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Central Finland schools lay out breakfast for hungry kids – but not for free

Schools in Jyväskylä in central Finland have begun to offer their senior students a breakfast menu. Although students have to pay for their grub, some schools are finding that the morning meal may be hitting a sweet spot, as many youngsters don’t have breakfast at home.

Kaurapuurolautanen voisilmällä.
So far Viitaniemi school students appear to have no appetite for paying for morning porridge. Image: Arja Lento / Yle

According to a 2013 school health survey conducted by the National Institute for Health and Welfare THL, for one reason or another, as many as one in four students don’t eat breakfast at home.

“So after a few hours in school they are ravenously hungry and there’s still a few hours to go before lunch. There’s still no empirical evidence about the effects of having breakfast, but at least those who’ve been buying the meal seem satisfied,” said Hanna Rauma, head of school meals at Jyväskylä’s Viitaniemi School.

The school rolled out a breakfast programme for its seniors in an effort to ensure a healthy start to the day. In spite of initial concerns that the breakfast menu wouldn’t go down well, school officials were pleasantly surprised when roughly 60 of the school’s 500 pupils began digging into their pockets to pay for the morning meal.

For €1.50, pupils can enjoy a sandwich or toast, juice, and yoghurt or soured whole milk. Fruit is also on the menu.

“We don’t provide porridge at the moment; it appears that the kids aren’t prepared to pay for it,” Rauma remarked.

Buying breakfast at school isn’t new to many educational institutions in Jyväskylä, but the autumn term has seen the practice spread among upper comprehensive and upper secondary schools. Viitaniemi School joined the program in October.

Long trips to school, long intervals between meals

There are many reasons why some pupils don’t have breakfast at home. In some cases, they face long commutes to get to school, in others, youngsters prefer to linger in bed because they are tired. Sometimes putting the finishing touches on school makeup takes precedence over breakfast, Rauma explained.

“Or sometimes there’s nothing at home they’d want to eat,” she observed.

Breakfast service has been a welcome addition to the morning routine at Viitaniemi School. One eager customer is Jenni Mustapirtti, who has a very early breakfast at home at 6.00am because of the long commute to school.

“When the next meal at school is at noon then you get very hungry, and you can’t always go to the store,” she explained.

“Getting breakfast at school helps you to concentrate better because you then eat at regular intervals. And you also feel better; sometimes you can get stomach pains from the hunger,” she added.

There's little variation among the meals provided to these older students at local schools. Providers are trying to keep the costs as low as possible, Rauma said, adding that the goal is not to turn a profit.

School principal Olli Lehtonen said that offering the early morning pick-me-up is part of a school wellbeing project which aims to help the pupils look after their health. A positive side-effect is improved learning abilities, he noted.

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