School principals in rural areas must eat the same meals as their students and pay for meals themselves to ensure food safety, according to regulations issued by the Ministry of Education on Thursday.
The new rules come amid public skepticism about the safety of the free lunches after several occurrences of food poisoning.
Fresh food such as meat, eggs, milk, vegetables and fruit must be offered, the regulations stipulate.
Cafeterias must be run and managed by schools and may not be operated by outside contractors, according to the regulations.
Procurement of food must be done through suppliers selected after public bidding, with names of the companies to be publicized. The storage and transportation of food as well as the sanitation of cutlery must also meet strict requirements, under the regulations.
"I strongly support the new regulations since they concern the healthy growth of our next generation," Huang Ming, a member of the Shanghai Municipal Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and a campaigner for food safety at schools, told the Global Times Friday.
Most rural schools in China lack cafeterias, however the education ministry has pledged the central government will provide funding to schools that need to build kitchens and dining areas to better serve students.
The Ministry of Finance launched a program last year to provide free lunches for rural students in the country's western regions to improve their diets.
Xinhua contributed to this story