Guest Blogger Maarit Laurinen: School Food in Finland

Some time ago, I “met” on Twitter a Finnish school food advocate named Maarit Laurinen. Just like me, she’s a mom who became interested in school meals (though, unlike me, she’s also a trained nutrition expert), she writes a blog about school food, and she even lived in Texas for a time. Clearly, we were destined to become friends!  🙂

Maarit recently told me that the Finnish government has issued new guidelines for school meals, and I asked if she’d be willing to guest blog about them here. She was kind enough to offer this dispatch from Finland:


We all know that it’s hard to learn if you are hungry and we know more and more that wrong eating habits also hinder learning. Therefore tackling down obstacles preventing children enjoying refreshing meal and break during school day supports the learning process here and now and hopefully further.

I am thankful to Bettina for letting me to introduce to The Lunch Tray readers the national recommendations that provide guidelines for the implementation of school catering and nutrition education at schools in Finland.

“Free for All” School Meals for 70 Years

Finland has served “free for all” students school meals for 70 years by law. Today the law covers students starting from pre-school to comprehensive school and up to secondary education (i.e. from age 6 to 18 years). The new Finnish school meal recommendations published in 2017, also in English, are guidelines for municipalities, who fund and organize the school catering independently and widely respect these recommendations as minimum criteria for school lunch provision.

The school meal recommendations are also meant as handbook for communication between stakeholders; providers of education and supporting activities, schools, persons in charge of school food services and pupil welfare, as well as for parents and carers, and the schoolchildren themselves.

 © National Nutrition Council, Finnish National Agency for Education and National Institute for Health and Welfare 
Published by: National Nutrition Council 
Publisher: National Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland 2017

School Meals Are Part of the Curriculum

The recommendation’s name “Eating and Learning Together” emphasizes that school meal situations offer a multidisciplinary learning opportunity and increasing the inclusion of the pupil in the implementation of the catering arrangements promotes joint responsibility for good mealtimes. Therefore school lunches are part of the curriculum where the provider of education defines the principles that guide school catering as well as objectives related to education on food, health and manners, and a sustainable way of life.

Reserving at least 30 minutes for lunch at appropriate time, an pleasant lunch area with enough seats, having chance to wash hands before eating etc. are ways for school to demonstrate an approach based appreciation of school meals and food and promotion of health and well-being.

For successful implementation of the recommendations, the opinions of the pupils and the school personnel are addressed together and communicated on a regular basis to the persons responsible for the preparation of the food, or their representatives. Topics can cover for example, the smooth running of school meals, the appeal of the food and the dishes served, as well as any other matters related to schools meals.

Several examples how to enhance participation of the pupils and assessment tools for monitoring and evaluation of school meals are presented in the recommendations.

The Lunch Covers One-Third of the Daily Energy Expenditure

Nutritional recommendations are based on national nutrition recommendations published few years earlier and presented in school meal recommendations as for the energy and nutritional content of school meals on average per one meal on weekly level (i.e., one single meal can deviate from the recommendation as long as weekly average is maintained.) A six or eight-week menu rotation is recommended to guarantee diversity of served dishes.

The lunch served at schools covers about one-third of the daily energy expenditure. A balanced school meal shall comprise every day:

  • hot food containing fish, white or red meat, legumes or eggs
  • a vegetable side dish, and salad dressing/oil
  • a drink (milk/milk drink/buttermilk)
  • whole grain bread, and
  • margarine

The recommendations, but not the free of charge terms, can be deviated from with packed lunches for field trip and physical exercise days.

Choice of Ingredients

It is advisable to provide two choices for the main course. If a vegetarian choice cannot be provided at the school meal every day, it is recommended that once a week, for example, a vegetarian meal be served to all students. The aspect of sustainable development must be taken into account when determining food choices.

While pupils are to be offered choices, it is also important that the nutrition quality of the meals is based on nutrition recommendations. Please see Finnish version of GO-SLOW-WHOA-table at page 52 and photos of actual school lunches on pages 65-67. [For copyright reasons, I can’t share screen shots, but you can find the illustrations in the report at the pages indicated by Maarit.]

The free for all school meals cover pupil with special nutritional needs and based on decisions by the provider of the education, also needs related to ethical and religious beliefs.

Aiming to Provide Pupils Competence to Make Choices

No matter how well balanced the menu and the meals are and how well they fulfill the recommendations, the food needs to be eaten for it to nourish the pupil. Plate model presenting days meal is recommended.

These recommendations communicate how the objective of food education at Finnish school is to master the everyday food choices, the diversity of food alternatives and their significance, aiming at food competence and creation of a food sense.

Food sense is a concept that helps us recognize the diversity of food choices, perceive the complete food system and understand the social, cultural and everyday significance of food.

(Read more at p. 13)

With Best Regards from Finland
author of blog “Kouluruokatietopankki” (School Lunch Databank)
@MaaritLaurinen #kouluruoka #kouluruokailu=

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