What is SkolmatSverige?
SkolmatSverige translates as "School Food Sweden" and is an innovative web-based system to allow schools and municipalities to evaluate their school food provision.
School lunches in Sweden have a long history
In Sweden, every child attending a primary school is entitled to a free school lunch every day. This has been protected by law since 1997. The legislation that covers all aspects of schooling has been updated recently and a clause was added which specified that school food should, in addition to being free, also be "nutritious", i.e. in accordance with Swedish nutritional recommendations. This new law came into effect on the 1st July 2011.
- From the Education Act: "Education shall be free. Pupils shall, without charge, have access to books and other teaching materials as well as to nutritious school meals" (translation ours).
The School Inspections Agency (Skolinspektion) is tasked with checking compliance with this new law.
Why are school lunches important?
School meals are served in a large number of countries with the aim of improving attendance, academic achievement, growth, and other health outcomes particularly in disadvantaged children. Only Sweden, Finland and Estonia serve free cooked meals to all children in all types of primary school, irrespective of family income. In Brazil, all children in public primary schools have the right to a free school meal. Other countries generally have either less widespread programs and/or charge for school meals.
A child can expect to eat almost 2000 school lunches over the course of their compulsory education in Sweden and so it forms a significant contribution to their overall diet. Unlike adults, children do not have any influence over where they choose to eat their lunch.
In addition to this long history of school lunches, the concept of "the pedagogic lunch" is strong in Sweden, and means that the lunch is often regarded as a good opportunity for teachers to spend time with pupils outside of the formal classroom, for teachers to be role models as children learn about food and healthy eating habits, for lunch to be used to reinforce lessons learned in other subjects etc.
How does SkolmatSverige work?
A school creates an account via the website and gets immediate access to the instrument. There are three questionnaires ("levels") to be completed by the school principal and/or the head of catering. The levels cover six different areas (see figure below), and the school can choose to answer one, two or all three levels. In addition, the school can choose to activate two smaller questionnaires to be answered anonymously by pupils and staff at the school.
When the questionnaires are completed, the school automatically receives feedback in the form of a report, showing the school's strengths and weaknesses. This report can serve as a useful starting point for developing and improving meal quality at the school, and can be used to monitor changes over time. The data from the schools is stored in a central secure database which will allow us to follow meal quality at national, regional and local level. With this database, important research on the importance of school meals can be conducted. Previously to collect data on the scale needed would have been prohibitively expensive, but this innovative web-based intrument makes this now possible.
The aim with the instrument is to gather information not just on the nutritional content but also on other aspects, acknowledging the relevance of school meals to the overall school experience. The questionnaire has been under development for two years and has been tested and the nutritional section validated.
The six areas covered by the instrument are:
- Food choice and provision
- Nutritional adequacy
- Safe and hygienic food
- Service and the pedagogic lunch
- Environmental impact
- Organisation and policy
These are divided into three levels (see figure). Level 1 is the core level, while levels 2 and 3 are optional and can be answered at a later date. Approximately half of schools currently choose to go on to Level 2. Of those, almost all go on the complete Level 3. Questionnaires for staff and pupils are also available.
When the school has filled in at least Level 1 a report ("resultatrapport") is automatically available to download. The report clearly shows the school's answers in relation to the most- and least-optimal answers. The report helps the school to easily identifies the areas in which it performs well and the areas which can be improved.
Who is behind SkolmatSverige?
SkolmatSverige has been developed by a group of researchers at Karolinska Institutet, in collaboration with Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions and the Swedish National Institute of Public Health, with additional financial support from the Swedish Board of Agriculture.
We have also had meaningful input from a range of other important stakeholders including the National Food Agency, the School Inspection Agency, the national association of dietetics managers (Kost och Näring), NCFF - The Swedish National Centre for Child Health Promotion and many others. The system is independent and free from commercial influence.
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