School meals, served free for young people at primary and secondary education in Finland and Sweden, imply the welfare state’s effort at being responsible for the wellbeing of young people. This aim is very concretely expressed by the provision of statutory school meals which satisfy about one third of daily nutritional needs, offer a broad food cultural selection of meals with different ingredients and are meant to introduce children to table manners (Finnish National Board of Education, 2008; Lintukangas et al., 2008; Valtion ravitsemusneuvottelukunta, 2008). This ‘proper meal’ (Murcott, 1982) additionally reflects strongly the scientific view on nutrition (Valtion ravitsemusneuvottelukunta, 2008), and thereby connects with European historical challenges to enhance the poor nutrition status of children from families of limited means (Ahonen, 2003; Morgan and Sonnino, 2008; Spigarolo et al., 2010). The welfare state thus enters the sphere of responsibility of the family for their children (Rothstein, 1996), as it eases parental care by removing the cost and effort of meal provision from the family to the public actor. This school meal system thus not only aims to offer collateral support for learning but to promote healthy eating as a condition for public health. Currently, the focus of school catering aims to expand from the individual health to environmental health and even wider to sustainability (Morgan and Sonnino, 2008). This view has been evident in public caterers’ efforts across Finland (Mikkola, 2009a) as well as in individual rectors’ work for joining programs such as the Green Flag, entailing occasionally the provision of organic food as a proxy to sustainability (Mikkola, 2009b). These interests also draw on Union and national level policy support (ICLEI, 2008; Ministry of Environment, 2009) whereby the school meal becomes “a prism” of sustainability interests (Morgan and Sonnino, 2008), promoted by public actors (Mikkola, 2009; Morgan and Sonnino, 2008; Spigarolo et al., 2010). It is highly relevant to explore the impacts of these policies on children through activities such as public catering; ‘does it deliver’ the expected benefits in terms of increasing sustainability orientations by the children? This paper probes into children’s responses to school meals, with emphasis on the potential to learn healthy and sustainable eating practices.


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