Nonfiction in response to Zero Hunger
By Karen Wu
Image Credit: Karen Wu
Food: without it, we cannot live. One important function food has is keeping us energized during the day, so that we can do all the things we need to do, such as going to school. Unfortunately, many people around the world do not have access to this necessity. One source in which hungry children can receive food is through school meals. Therefore, each country should do its best to make school meals as good as possible. This article will compare school meals in three countries- Sweden, the US, and Kenya and discuss what can be learned from each.
Sweden offers all students aged 7-16 free school lunches, and some students aged 16-19. Meals in Sweden are hot and typically consist of a main dish (such as spaghetti and meatballs), a salad, a drink (milk or water), bread, and spread (such as butter). In 2011, a law was passed that required school lunches to have at least a third of the recommended daily intake of nutrition. Every year, free school lunches cost about 749.30 USD per student. There is a web-based system, known as Skolmat Sverige, that monitors the quality and impact of the free school lunches. This lunch program has many obvious benefits, such as providing students a healthy, balanced meal and allowing the quality to be regulated. Nonetheless, it would cost a lot. Perhaps some of this cost can be avoided, since some of the students might be able to afford to buy their own lunch. However, this program does allow the government to ensure that at least the lunches of their students are healthy.
In the US, there is the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP). The NSLP provides free or reduced price school lunches to students who qualify and the SBP provides money to states to fund breakfast programs. In order to qualify for both programs, the student must be homeless, a migrant, a runaway, a foster child, or have a certain family income. Those whose family income is between 130 and 185 percent of the federal poverty level can receive reduced price school lunches. Those below 130 percent can receive free school lunches. Schools are not allowed to charge children more than 40 cents for a reduced-price lunch. In 2010, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed, putting regulations on the food served in the program. Now, the Secretary of Agriculture is to put certain guidelines in place concerning the nutritional value of the food. For example, one guidelines is that schools must serve fruits and vegetables. However, school lunches have been criticized for being unhealthy - school lunches can sometimes consist of things such as fries, hamburgers, or chicken nuggets. On average, the NSLP costs 13.6 billion in federal dollars per year. Some cities, such as New York, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, and Dallas, have their own school lunch programs, which give free school lunches to all students. The main benefit of these lunch programs is that they allow less affluent families to spend less on food. However, as stated before, the quality of this food can vary- sometimes, the unhealthiness will actually cause harm to the student. The cities that give free school lunches to all students face the problem mentioned before in Sweden - some students can bring their own food, so the lunch program may generate unnecessary cost.
Originally in Kenya, most of the school food programs were provided by the World Food Programme (WFP), an organization created to fight worldwide hunger. In 2009, the government started taking control of school food programs. Two food programs, the Njaa Marufuku Kenya (Eradicate Hunger in Kenya) program and the Home Grown School Meals (HGSM) program, were created. The Njaa Marufuku Kenya program is under the Ministry of Agriculture. It targets areas with high agricultural potential and feeds about 44,000 children in 66 schools. The program helps local farmers to produce surpluses, which can then be sold to schools. Procuring and preparing the food is left to local parents and teachers. The Home Grown School Meals (HGSM) program is under the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. It targets semi-arid districts and feeds about 600,000 children in 1,800 schools. The children are fed midday meal consisting of cereals, pulses, oil, and salt. Food procurement is done through local farmers and any necessary facilities are provided by the community. The relationship between the food programs and the community is a very beneficial one. By helping the farmers to grow food and giving them a market to sell their crops, it can not only help feed children but also promote economic growth. According to the World Bank, the best programs typically use local food sources and have community involvement.
School meals are a very important thing, and each country should invest in making sure they are available and healthy. Time and time again, it has been found that school lunches help keep poorer children in school by providing nutrition to them. Stephanie Covington Armstrong wrote on the Huffington Post that, “When you are hungry, it is impossible to focus on anything besides your hunger. These school meals that were provided for me freed my brain and created a more balanced learning environment between me and my wealthier classmates.”