One of the main legal frameworks is law 11,947 of 2009, which stipulates that at least 30 percent of the resources of the National Education Development Fund be devoted to buying food produced on family farms, as well as providing the school meal service to all primary education students, including both children and adults.
Q: What problems does the programme face?
A: There are difficulties that are specific to the programme, and others that are inherent to any programme covering the whole of Brazil: the size of the country, the varied agricultural activities in the different regions, and the low productive capacity of family agriculture when it comes to supplying demand.
Other problems include differences in local customs, the different nutritional needs of students, lack of infrastructure to store, transport and prepare meals, a lack of space to set up school lunchrooms, as well as challenges in developing ongoing food and nutritional education that is intrinsic to the educational process.
There is also “competition” between the meals offered by the school and canteens or bars selling sweets, fizzy drinks, salty or fatty snacks, the “favourites” of children and adolescents. A 2009 resolution restricts the amount of fat, sugar and salt in PNAE meals.
Q: And what challenges does the programme intend to address?
A: We plan to carry out a thorough assessment of the nutritional needs of students and match them with adequate nutrition that they find acceptable, as well as with the farming culture and diets of every locality. Another challenge is finding professionals who are well-trained in this field.
Q: Is it possible to reach all primary schools, at federal, state and municipal levels?
A: The programme serves all schools that have formed their own school nutrition council and have hired a nutritionist. In 2012 there were 161,670 such schools, 83 percent of the total.
Q: How are the menus drawn up?
A: They need to be drawn up according to age range, type of school and the hours students spend in school. When two meals are served, at least 30 percent of daily nutritional requirements should be provided. In schools with a full-day curriculum, the minimum is 70 percent. (In Brazil, many schoolchildren attend either the morning or the afternoon shift.)
Q: Has it been demonstrated that school meals improve scholastic performance?
A: There is a variety of evidence on the role of nutrition in neurological, cognitive and intellectual development in childhood. Proteins, calcium, iron, iodine, zinc, vitamins and fish oils fulfil essential functions, as shown by different studies.
The school environment favours the formation of habits. Habits are formed from birth, by means of family customs and those taught by society – at school, in social circles and by the media – up until adult life, when along with symbolic aspects they set the pattern of individual and societal consumption.
The PNAE encourages eating fruits, vegetables and pulses and prescribes food hygiene control, precepts that lead to an adequate supply and healthy intake. The earlier these habits are learned, the greater the probability that they will be continued in adulthood.