Free school meals, the plate model and food choices in Finland

Irma Tikkanen (Department of Business and Management, University of Kuopio, Kuopio, Finland and Helsinki Polytechnic Stadia, Helsinki, Finland)
Ulla‐Marja Urho (Dairy Nutrition Council, Helsinki, Finland)

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Publication date: 15 February 2009



This paper aims to describe free school meals with respect to a plate model and to analyse how the meals were chosen by pupils at Finnish comprehensive schools.


The paper reviews the history of the Finnish school catering system and free school meals. It also briefly analyses theoretical approaches to school meals and introduces a plate model based on national nutritional recommendations. The empirical data were collected in 2003 by the second author of this paper. In total, 3,041 pupils returned the questionnaire from ten comprehensive schools. Data from the pupils' school meal choices were analysed using one‐way ANOVA and F‐tests.


The findings indicate that there were significant differences in the chosen school meals between boys and girls, between classes, and between schools. Thus, the plate model has not been followed when choosing the free school meals.

Practical implications

This paper has, for example, the following implication: school meals should not be considered with respect to food only, but should be viewed from a broader perspective, namely that of pupils' needs and wants.


School meals have previously been studied with multiple theoretical approaches. The authors believe that the broader focus on pupils and their socio‐ecological environment will further increase understanding of their food choices in Finland.



Tikkanen, I. and Urho, U. (2009), "Free school meals, the plate model and food choices in Finland", British Food Journal, Vol. 111 No. 2, pp. 102-119.

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Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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