The impact

Finnish school meals provide pupils nourishing, tasty and free-of-charge meals that maintains their ability to study, maintains their health and teaches them:

Proper nutrition

Food culture and heritage

Table manners

Sustainability through recycling and avoidin waste

When the school meal system was initially introduced, only 40 % of the pupils were completely healthy and undernutrition was a common problem. The school meal system has developed in parallel with the general development of the country. School meal has leveled out social differences and undernutrition is no longer an issue. To some pupils, school meal can still today be an only warm meal of the day. The school meal gives all student an opportunity to learn and live and learn a healthy lifestyle that lasts a lifetime.

School-based programs that encourage healthy eating and physical activity have a positive impact on children’s behavior and are associated with decreases in disciplinary incident and absenteeism. Enough well balanced nutritious daily energy has impact on the pupil’s learning and improves the school performance. There is strong scientific evidence supporting the link between healthy eating, physical activity and success in school:

– Children who are more physically fit tend to have better grades and achieve higher overall test scores.

– Children who consume healthier food options and are physically active tend to be more focused during  classes. (Hautamaa & Hiljanen 2017)

Finland has been among the top-ranking countries in OECD’s PISA tests since 2000. In 2020 Finland ranks the 1st globally for third time in a row in happiness The UN World Happiness Report.

Several studies have proved the Finnish school meal system being irreplaceable. Hoppu et al. (2010) concluded in their study, that the school meal was the healthiest meal of the day among Finnish adolescents. The data retrieved from International Study of Childhood Obesity, Lifestyle and the Environment (ISCOLE) -study showed that Finnish 9-11 years old children had the lowest unhealthy eating pattern score in the comparison with other countries (Mikkilä et al. 2015).

Raulio et al. (2010) concluded in their study, that catering services in Finland, including school meal, have an important role in the promotion of healthy food and eating habits among the population. Eating school meal was associated with higher consumption of rye break, fruit, vegetables, sour milk and cheese. Skipping school lunch was associated with unhealthy foods, such as French fries, candy, ice-cream, hamburgers and pizza. Tilles-Tirkkonen et al. (2011) came to conclusion, that children who ate balanced school lunch ate healthier snacks and had more regular mealtimes. Balanced school meal was associated with overall healthier eating patterns outside school.

Childhood obesity is an emerging problem worldwide. Curbing obesity in childhood is important as it can help to reduce other major health problems later in life, including diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Food-related education has a key role in the fight against obesity and malnutrition, and the school mealtime that is experienced by all pupils every school day for over ten years is a valuable place for teaching the basic principles of a healthy diet.


Hautamaa, P., & Hiljanen, T. (2017). Eating and learning together: recommendations for school meals. Finnish Institute for health and welfare.

Hoppu, U., Lehtisalo, J., Tapanainen, H., & Pietinen, P. (2010). Dietary habits and nutrient intake of Finnish adolescents. Public Health Nutrition, 13(6A), 965–972.

Mikkilä, V., Vepsäläinen, H., Saloheimo, T., Gonzalez, S. A., Meisel, J. D., Hu, G., Champagne, C. M., Chaput, J.-P., Church, T. S., Katzmarzyk, P. T., Kuriyan, R., Kurpad, A., Lambert, E. V., Maher, C., Maia, J., Matsudo, V., Olds, T., Onywera, V., Sarmiento, O. L., … Fogelholm, M. (2015). An international comparison of dietary patterns in 9-11-year-old children. International Journal of Obesity Supplements, 5(Suppl 2), S17–S21.

Raulio, S., Roos, E., & Prättälä, R. (2010). School and workplace meals promote healthy food habits. Public Health Nutrition, 13(6A), 987–992.

Tilles-Tirkkonen, T., Pentikäinen, S., Lappi, J., Karhunen, L., Poutanen, K., & Mykkänen, H. (2011). The quality of school lunch consumed reflects overall eating patterns in 11–16-year-old schoolchildren in Finland. Public Health Nutrition, 14(12), 2092–2098.