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Middlesex-London Health Unit

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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.

Emergency Food

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 →

 

Starting a School Food Program

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.


Program Models

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

Snack programs

  • Snacks delivered to classrooms
  • Snacks available in bins in classrooms and common spaces (i.e., hallways, office, etc.)

Lunch programs

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 inspections@mlhu.on.ca.

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.


Nutrition Guidelines and Menu Inspiration


Food Procurement

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.


Food Safety

Implementing food safety principles is essential to Safely Operating a School Food Program. Learn more about food safety in schools.


Program Champions

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.


Costs Associated with Operating a School Food Program

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

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.

Equipment

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
  • Refrigerator thermometer
  • Toaster or toaster oven
  • Oven
  • Microwave
  • 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

Cleaning Supplies

  • Dish soap
  • Sanitizer
    - 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

Funding a School Food Program

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.

Grant Opportunities

Please note, the Middlesex-London Health Unit does not endorse any of the companies providing grants.

 
Date of creation: September 5, 2023
Last modified on: November 1, 2023