In pictures: school meals around the world

A schoolboy eats a meal of akassa in Benin

In schools all over the world, students look forward to their lunchtime break. But in the world’s most deprived areas, many children are unable to afford a meal during the day.

Having a daily meal at a place of learning has many positive outcomes. As well as simply reducing hunger and improving children’s health, it increases school enrolment and attendance and improves students’ ability to concentrate and learn.

It has also has an impact in the wider community. The food provided by the Scottish charity Mary’s Meals is sourced locally, supporting smallholder farmers and increasing support for education. The impact has been so great that the programme has increased government recognition of school feeding in many countries.

Since 2002, Mary’s Meals has been providing “chronically hungry children” with one meal every school day. In its first year it fed 200 children but now supplies meals to more than one million of the world’s poorest children.

Founder and CEO Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow said: “We work in the world’s poorest communities, where so often the poorest children can’t go to school because they’re working, because they’re begging on street corners – just doing whatever it takes to put the next meal on the table.

“Therefore they miss out on their education, which is the key to lifting the world’s poorest communities out of poverty.

“It’s amazing just to see the impact one meal has and the people who are at the forefront of that are the people who make huge sacrifices to get up early, at first light, to make the fires, cook the porridge, serve the food. In Malawi alone there are 65,000 volunteers who are taking part in this work.”

The charity operates in 12 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. The biggest feeding programme is in Malawi where it reaches 25% of all primary schools.

So what does school lunch look like around the world?


Malawi – likuni phlala (fortified maize porridge)

This stiff porridge, made from maize flour and water is the staple food of Malawi. Malawians depend on maize so much that they have a saying, “chimanga ndi moyo” – maize is life.

Benin – akassa (corn paste) with vegetables

In the country known for its exotic cuisine across Africa, children eat boiled and mashed corn with fresh cooked vegetables.

India – lentil dhal with rice

Lentil dahl is packed full of protein and fibre. Students in India eat the soupy dish served with rice.

Myanmar – eggs and vegetables with noodles

The food in the country formally known as Burma has been influenced by Indian, Chinese and Thai cooking and the typical school lunch of noodles fried with eggs and vegetables reflects this.

South Sudan – sorghum and beans

Although not widely heard of in the West, sorghum is the fifth most popular cereal grain in the world. In South Sudan, the grain, which looks like large couscous, is served with beans for lunch.

Haiti – rice and beans with fish sauce

In the Caribbean it is said that “a meal is not a meal without rice and beans”. For lunch in Haiti it is served up with a pungent fish sauce.


Japan – bibimbap

A bowl of the Korean rice dish is served at a high school in Tokyo.

Germany – chicken, rice and vegetables

Lunch at a school canteen in the university city of Goettingen.

Niger – sweet potato

A girl eats from a bowl at a Nigerian school in Niarney, Niger.

China – rice and vegetables

Belchuan Red Army Elementary School in Sichuan province.

England – choice of dishes

Students at secondary schools can choose from several types of food.