Food-price inflation triggered by the war in Ukraine is magnifying setbacks in the battle against poverty and malnutrition worldwide (S. Osendarp et al. Nature 604, 620–624; 2022). Governments and aid donors should act now to protect children from this crisis by expanding the reach of school-meals programmes (

Millions of children now returning to classrooms closed by the COVID-19 pandemic are carrying the triple burden of lost learning, poverty and intense hunger. Free and nutritious school meals for these children would improve their learning prospects and produce far-reaching benefits (see, for example, S. Chakrabarti et al. Nature Commun. 12, 4248; 2021).

Much of the infrastructure for delivery is already in place. Governments across Africa and in low-income countries elsewhere are seeking to expand coverage, despite economic slowdown and a worsening debt crisis. Relatively small investments could yield extensive results (L. J. Drake et al. Front. Public Health 8, 530176; 2020): roughly US$6 billion annually would extend food and health interventions to about 73 million children.