School lunches

Elever äter skollunch

Many countries around the world provide school lunches, but Sweden is unique in offering them for free. In Sweden hot school lunches are provided to all students ages 6 to 16 and most students ages 16 to 19, five days a week. School meals are considered to be important for many reasons such as, the students health, social well-being and ability to learn. School meals are also an important tool in evening out socio-economic differences in health.

National efforts to provide free school meals started in the early 1900s, and comprised the majority of Swedish schoolchildren in the 70s. Since 2011 the Swedish School Law stipulates that school lunches must be nutritious.  

The national guidelines for school meals were published in 2015 and revised in 2019 by the Swedish Food Agency and are based on the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations. The Nordic Nutrition Recommendations provide reference values for the intake of nutrients which, based on current scientific knowledge, are adequate for the development and optimal function of the human body and reduce the risk of certain diet-related diseases.

The MealModel – a holistic view of school meals

The 2019 revision of the guidelines includes a holistic view of school meals called “the meal model” which includes the following six areas: 1) tasty, 2) safe, 3) nutritious, 4) eco-smart, 5) pleasant and 6) integrated as part of the education. This model has mainly been developed from the Five Aspects Meal Model (FAMM) but practical experiences have also been considered. 

Each day about 1,3 million meals are served in Swedish schools. This equals about 260 million meals each year. The meals are hot and often include several alternatives such as vegetarian and gluten free. Salad, bread, butter, milk and water are also on the menu.

School meals have an average price tag of 6 800 SEK per student, per year, the cost covering ingredients, personnel and transportation. The meals are financed via local tax. The Swedish school meals have received a boost over the past decade with many municipal efforts in raising food quality and chef skills into school kitchens.

The municipalities are responsible for the school lunches, and the local food distribution organisation can work in various ways. In a majority of the schools the food is prepared in the schools own kitchen. However, in the case a school does not have a kitchen the food is transported to the school, warm or cooled for later heating.

Meal production can be operated by the municipality or by a purchased contractor. The National Food Agency issues recommendations for school meals; considering ingredients as well as time of serving, meal environment and how to involve students in the meal service. 

The national guidelines for school meals state that school lunches are to be a part of the education and that the students who eat lunch have better pre-conditions to learn. Food and nutrition education can be incorporated across various subjects in the school curriculum, but mainly through Home economics. The guidelines include recommendations for environmental sustainability that state that through conscious choices and reduced food waste, school meals can contribute to a reduced environmental impact and good conditions for both humans and animals.

Reviewed 2024-02-01