What is SkolmatSverige?
School lunches in Sweden have a long history
In Sweden, every child attending a primary school (between the ages of 6 and 15) is entitled to a free school lunch every day. This has been enshrined in the legislation that covers all aspects of schooling (the Education Act) since 1997. In reality the practice is much older than this, and school meals have been documented since the late 1800s.
(Here is a description of the history. Please note: external link; accuracy not verified.)
The Education Act has been updated relatively recently (1st July 2011) and now, in addition to being free, school meals must also be "nutritious" (i.e., meet Swedish nutrition recommendations/Nordic nutrition recommendations).
- 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 that schools comply with all aspects of the Education Act.
What are school meals like today in Sweden?
The meal consists of a warm main dish (e.g., stew and potatoes, meatballs in tomato sauce with spaghetti), a salad from a salad buffet, a drink (milk or water, only), bread and spread. The food is usually served "self-service" style. In about half of schools a choice of main dishes will be available. Special dietary requirements for medical or religious reasons must be accommodated adequately. Children eat at a table, often with teachers present or nearby.
An English summary of our most recent report on school meal quality ("School Food Sweden's report on school meal quality for the school year 2012/13") is available here. The project leader was interviewed by Radio Sweden when the report was released: listen to the interview here.
(Here is another recent reportage on school meals today, in English. Please note: external link.)
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 Finland), 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, and 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 head of catering. The school principal and the local authority's meal planner are also encouraged to be involved. 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.
What do users say?
"It is a great instrument that has been a big help for us. It's about lots of different things, it's not just the food, it's also how you co-operate across bounderies in the school. Not just the kitchen by itself and the principal by themself. You also get collaboration with the pupils and other staff, and you can decide on common goals which can be followed up. It's great!"
- Catering manager from a school on the west coast of Sweden. (Translation ours.)
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 Stockholm County Council, in consultation with 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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