacity-building. This means ensuring that school food program staff and volunteers receive adequate training to ensure they understand their role in teaching and role modelling for students. Funding at the local level is stable and partnerships to support the program are created. Critical to the success of school food programs is regular monitoring and evaluation. This includes ensuring financial transparency and accountability for programs at the federal and more local levels.


Programs respect local conditions and needs so as to be culturally appropriate and locally adapted. Programs in diverse inner cities will look different from those in remote Northern communities, for example, and involvement by stakeholders with local experience is critical to success.


Programs are connected to local communities and work towards drawing upon local food resources where possible, supporting local producers and creating economic multipliers. Programs also engage the broader community including parents, grandparents, local businesses, and community leaders to foster sustainability.


Programs work towards integration with curricula to incorporate food literacy, nutrition education and food skills. Students are involved with school food programs through hands-on food growing, preparation, budgeting, management and other learning to foster experiential learning (learning by doing).

The Coalition has taken these principles to heart and its work to advance a National School Food Program will be informed by the research.

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