What is SkolmatSverige?
The main aim of the system is to support schools in their work to provide good school meals. The secondary aims are to follow school meal quality over time, and to conduct research on the importance of school meals.
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). In addition, the school can choose to activate two smaller questionnaires to be answered anonymously by pupils and staff at the school.
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. 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 questionnaire was developed, tested and validated over a period of two years. Only schools in Sweden are able to create accounts, but if you are interested in knowing more, please contact us at email@example.com or contact the project manager Emma Patterson directly.
The six areas or domains 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). The school can choose to start with whichever level they wish. Other levels can be completed at a later date. More than half of schools who start with Level 1 currently choose to go on to Level 2. Of those, almost all go on to complete Level 3. Questionnaires for staff and pupils are also available.
When the school has completed at least one level a report 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. The report can be published on the school's website to advertise their dedication to school meal quality, or can be used as a basis for discussions between all concerned parties. Reports are also generated when enough staff or pupil answers are collected.
Results to date
Currently 35 % of all primary schools in the country have started to use the system.
Our most recent analysis shows that schools that used the tool a second or subsequent time had improved their nutritional quality significantly compared to the first time they used it. We can also see an independant improvement in nutritional quality for all schools over time.
An English summary of that report ("School Food Sweden's report on school meal quality for the school year 2013/14") is available here and the full report (in Swedish) is available here. Results are presented for all of the domains included in the instrument.
With the database that is being built up, further research on the determinants and importance of school meal quality will be possible.
What do users say?
Many users tell us that using this tool really helps to encourage co-operation.
"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.
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. Desserts are not served. In about half of schools a choice of main dishes
will be available. The food is usually served "self-service" style, so the children take the food themselves. Foods are served from the kitchen, and water and milk from taps/dispensers. No cartons or pre-packaged food is served. The vegetables, whether cooked or as part of the salad, are rarely from tins. Special dietary requirements for medical or religious reasons must be accommodated adequately. Children eat at a table, often with teachers present or nearby.
(Here is another recent reportage on school meals today, in English. Please note: external link.)
Picture: A salad buffet in the municipality of Landskrona
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. School lunches are also a significant investment, which is tax-funded.
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.
If you would like any further information, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org