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New school food guidelines aim for pleasant, sustainable dining

Health and education authorities have issued new guidelines for school food for the first time in a decade. They're aimed at making lunches more nutritious – and more appealing to youngsters.

Ihmiset syövät kouluruokalassa uunimakkaraa.
Nutritionist Margit Kojo eats lunch with Nea Koivisto and Pauli Pappinen at Kokkola's Kiviniitty School. Image: Kalle Niskala / Yle

At primary schools such as Strömborgska skola (Ströhö) in Porvoo, nearly all pupils eat a hot lunch – but in upper comprehensive school a third of students skip all or some of their lunch.

The new recommendations from the National Institute for Health and Welfare and the National Agency for Education call for more emphasis on dining as a calm, pleasant communal experience and on the sustainability of food.

This means more serious vegetarian alternatives, as well as more fish and "less red meat, more vegetables, fruit and berries", says Manninen.

Already more kids are opting for vegetarian food, but there is not always enough meatless protein on offer, says one student, Anni Wahlström.

"Some days there isn't really any protein source. For example if there's soup then the vegetarian option is most often just the same vegetables without meat," she tells Yle's Swedish-language news.

More time and space for lunch

According to the new guidelines, pupils should be allowed at least half an hour to eat, and lunch should be served between around 11 am and noon. At many schools, lunchtime is a rushed, noisy affair.

"At times there may only be 15 minutes to queue up, be served and eat. We have also noticed that dining times may be very early, sometimes even at 10 am," says Marjaana Manninen of the National Agency for Education, who chaired the recommendations board.

Since many schools' cafeterias may be too cramped for comfortable eating, she suggests that schools could experiment with having pupils eat together in their own classrooms, for instance.

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