Many children still come to school with empty or unhealthy lunch boxes or snacks. This has a negative impact on their learning performance and general wellbeing. A well-nourished student is more alert, focused and able to actively participate in the learning process.
Today, access to nutritious food at school is still too limited. Fewer and fewer schools offer hot meals, and when they do, they usually do not meet the health guidelines of the Flemish government. However, many schools currently lack the knowledge and resources to offer healthy meals.
Pupils' food knowledge needs to be improved. Too many educational opportunities are currently being missed. It is vital that students not only eat well, but also understand the importance of eating well, for themselves and for our planet. Food should be an integral part of education, both inside and outside the school walls (in the classroom, in the kitchen garden, in the cafeteria...).
Good food at school is in the interest of all children, but it is especially important for students growing up in disadvantaged poverty. Families living in poverty find it more difficult to make healthy food choices for a number of reasons. Free or cheaper nutritious school meals could give all pupils, regardless of their economic background, a more equal chance of (academic) success. At present, however, school meals are not sufficiently accessible to disadvantaged students, and producers too often do not receive a fair price for their products.
Rikolto works with schools, parents, governments, local farmers and food producers to bring positive change. Our approach is based on collaboration, capacity building and creating sustainable systems that have long-term impact.
In Belgium, Rikolto focuses on three Flemish cities: Leuven, Ghent and Antwerp. Together with these cities, we are taking on the challenge of making healthy, sustainable and affordable food in schools the norm, and how to get all levels of government on board.
In these three pilot cities, we are working with both primary and secondary schools. We are in the process of learning from the experience and developing a model on the basis of what we have learnt. That way, we can scale up our approach to other partners. In Leuven, we are currently working on a test case for sustainable school meals. The intention is that after the test case, the city will provide a structural budget for hot meals.
Rikolto works with both bottom-up and top-down approaches. Our bottom-up approach focuses mainly on Flemish schools. We exchange 'good practices', write a monthly newsletter, prepare a toolkit for schools and municipalities, and organise inter-city consultations (about ten cities meet four times a year) and city working groups, also called 'School Food Councils', in Antwerp, Leuven and Ghent. These working groups are very diverse and consist of local actors with a link to education and/or nutrition. Rikolto works with them to develop local strategies and implement sustainable school food policies. In this way, each town develops its own dynamic, tailored to its schools and inhabitants.
The top-down approach then focuses on the structures that already exist at European and international level. We look at what structures already exist and where Rikolto can join them to scale up our approach at local level. We are also organising regular expert meetings with different organisations to get a clear picture of our common views on 'good food at school'.
To achieve all this, Rikolto applies a Whole School Food Approach (WSFA). This approach is part of the European SchoolFood4Change project. Schools and cities from 12 countries learn from each other and make recommendations for better policies so that healthy and sustainable food becomes the easiest choice for everyone.
The WSFA is an integrated approach. That is, we do not only look at the food supply in schools, but also at food education and policy and the school environment. Our approach goes for an educational environment that enables a healthy eating culture in and around schools, contributes to systemic change throughout the community and has an impact on education, sustainability, inequality, communities and health. Only then will we ensure lasting impact.
Currently, Rikolto works with 12 schools in Leuven, 5 schools in Ghent and 5 secondary schools in Antwerp every year. So many schools in Flanders are already working with us on good food at school. SchoolFood4Change runs until the end of 2026. The aim is to have 20 schools applying the WSFA in each city by the end of the project.
Rikolto developed the Whole School Food Approach (WSFA). Meanwhile, that approach is also part of the European SchoolFood4Change. In the future, we would like to see our WSFA as a label for schools working on good food, with the categories 'bronze', 'silver' and 'gold'.