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New Research: The Economic Rationale for Investing in School Meal Programs for Canada

Updated: Feb 20

By: Dr. Amberley Ruetz

Illustration by: Dr. Alexandra Sawatzky, Arrell Food Institute


School food practitioners and researchers know the multiple benefits that school food programs have on the health and wellbeing of children, their families and communities. Recent research from countries around the world highlights that school food programs also provide an exceptional return on investment. 


The Arrell Family Foundation and Ruetz Consulting are pleased to share our new report, The Economic Rationale for Investing in School Meal Programs for Canada: multi-sectoral impacts from comparable high-income countries. The report details the multi-sectoral return on investment that comes from investing in school meal programs, with a focus on the range of benefits associated with universal free school meals.


Overall, universal free school meals have been shown to provide a 2.5x - 7x return in human health and economic benefits in comparable high-income countries (see page 18). Specifically, some of these benefits include how school meal programs: 


  • can provide immediate relief to household budgets (pages 4-6);

  • improve students’ learning outcomes, and in the long-term increase students’ lifetime earnings and reduce social inequalities (page 10-12);

  •  increase maternal workforce participation (page 9 - 10);

  •  create jobs and strengthen local food systems (page 6-8);

  •  improve health and food security (page 12-15);

  •  strengthen Indigenous communities (page 16);

A national school food program would join Canada’s universal child care and the Canada Child Benefit as crucial social supports, bringing immediate relief to families while also contributing to long-term economic, health, and social benefits. A $200 million investment toward school food in Budget 2024 would be the first step towards fulfilling the Liberal Party’s 2021 election promise of $1 billion over five years.


A $200 million investment would be a fraction of the federal government's current expenditures of ~$500 billion in 2023 and would provide immediate relief to families while building a legacy of improved public health and economic prosperity for generations to come. Our nation’s children are only 20% of our population but 100% of our future. An investment in a national school food program today is an investment in a stronger Canada tomorrow.


Citation

Ruetz, A.T., Edwards, G., Zhang, F. (2023, October 26). The Economic Rationale for Investing in School Meal Programs for Canada: multi-sectoral impacts from comparable high-income countries. Prepared by Ruetz Consulting for the Government of Canada, funded by the Arrell Family Foundation.

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