Findings ____________________________________________________________ The provision of school food in 18 countries _____________________________________________________________
This paper compares the provision of school food in 18 different countries around the world, with a focus on funding, catering providers, costs, free school meals (FSM), school meal take up and the dining experience. School meals systems vary between countries, in part because of cultural and economic differences. These variations provide insights into what works well, and valuable lessons can be shared. Countries with well established Government funding for school meals appear to have more developed meal systems with higher rates of take up than those where funding is of a lesser priority. Investing in good quality ingredients, with an emphasis on organic and locally sourced products, is of key importance in countries such as Italy, France, Japan and Hong Kong and has the potential to produce better quality meals whilst not necessarily having adverse financial impacts on families whose children use the services. Ensuring that a suitable dining environment is provided is of key importance in countries such as Italy, Finland and Japan. This helps to ensure that a sound basis is provided from which cultural and social lessons can be learnt within the context of school meals provision. Key Findings
• Provision varies. In the Republic of Ireland and Germany, for
example, there is a limited service, where only pre-packed sandwiches and soup are provided, resulting in many children making alternative arrangements. In contrast, in the U.K., Sweden and Finland, a full canteen-style service is generally provided.
• Government funding for school meals varies. Sweden and Finland
provide long-term funding to cover the full cost of meals. In England, Scotland and Italy, provision is given financial support to drive and improve the standards and take up of school meals. A third funding policy is seen in countries where Governments invest in meal programmes targeting deprived regions (e.g. Brazil and Chile).
• Catering services differ. In Spain, external private companies are
normally contracted to provide school catering. Conversely, in Rome, 92% of schools have meals cooked in the school kitchens and source organic and local produce.
• The average spend on ingredients for an individual meal ranges from
£0.30 in Chile and £0.31 in Wales (data collected in 2002 and 2004 respectively) to £1.50 in France (data collected 2005).
• The average purchase price of a canteen meal varies from £0.98 in the
USA to £4.50 in parts of France (data collected 2005).
• Free or reduced price meals are offered in most countries to families
who qualify, with the exception of Australia. In Sweden and Finland, FSM are offered to all pupils in compulsory education regardless of their ability to pay.
• Take up varies from 95% of Finnish and 85% of Swedish
schoolchildren eating a main course on most days (where free meals are available to all) and over 85% take up in Japan, compared to 9.1% in Canada where the vast majority of pupils take packed lunches.
• Service provision in the dining room ranges from family style or
canteen style services which offer 2-3 courses at lunch (although in France, 4 course meals are not uncommon). In most countries (except Finland where packed lunches are not permitted) many children take packed lunches.
• The dining experience differs across countries owing to differing
dining room capacities. More often than not, space is limited, although most countries try to accommodate pupils by providing adequate facilities and space for them to sit down and eat their school meal or packed lunch. In many countries, it is not possible for schools to have dedicated rooms for dining, hence some dining areas are multi-purpose (assembly hall, sports hall, or other classes). In Hong Kong and Japan, most schools do not have a dining hall and children eat in their classrooms. In Italy, children sit down at round tables with tablecloths and proper crockery and cutlery to enhance the meal experience.
• Time allowed for lunch should be given due consideration when
planning the school day to allow all pupils to benefit from the social experience provided by school meals. In the UK, the lunch period typically runs from between 30 to 60 minutes. In Finland the lunch period lasts for 30 minutes and in France, school meal guidelines state that at least 45 minutes must be allowed for the lunch period. In Japan, pupils up to twelve years of age have a lunch break that usually lasts 50 minutes although this period is reduced to 45 minutes for pupils in secondary school. In Sweden, the lunch hour is often 70 minutes long.
• Breakfast clubs are becoming increasingly common in many schools,
especially in the UK, and the provision of breakfast or morning snacks in France and Sweden is encouraged.
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