What is SkolmatSverige?
The main aim of the system is to support Swedish primary 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.
Only Sweden, and Finland serve free cooked meals to all children in all types and years of primary school, irrespective of family income. Two other countries with very widespread programs are Estonia, where all children in some years of primary school receive free school meals, and 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.
Below follows a description of the tool or you can skip to our latest results!
Description of the tool
The aim with the instrument is to gather information not just on the nutritional content but also on other aspects of quality. The tool acknowledges and reflects the relevance of school meals to the overall school experience.
The six areas or domains covered that each affect overall meal quality are:
- the choice that the school offers (Choice)
- the nutritional quality of the food (Nutritional quality )
- how the school ensures that food is safe and hygienic (Safe food)
- how the school works to improve meal service, to take advantage of the school meal as a pedagogic resource, to see that pupils are involved etc (Meal service)
- how much the school considers the environmental impact of food choices (Sustainable food)
- issues regarding the organisation and management of the school meal service (Organisation and policy)
The instrument also includes questionnaires for the guests – the pupils and staff.
The school can also monitor how much of the planned meal is actually eaten, and how much is thrown away (Consumption monitoring).
The school can choose to start with whichever domain they wish. Other domains can be completed at a later date.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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. The reports 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
How does SkolmatSverige work in practice?
A representative of the school, often the person responsible for meals at the school, creates an account at the website and gets immediate access to the instrument. The tool covers six different areas relevant to overall quality (see figure below), and these are spread over three questionnaires. Who completes the questionnaires is up to the school to decide; school meal staff, the school principal and teachers are all encouraged to be involved but it varies from school to school. In addition, the school can choose to activate two questionnaires to be answered anonymously by pupils and staff at the school.
The questionnaires (all six categories) take about 2 hours in total to complete. The school can choose which categories to evaluate and can also break off and resume the questionnaire as many times as the wish. Questionnaires are reset every autumn, but schools can choose to answer the same questionnaire several times under a school year, and it is also up to them to decide when they want to use the tool again (in 6 months, one year, two years etc).
A representative from the local authority (LA) can create a LA-level account. This gives them access to the school accounts and progress but also to an automated report summerising the data from all schools in the LA.
The tool is free for schools and local authorities in Sweden to use.
Results of SkolmatSverige to date
Currently 41% 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 significantly improved their results in the categories Service and the pedagogic lunch and Environmental impact. We had previously demonstrated 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.
You can read the most recent English summary of our reports ("School Food Sweden's report on school meal quality for the school year 2014/15"). The full report (in Swedish) is available here. Results are presented for all of the domains included in the instrument.
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.
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 Region Stockholm (formerly 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 was updated relatively recently (1st July 2011) and since then, 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 the majority 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 most often fresh, sometimes frozen but rarely from tins. Special dietary requirements for medical or religious reasons must be accommodated adequately. Children eat at communal tables, often with teachers present or nearby. The presence and involvement of teachers is termed "the pedagogic lunch" (see below).
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.
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 in the health of children, and in the school system, and it is tax-funded, meaning there is an obligation that the money is spent responsibly.
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.
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