Free-of-charge school meals have been provided in Finland for more than 70 years. In the country of 5.5 million inhabitants, around 830,000 schoolchildren receive a well-balanced meal daily.
Finland describes itself as the country with the longest tradition of free school meals in the world (1). School meals are not only considered an essential contribution towards the healthy growth of children, but also understood as nutritional education to promote a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. In addition, schoolchildren are encouraged to participate in the planning and implementation of meals.
Decentralised school feeding system
The school feeding system in decentralised, which means that the responsibility for planning and organising statutory education, including school feeding, rests with municipalities and other providers of education (1). The municipalities provide the appropriate kitchen equipment and make procurement contracts with food suppliers. The criteria for tendering procedures comply with guidance from the national nutrition recommendations and locally produced foodstuffs as well as quality and financial criteria (1, 2).
Traditional Finnish dishes including international influences
A warm school meal should reflect traditional Finnish dishes while still include international influences. A well balanced school meal consists of a starch side-dish (potatoes, pasta or rice), fish or meat, optionally a vegetarian alternative (legumes, eggs) as well as vegetables or a fresh salad. This is supplemented with a drink (milk, plant-based milk alternative or soured milk), whole grain bread and margarine (1). Schools are encouraged to offer all students a vegetarian meal one day a week. Self-service allows schoolchildren to choose their plate with the foods they prefer. A food plate model, a sample meal and personal advice support the children to make responsible nutritional choices, promote learning healthy eating habits and social interaction skills. In Finland, a lot of emphasis is placed on a pleasant dining atmosphere, table manners and customs. Participation and feedback from students are desired (3).
Municipalities bear the majority of the costs
The average cost of a single school meal was EUR 2.80 EUR in 2017. The costs comprise of food, staff costs, equipment and transport (1). In 2016, the average annual cost of school meals per student was between EUR 442 and EUR 704, depending on the size of the municipality. The state and municipalities share the costs of education though the municipalities bear the majority of the costs (75%) (1).
- Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland and Finnish National Agency for Education. School feeding: investment in effective learning – Case Finland (2019)
- National Nutrition Council, Finnish national agency for Education and national institute for health and Welfare (2017): Eating and Learning Together – recommendations for school meals.
- Finish National Board of Education. School meals in Finland – Investment in learning (2019)