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Guideline 1: Assessing your need and deciding the best response

School food programmes can take a variety of forms, so it is important to determine what your school needs and what will work best. How each school delivers a food programme will depend on the scale of the identified need. 

Perhaps you have noticed in your school that some students are going without adequate food – they are hungry in morning classes, and have little or no food for lunch. If this is the case, then introducing a food programme may be the most appropriate response.

If, on the other hand, you are concerned with your students’ health and learning because of poor food choices, it may be that a change in school policy is the most appropriate response – for example, banning fizzy drinks, or putting more emphasis on nutrition education in your school curriculum.

This guideline offers some advice on how to identify the needs of your students and the school community and decide the appropriate response. The primary audience of this guideline is for school leaders and those responsible for organising the food programme.

Assessing the needs of your children and the school community

The first step is to establish if there is a need for a food programme in your school. This can be done through simple observation – do teachers and staff know of any students missing breakfast, or have they noticed students not bringing lunch? Are students eating and drinking unhealthily – is this affecting their learning? The principal could bring these issues up at a staff meeting and ask for feedback on these questions, and whether they have any ways of addressing them – for example, making toast from the staff freezer during breaks. You may want them to write down their observations and practices for your reference.

Inquiry into scale and scope of need

Once you have observed the situation in your school and identified the issues, the next step is to get an understanding of the depth of your students’ needs. This process could be undertaken by the board of trustees, a parent’s group, and/or other staff members. There could be a number of issues to address, for example: how many children are coming to school hungry, and how often; the quality of food that children are bringing in their lunches or buying; or children who are not eating regularly enough. Critical to any inquiry is to engage students and families to have input early on.

Know your school context

You need to take into consideration the culture and values of your school and the wider community. This includes ensuring that you have documented what your school’s current policies, practices and facilities are, and your unique situation. Consider, for example:

  • do you have any protocols (policies or practices) for monitoring food eaten at school, what happens when children are hungry, how to communicate to children about what to do if they are hungry?
  • do some children bus long distances to your school, or are some children dropped off early? (you may find in both cases children will be hungrier than others if they have been up for a while, even if they have already eaten)
  • if you have a canteen, what does it currently provide and at what cost?
  • do you actively promote healthy eating and lifestyles?
  • do you have adequate kitchen facilities?

Any protocols you have should also be reviewed regularly as part of your on-going self-review process. How recently were they reviewed? Will they still be appropriate after the needs assessment?

Ask your students

Find out if students have the things they need to enjoy their time at school and achieve to their best ability. Even if your main concern is whether they have sufficient breakfast and lunch (or any food at all), it is also helpful to look at this in the context of what is happening in your school more generally. You can use this opportunity to find out if they have other material things they need such as shoes, raincoats, and stationery, and the school facilities such as the play areas and sports equipment.

Have students fill out a fun questionnaire asking what they like about school, what could make it better, and if they have everything they need. Appendix 2 provides a sample student survey that was used in a primary school, which can be tailored to suit different ages and the context of your school. Note the surveys should be filled out at school and be anonymous to ensure privacy. Permission from parents is not necessary, though you may inform them if you deem it appropriate. 

Engage with parents and whānau

Engaging with parents and asking for their input is the next important step. Involving parents in this process will give you greater insight into what they may expect of your school, and whether a food programme has the wider support that it will need to be successful. It also builds links between your school and the community by giving parents the opportunity to have their voices heard and be involved.

Engaging parents can be done in a number of ways, and will partly depend on the makeup of your school community. Different means of communication may be more appropriate than others (for example, email, face to face meetings, or a letter home). Use the appropriate method for your school to share the results of the surveys with the parents, and invite them to be involved in the process (you could propose an after school meeting to have an open discussion or simply a written response by letter or email). Ask the parents for:

  • their feedback on the results
  • what sort of programmes or initiatives they would be likely to support – for example, a breakfast club or school garden, or a blanket ban on fizzy drinks and pies at school
  • whether they would be willing to help if something does go ahead – for example, helping at the food programme, or being on the committee that organises and oversees the programme.

Analyse and share the results

People will actually read the needs assessment results and be interested in the findings. Analyse the results of your student and staff surveys and write up a brief summary of the key results.

These findings can be shared with the board of trustees to help them in decision-making, and can also be the basis for your engagement with parents and whānau.

Deciding the appropriate response

The information you collected from teachers, students and parents should give you an idea of the size and scope of any action that might be suitable for your school – from changing policy around food and drink, to integrating a food programme into the entire school. The table below provides some suggestions for appropriate ways of responding to a range of situations that other schools have experienced.

Situation

Response

 

Low need

An infrequent number of children are going to school hungry or don’t have adequate food on certain days.

 

Provide food as needed, that is, snacks during breaks to ensure everyone has something healthy to eat when necessary:

  • Provide simple snack foods at breaks (fuelled4life has a list of appropriate school snacks)
  • Keep a few loaves of bread in the staffroom freezer to make a basic sandwich or some toast
    • Incorporate a “milk break” within the classroom through the Fonterra Milk for Schools programme. Fonterra supplies fridges to all schools, along with a recycling programme
    • Potluck and shared school lunches on a frequent basis.

 

Medium to high need

A more significant number of children are coming to school without breakfast or adequate food on any given day.

 

Integrate a food programme or policy into everyday school life:

  • Breakfast clubs – through the nationwide KickStart Breakfast programme and partnerships with local community groups or businesses (Counties Manukau DHB has published best practice guidelines for establishing breakfast clubs in schools)
  • School lunches – either through your canteen, lunch orders, or as a programme
  • School gardens – a long term undertaking, but one that creates opportunities for children to be directly involved in making the food they eat. Garden to Table is an organisation that can help you get on track to growing your own school garden
  • Cooking courses for students and parents
  • Align your programme and nutrition into the wider curriculum (see guideline 4)
  • Encourage whānau and parental participation in school life through food, with healthy eating days and events, and cultural food days to celebrate the diversity of the school.

 

Need to improve the health of your students

Students are eating and drinking unhealthily, affecting their learning

 

Make your school a "water only school".

Improve the quality of food and services of canteens, for example, healthier lunch orders that are affordable (see guideline 4). 

Initiate a new school culture that celebrates healthy eating (see Yendarra School case study in appendix 1). 

Whichever option you decide for your school, you will still need to consider how to source the food, funding, volunteers and other resources for your programme (see Guideline 2 for more details). 


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