The Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland and Finnish National Agency for Education recently published a study of their social innovation programme, “School Feeding: Investment in Effective Learning”. The objective of this review was to provide a detailed example of the design and implementation of a functional school feeding programme in a developed country. This study aims to contribute to global learning and practical implementation of school feeding programmes in other countries.

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This study introduces a variety of local and national innovative practices implemented by various organisations and short case-studies of school meal systems in four Finnish municipalities. In doing so, this report provides insights on the Finnish school Feeding System including its history, key design and implementation features, impact evidences and lessons learnt.

Introduced in the 1940s, this programme seeks to offer free-of-charge, versatile and balanced, appropriately arranged and structured meals every single school day for all pupils and students in pre-primary, basic and upper secondary education. Under this programme, the pre-primary, basic and secondary education providers are obliged to provide all children and students with free meals that fulfill the requirements specified in the legislation and the local curricula, and at subsidized costs to students in higher education.

Lessons learned and best practices

  • Health and welfare: A central achievement of school meals has been the provision of nourishing, tasty and free-of-charge food to children that has helped maintain their health and ability to study.
  • Support for learning: It has helped promote physical and social wellbeing and has offered an opportunity for learning-by-doing food and sustainability education.
  • National guidance – Local implementation: Decentralization has contributed to the success of this programme by taking into consideration local features.
  • Horizontal institutional cooperation: Building and maintaining sustainable practices requires long-term commitment and cooperation.

Key challenges

  • School meals are often taken for granted: not all pupils eat the full school meal every day.
  • Guaranteeing environmental, cultural, economic and social sustainability as a course of action throughout the system.
  • Trade-offs made to meet all the necessary criteria i.e. tight funding, nutritional guidelines, sustainability and cost-efficiency.

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