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Measuring sustainability of school meals: research methods to measure sustainability at different stages of USDA Food for Education project implementation

Thu, April 18, 10:00 to 11:30am, Hyatt Regency, Floor: Atrium (Level 2), Waterfront C

Group Submission Type: Formal Panel Session


The extant literature provides a substantial amount of research focused on the topic of school meals. However, there are key gaps in the knowledge base, particularly concerning which interventions lead to long-term benefits or improve the sustainability of school meal programs. Furthermore, there is scarce agreement on how to measure sustainability of school meal programs. Which methods, tools, and outcomes are essential to understanding the lasting effect and implementation of a school meal intervention? This panel will explore how three different school meal projects funded by the United States Department of Agriculture McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program have explored the issue of sustainability at three different stages of implementation.

The school meals theory of change and impact pathways is complex. Evidence demonstrates an effect of school meals on educational outcomes including school participation, school performance, and cognitive development (specifically memory), in addition to strengthening linkages to complementary health and nutrition interventions, such as micronutrient fortification, deworming, and water and sanitation interventions. Take-home rations, which have also been provided as components of school meal programs, show effects on children’s attendance at school, particularly among girls, but also on the nutrition of younger children in the home (USDA 2016). These effects on learning are of particular interest to CIES members who implement school meal programs or are interested in exploring further how long-term school meal programs can led to better child learning and nutrition outcomes.

The McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program supports education, child development, and food security in low-income, food deficit countries around the globe. The program provides for the donation of U.S. agricultural commodities, as well as financial and technical assistance, to support school meals and maternal and child nutrition projects. McGovern-Dole is designed to ensure that school meal programs can, after a transition period, be transferred to a national or local government to operate on its own. McGovern-Dole trains local civic organizations in how to run school feeding programs and works with local government to ensure that meals continue to be provided as usual during transitions (USDA 2016).

This panel will share how three different McGovern Dole school meal programs have measured sustainability at different stages of implementation: (1) the Liberia Empowerment Through Attendance, Reading, and Nutrition (LEARN) program, (2) the McGovern Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition III (MGD III)) program in Mali, and (3) the Investment for Educational Development of the Highlands (IDEA) program in Guatemala. First, Maria DiFuccia from IMPAQ International will present the methods and research questions explored through the baseline study of the LEARN program. Second, Elnaz Safarha from IMPAQ International will explore how the MGD III program addressed sustainability in its midterm evaluation. Finally, Frine Paz and Kristin Rosekrans from ADOC Guatemala will speak about the final evaluation of the IDEA program and how they measured sustainability.

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