School meals: the Finnish model

The comprehensive, free of charge school meal system plays an essential role in the educational system of Finland. Offering free meals for all is an investment in equality and the future. The meals work to build equity between children from different backgrounds, strengthening equal opportunity. Throughout the system, cooperation and trust between the authorities, municipalities and schools create the basis for a successful school meal scheme.

School meals also support equality of parents, as they make it easier for parents to work outside home. This enhances gender equality, female workforce participation and economic growth.

History of the Finnish school feeding programme

Ever since its beginning in the 20th century, Finnish national educational system has been based on the principle of equality. Education has always been considered as the key to the nation’s success and free-of-charge meals are an integral part of it.

In 1921, general compulsory education was prescribed by law. Although school feeding was seen as beneficial, originally school feeding subsidies were given only to the most economically disadvantaged children. However, hungry children were not able to focus on learning, and school feeding was considered an important step towards educational equality.

In 1943, a law providing free-of-charge meals for all pupils came into force, and went nationwide five years later. Initially, school meals served to address post-war poverty and malnutrition. At the time, Finland was also resettling 430,000 internally displaced people and 50 000 orphans. Since then, the school feeding system has become an important part of Finland’s education success story. For more than 70 years, Finland has been offering free meals for all – the longest-running free-of-charge school meals in the world.