From shipping containers to cooking spaces: Transforming school meals in El Salvador

WFP Innovation Accelerator
5 min readOct 16, 2023

‘Kitchen-in-a-Box’ is an innovative, cost-effective, rapid, and environmentally friendly solution that aims to provide safer and healthier meals to about 500,000 children every year.

By Riaz Lodhi, Carmen Lumbreras and Jackie Negro

Two students enjoy lunch prepared by Kitchen in a Box chefs│Photo: WFP/El Salvador

In El Salvador, many schools lack proper kitchen and storage facilities, causing a variety of food safety challenges and putting children’s health at risk. The poor condition of school kitchens and infrastructure for food preparation has been a great cause of concern within the government. Recognizing the urgent need, the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology (MINEDUCYT) identified the improvement of the condition of school kitchens as a national priority.

In this context, WFP in El Salvador — with the help of WFP’s Innovation Accelerator in Munich and WFP Engineering based in Rome — launched Kitchen-in-a-Box (KIAB), a pilot project that builds smart kitchens from used shipping containers, equipping them with state-of-the-art technology, including solar panels, that provide renewable energy to reduce greenhouse gases and costs. The kitchens are also equipped with induction stoves and third-generation electric pressure cookers (EPC), making them eco-friendly and complying with all sanitary measures to cook more school meals in less time.

“KIAB is a multidimensional solution that allows school feeding with an environmentally friendly approach and adaptation to climate change in the country’s Dry Corridor where every drop of water is important! WFP’s commitment to school feeding is firm, considering it a gateway to a better, healthier, and more prosperous future for the next generation of Salvadorans. WFP will continue to join efforts with the Ministry of Education, the private sector, donors, and partners to continue changing lives in El Salvador.”
-Riaz Lodhi, WFP Representative and Country Director in El Salvador

Students in El Salvador celebrate the launch of KIAB│Photo: WFP/El Salvador

Why KIAB?

Benefits for students and cooks

In addition to providing students with quality meals in safe and hygienic conditions, these kitchens benefit more than 2,000 cooks involved in food preparation, most of whom are women. Traditional firewood is replaced with solar energy and induction stoves, leading to improved and safer cooking practices and conditions that reduce the risk of lung and other diseases, while reducing air pollution.

Adaptability and affordability

In contrast to traditional kitchens, KIAB presents an affordable and rapid solution that can be easily adapted, transported, and installed. The steel structure is designed to withstand unpredictable weather conditions and earthquakes.

Riza Lodhi, WFP Representative and Country Director in El Salvador, visit one of the kitchens together with government authorities.│ Photo: WFP/El Salvador

Local food, healthy communities

Other planet-friendly components of the project are the installation of a rainwater collection system and a school garden that uses a drip irrigation system saving about 70 percent of water. The solar panels pump the rainwater from the collection tanks to where it is needed, leading to important savings in the use of electricity.

The school garden produces food for school meals and serves as learning for food production which aims to promote local food production, shortening local value chains and reducing transport emissions. Additionally, training is provided to cooks on safe and hygienic food preparation practices and digital screens are installed in the kitchens, serving as a space for healthy nutrition and environmental education for students and their communities.

Vegetables and herbs are grown in the KIAB school garden. │ Photo: WFP/El Salvador

From containers to kitchens

In September 2023, alongside MINEDUCYT, students, teachers, government leaders, donors, and private sector partners, WFP launched the pilot phase of KIAB, which consists of three kitchens in three different schools across El Salvador, marking a significant milestone in the School Feeding Programme in El Salvador. This pilot phase will be reviewed to measure its impact and understand areas for improvement before the potential for further expansion. The project has a target to reach over 700 schools, benefiting more than 500,000 children across the country every year.

Mauricio Pineda, El Salvador’s Minister of Education, Science and Technology, during the KIAB launch event. │ Photo: WFP/El Salvador

According to WFP Engineers who participated in KIAB, “the transformation of these shipping containers into functional kitchens has been a remarkable journey, combining sustainability and technical expertise. Our focus on sustainability guided every step of the rehabilitation process, in which we aimed to minimize environmental impact while maximizing economic benefits”.

Watch shipping containers transform into functional school kitchens for students:

For Sara Adam, WFP Management Services Division Director, “witnessing the collaboration between our Management Services Engineers and WFP’s Innovation Accelerator in projects that directly enhance the lives of the communities we serve is truly inspiring. Innovation is a powerful tool in achieving zero hunger, and initiatives like this one in El Salvador exemplify our dedication to driving positive change and creating lasting solutions that not only meet immediate needs of those we serve but also pave the way toward a more resilient, greener and hunger-free future.”

Riaz Lodhi is the country director of WFP El Salvador.
Carmen Lumbreras is a communications officer at the WFP Management Services Engineering Branch.
Jackie Negro is a communications consultant at the WFP Innovation Accelerator.

The WFP Innovation Accelerator sources, supports and scales high-potential solutions to end hunger worldwide. We provide WFP colleagues, entrepreneurs, start-ups, companies, and non-governmental organizations with access to funding, mentorship, hands-on support, and WFP’s global operations.

Learn more about Kitchen-in-a-Box, which was made possible by the collaboration and support of the El Salvador Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, WFP El Salvador, and WFP Engineers.

Find out more about us: http://innovation.wfp.org

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Learn more about WFP Engineering: Engineering | World Food Programme (wfp.org)

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WFP Innovation Accelerator

Sourcing, supporting and scaling high-impact innovations to disrupt hunger.