School Food Program Projects

Children spend a large proportion of their waking hours in school, an ideal setting to improve dietary quality and reduce health inequities. Canada is the only G7 country and one of the only OECD countries without a national school food policy or program. Internationally, school food programs are one of the most successful drivers of improved health, education and economic growth. We know that the diets of Canadian children across the socio-economic spectrum are poor, and socioeconomic status (SES) affects overall dietary intake.

By Rachel Engler-Stringer, Amberley T. Ruetz and Sylvana Tu

Universal School Lunch Intervention Research:

School Food Case Studies:  Examining School Food Models to Inform Decision-Making for a Universal and Nationally-Harmonized School Food Program in Canada


In order to develop a nationally-harmonised school food program for Canada there is a need for in-depth understanding of how schools design and deliver school food programs.  This research – a series of case studies in every province and territory – is examining how different school food program models operate in Canada to inform decision-making for the development of a universal and nationally-harmonized school food program.

This research responds to a need for insight into operational details of school food programs that are responding to the diverse needs of communities across Canada. For example, many elementary schools in Canada do not have an industrial kitchen for food service or a cafeteria/designated eating area. Understanding these barriers and alterative opportunities for implementing SFPs is needed to promote successful scale-up. Investigating school food supply chains, the SFP actors that support program operations, and the costs associated with each model is vital information. Accordingly, our research will compare and contrast different models in different locations, such as for-profit, non-profit, or student-led catering; partially subsidized or free models; models that vary in their sources of food; multi-component SFPs (i.e. incorporation of food literacy, local foods, culture and heritage, and/or environmental sustainability), and Indigenous-led SFPs.

This research is based a community-based research model, led by Principal Investigator Rachel Engler-Stringer and Postdoctoral Fellow Amberley T. Ruetz. Our team of 13 academics is working with practitioner members of the Coalition for Healthy School Food whose 180+ members are in every province and territory: the largest school food network in Canada.

This study is currently funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, the College of Medicine, University of Saskatchewan, Mitacs and Agriculture and Agri-food Canada.

A Population Health Intervention Study of a Universal Curriculum-Integrated School Lunch Program

In early 2019 the federal government released the much anticipated and now widely lauded new Canada’s Food Guide. In their March 2019 budget, they also explicitly stated their intention to establish a national school food program. Currently there are very few universal school lunch programs in operation across Canada and very little published research on this topic. There are, however, hundreds of ad hoc school meal programs, most for children from low-income families. The gap in rigourous community-engaged academic research on the benefits of school meal programs, especially universal ones, is significant.

The purpose of this population health intervention research is to study the impacts of a universal, curriculum-integrated healthy school lunch program in elementary schools in Saskatoon over a two-year period on food consumption, dietary quality and food and nutrition-related knowledge, attitudes and practices. Universality means that all children are encouraged to participate regardless of income. Curriculum integrated means that the lunch program is used to teach core curricular material and children are involved in food growing and preparation, and children learn about other aspects of the food system. The knowledge, attitudes and practices model states that as knowledge accumulates, attitudes change and that these changes promote behaviour changes over time.

This study is taking place in two intervention and two control Saskatoon Public Schools elementary schools. We collected pre-intervention data in May and June 2021 and the intervention began in Fall 2021 and will continue until June 2023. Our rigourous examination of a school food program intervention could provide government with much-needed evidence on which to determine what a national school food program should entail.

This study is funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research.

For more information see:

Engler-Stringer R, Black J, Muhajarine N, Martin W, Gilliland J, McVittie J, Kirk S, Wittman H, Mousavi A, Elliott S, Tu S, Hills B, Androsoff G, Field D, Macdonald B, Belt C, Vatanparast H
The Good Food for Learning Universal Curriculum-Integrated Healthy School Lunch Intervention: Protocol for a Two-Year Matched Control Pre-Post and Case Study
JMIR Res Protoc 2021;10(9):e30899


Indigenous-Led Community School Food Program Co-Design Project

In partnership with Canadian Feed The Children, Saskatoon Public Schools and Meadow Lake Tribal Council, in March 2022 we began a community co-design project. The goal of the project is to ensure Indigenous communities, both urban and on-reserve, have the resources to self-determine appropriate school food programs for their communities. This community co-design project works with on and off-reserve communities within Saskatchewan to develop culturally appropriate, comprehensive, school food program interventions for the wellness of school age children and their families.

This project is funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

For more information please contact:

Rachel Engler-Stringer, Professor
Department of Community Health and Epidemiology
College of Medicine, University of Saskatchewan

Amberley T. Ruetz, Post-Doctoral Fellow
Department of Community Health and Epidemiology
College of Medicine, University of Saskatchewan |