School meals are served in a self-service buffet, where pupils can take as much or as little each food component as they wish. Nudging is used to help pupils to assemble a healthy meal to their trays. Teaching and catering staff is there to advice the pupils on how to piece together nutritious lunch and about good table manners. The National Nutrition Council have published a guide for food service professionals how to implement nutrition recommendations into the school system. The food served is typically traditional Finnish foods as well as international cuisine.
A balanced and healthy meal is advised to include:
Hot dish, which includes potatoes, rice or pasta with fish, red or white meat or vegetarian protein source such as legumes or egg
Salad and vegetables and/or fruits with salad dressing
A drink: Milk, plant-based milk drink or soured milk
Whole grain bread with margarine
Municipals are responsible to provide resources so the recommendations can be fulfilled. School feeding menus are planned municipally, and the planning is directed by the Finnish nutrition recommendations. Schools are encouraged to serve vegetarian meal to all pupils once a week and to have two alternative dishes to choose from. Some municipalities have made the decision to always have a vegetarian option as one of the alternatives.
The school canteen serves as a learning environment, in which decorations students can participate. Often students’ art works are hung or placed to the walls or windows. Nicely decorated and peaceful eating environment increases the palatability of the meal. Attention is especially paid towards acoustics and lighting.
The catering service can be produced by municipality, or it can be procured from a catering company. The food served can be made entirely in schools’ own preparation kitchen, but more often than not the hot food comes from central kitchens and is only heated in the school canteens kitchen. There are several different preparation methods central kitchens can use. Methods are developed to ensure that the food is tasty, hygienic and fresh for the school canteen.
The strengths of the Finnish school meal system:
Nutritionally balanced, healthy, safe and tasteful meal for every pupil every school day
Institutional and interdisciplinary cooperation throughout the system
Skilled and educated catering staff
Comprehensive and well researched nutrition recommendations, legislations and instructions
High quality and closely monitored food safety
Decentralized and systematic procurements through municipal liability
Overall well-functioning system for over 70 years
The regulations behind school feeding comes from legislation, national and local curricula and national recommendations. The municipalities have the duty to arrange school feeding to every pupil according to these regulations. School feeding is monitored and studied both on local and national level. Different institutions are responsible for monitoring for example school meals nutritional quality, involvement degree of the students, what school meal components pupils eat and how often, budgeting and pupils’ feedback about the school meal.
In 1943 the law on school feeding for all student was passed. After a 5-year transition period was over, the law came to effect in 1948. Law has been updated now in a way that every pupil receives a balanced school meal that promotes healthy grow and development of the pupil. Laws that affect school meal system are for example the Finnish Constitution, Basic Education Act and Act on Public Procurement and Concession Contracts.
The Finnish Nutrition Recommendations are based on Nordic Nutrition Recommendations, but with Finnish peoples’ nutritional risks and food culture considered. The recommendations come from The National Nutrition Council, which was founded in 1954. The council is a group of experts who monitor and evaluate the implementation of the national recommendations and nutritional state of the population, make initiatives and statements on matters concerning public health and nutrition thorough the whole food chain and monitor food and health policy programs and results of nutritional risk assessments and make initiatives and statements accordingly.
The national core curriculum defines norms for school feeding. Municipalities and schools define the guidelines for arranging school feeding in educational objectives in annual school plans. In national core curriculum multilateral cooperation between school management, teachers, principals, pupils, parents and food service staff is called for.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry coordinates the food policies. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the National Institute for Health and Welfare oversee and monitor the nutritional quality of school meal and overall welfare in schools. The Ministry of Education coordinates and develops school meal system from a pedagogical perspective and is responsible for practical implementations. The Ministry of Finance oversees the efficiency and effectiveness of the system from the economical perspective. The ministries work in close cooperation with each other and other governmental agencies.