Annual studies by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) have declared Finnish students to be among the highest-performing test takers in the world. According to The Atlantic, the Finnish education system is a model of efficiency. All schools in Finland are either public or publicly funded, and none of them, from preschool through a Ph.D program, charge tuition. They also eschew standardized testing in favor of creative problem-solving, and form-based report cards for individualized grading. But can Finland’s school lunches, cooked daily from scratch using local ingredients, help students score higher on tests as well?
Fun historical fact: In 1948, Finland became the first country in the world to serve a free, healthy school lunch to every student and has done so ever since. According to a 2008 report by the Finnish National Board of Education, “A pleasant, quiet dining area allows pupils to take their time and helps them to understand the role of eating, meal times and spending time with each other in promoting their well-being. A clean and well-lit school canteen in a nice location and with small tables is preferable and more comfortable for eating and conversation. Special attention is paid to the taste and temperature of food. Tempting and mouthwatering presentation of food is also important. Freshly baked bread should be served as often as possible.”
Mouthwatering, eh? No need to brag — they’ve clearly got a winning formula down. But in spite of that, the Finnish School Meal Network, a coalition of education and nutrition professionals dedicated to ensuring healthy, free food for every student, told Jamie Oliver he didn’t need to visit.
Now, it’s no secret that dozens of countries pummel the United States in school lunch quality, with regards to both food and environment. Forget understanding the role of eating, meal times and spending time with each other — American kids are given an average of 13 minutes to hoover as much frozen and reheated food, sweetened milk and juice and processed snacks as they can. That’s acceptable at best. And as you would have it, the U.S. scores “acceptable at best” on the PISA assessment each year.
As one spirited Redditor commented on the above photo of a Finnish school lunch “…you pay for it when you grow up and contribute hundreds of thousands if not more to the economic system in Finland. Feed the kids so they can learn. No, it isn’t free, you pay for it yourself by succeeding.”
Tell it to the lunch lady doling out nuggets, pal.