Changes in school feeding operations during the COVID-19 pandemic: evidence from 139 countries

Case Studies & Research
17 p.
Periodical title
Food Security

School meal programs, which provide students with meals, snacks, or take-home rations and serve as a safety net for vulnerable children worldwide, were severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This study draws on the 2021 Global Survey of School Meal Programs to explore changes in school feeding operations during the COVID-19 pandemic and identify factors that can facilitate program resilience. The survey, inclusive of both closed and open-ended questions, gathered data on 183 programs operating in 139 countries. Findings suggest that, even though school meal programs were negatively affected by the pandemic and associated school closures, they responded with creativity, employing new feeding modalities, venues of distribution, and approaches to targeting. Regression results further show that involvement of nutritionists was associated with continuity (a lack of interruption) of feeding services. Flexibility and preparedness were highlighted as factors that strengthened programs in a time of crisis. At the same time, the experience of emergencies that occur simultaneously or in quick succession (“stacked” emergencies) hampered their ability to operate. Survey results confirm that attention must be given to school meal programs in low-income settings, as school feeding coverage is lowest in such settings, these programs often have limited resources, and they are more likely to experience stacked emergencies.