Food Access in Schools
When income is too low, people don't have enough money and are often forced to cut into their food budget for other expenses. This results in people not getting enough nutrition, which can seriously impact physical, mental, and social health.
If a family or student at your school needs support accessing food in their community, meals are offered in many community centres and faith-based organizations throughout London and some locations in Middlesex County. Learn more →
There are many reasons why a student may arrive to or become hungry while at school and it can be difficult to focus on classroom lessons with the distraction of an empty stomach. School food programs provide universal access to food for all students to help ensure they are fed and ready to learn.
Knowing where to start and the resources required in starting a school food program may feel overwhelming. Below you will find key considerations, requirements, helpful tips, and suggested actions to help support your school in starting a school food program.
School food programs vary in how they are delivered, and program models differ from one school to another. When establishing a school food program, it is important to consider the school’s unique environment to help determine which program model will be the best fit for the school and its students. Program models include:
Breakfast and morning meal programs
- Traditional program: hot or cold breakfast offered in a sit-down meal in a school space (e.g., cafeteria, classroom, activity room, library, etc.)
- Grab and go program: packaged meals students can take with them to eat
- Snacks delivered to classrooms
- Snacks available in bins in classrooms and common spaces (i.e., hallways, office, etc.)
For more details on program models, visit the Ontario Student Nutrition Program
The program model selected will guide space requirements needed within your school to prepare and serve food. If you are adding a food program to your school or renovating your kitchen facilities, please notify your local public health unit by emailing email@example.com.
When offering food, you may require a classroom (e.g., if using a traditional sit-down model or to have a common hub where the food is located) or food bins can be placed on tables in common areas around the school and/or classrooms.
- Refer to the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services’ (MCCSS) Student Nutrition Program Nutrition Guidelines (2020) to guide food purchases for your school food program.
- Check out Serve Up Fun! for a collection of serving ideas and recipes to help you serve vegetables and fruit.
Food for school nutrition programs can be purchased from any grocery store. To save time, many grocery stores offer grocery pick-up where you can order ahead and arrive during the time selected for pick-up. Your school may also want to consider a produce delivery service where you can order online and have the food delivered to your school. Delivery services can be more expensive; however, they increase convenience and will save volunteer and/or staff time.
Implementing food safety principles is essential to Safely Operating a School Food Program. Learn more about food safety in schools.
Dedicated staff and/or volunteers are essential to the success of school food programs. There are many tasks involved in delivering a school’s food program which include, but are not limited to, menu planning, food procurement, food preparation, food delivery, and completing grant applications and reports. Staffing and volunteer needs will look different at each school. General recommendations for human resources include:
- 1-2 staff members or volunteers for small schools; and
- 2-3 staff members or volunteers for larger schools.
- Consider having 1-2 staff members or volunteers for support backup.
Student engagement is highly encouraged in school food programs. For example, secondary schools can engage students in program delivery through involving hospitality and/or developmental education classes in food preparation and delivery.
Local organizations, businesses, and/or community members may also be interested in volunteering to support school food programs.
Food, equipment, and cleaning supplies are three categories of expenses associated with operating a school food program Each school’s food program is unique and therefore expenses will vary.
Food prices will depend on the number of students and the program model. To help get started, here are a few approximations to guide estimating food costs:
- Budget approximately $1 per day per student using the program.
- On average, approximately 15-20% of students utilize school food programs. It is important to ensure school food programs are available to all students.
We recommend having dedicated kitchen equipment that is used exclusively for the school food program. Grant options are available to purchase equipment. Equipment needed to run a program may include, but is not limited to:
- Refrigerator thermometer
- Toaster or toaster oven
- Kitchen preparation equipment and small wares (e.g., cutting boards, knives, serving bowls and spoons, etc.)
- Sinks and/or commercial dishwasher:
- Review the Food Safety in Schools resource for more information about sink requirements.
- Dishwashers used for school food programs must be commercial grade and meet the Ontario Food Premise Regulations (O. Reg 493/17). If unsure of requirements, contact your area’s Public Health Inspector.
- Classroom snack bins
- Fridge bins for storage and organization of food
- Ice packs
- Plates, bowls, and cutlery
- Dish soap
- Common sanitizer solutions include chlorine (bleach), quaternary ammonium (QUAT), or iodine
- Check with your school board to see what type of sanitizer solution is used and is allowed
- Sanitizer test strips
- Specific to the type of sanitizer being used to create the sanitizer solution
- Use sanitizer test strips to check if the sanitizing solution is at the correct concentration
- Chlorine: 100 ppm
- QUAT: 200 ppm
- Iodine: 50 ppm
- Spray bottle or bucket for sanitizing solution to sanitize food preparation, serving, and eating surfaces
- Adequate supply of clean cloths.
- Air drying is the preferred method for drying dishes.
- If cloths are used, they must only be used for drying dishes and must be laundered after each use
Multiple funding sources are needed to support school food programs. Listed below, are grant opportunities that your school may be eligible for. In addition, consider reaching out to local community organizations who may be able to support your school’s food program.
- Ontario Student Nutrition Program (OSNP) - Southwestern Region
- OSNP is funded by the Ministry of Children Community and Social Services and assists with program implementation in schools. Please reach out to the local Community Development Coordinator for more information.
- President’s Choice (PC) Children’s Charity – Power Full Kids at school
- Power Full Kids Eat Well program provides funds to purchase food.
- If your school receives funds from the Eat Well program, you may be eligible for additional grants from PC Children’s Charity:
- Power Full Kids Equipment Fund provides funds to purchase equipment needed to deliver school food program.
- Power Full Kids Grow & Cook provides funds for gardening or cooking equipment tools for students or equipment for the classroom.
- Breakfast Clubs of Canada provides funds, kitchen equipment, training, tools, and food donations to establish or strengthen school breakfast programs.
- Maple Leaf Community Fund supports the capital-related needs of food security programs.
- Children’s Nutrition Network provides funds to Middlesex-London school food programs. Funding is prioritized for non-OSNP schools.
- Costco Community Grant provides warehouse donations or funds to programs that support children, education, and health and human services.
- Walmart Community Grants provides funds to community organizations. Areas of focus include hunger relief, food access, and healthy eating.
Please note, the Middlesex-London Health Unit does not endorse any of the companies providing grants.
Last modified on: November 1, 2023