Are free school lunches a good idea?

Free meals at Finnish schools are seen as a major achievement of the social welfare state but may be reinforcing the pupils' lack of appreciation for food, a report commissioned by the government explains. But reintroducing fees for school meals would jeopardise equal opportunities in education, commentators warn, and urge parents to do more to teach their children about the value of food.

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Helsingin Sanomat (FI) /

Setback for educational opportunities

Reintroducing fees for school meals would be a risky move, Helsingin Sanomat warns:

“Tensions run high when it comes to school meals. Sometimes they're just plain bad, other times - Mondays for example - you can't get enough of them. Naturally there are differences in quality because the amounts that municipalities and other participating institutions pay towards them vary. ... In the latest report on the food chain, introducing mandatory fees was named as one way of increasing appreciation for these meals. ... Nevertheless, demanding payment for school lunches would be a step backwards in terms of equal rights for families and equal education opportunities.”

Aamulehti (FI) /

Hands off this achievement!

Free school meals are not just an internationally recognised symbol of the Nordic welfare states but also the most important guarantee of a balanced diet for many children, Aamulehti stresses:

“Finland and Sweden are the only European countries to offer free school meals. While the meals may not get the appreciation they deserve from the children, they are hugely appreciated internationally. School meals are a symbol of the welfare state. Without them many families would have a hard time offering their children such a varied menu. The debate about learning to appreciate food more must be carried on at home, where so much food is still wasted.”