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From Cafeteria to Restaurant

A model for developing your school’s food culture

Nutrition has a big effect on learning. In addition to well-being and health, school lunches develop students’ understanding about the food culture surrounding them. School lunches also provide a great opportunity for student and parent participation.

Finland 100


HundrED has selected this innovation to

Finland 100






March 2017
Making lunches better affects students’ satisfaction in school, which will in turn improve both learning results and well-being at school.

About the innovation

What is it all about?

Nutrition has a great effect on children’s well-being, energy levels, and learning results. It is important that schools not only pay attention to the nutritiousness of school lunches, but also the resulting food culture. School lunches are supervised social events meant to support students comprehensively in their growth and development and improve their satisfaction in school.

The Cygnaeus school has worked to actively improve their school cafeteria’s impact on student well-being and satisfaction. The results can be seen in the students’ newfound respect towards food and the staff who makes it.

The school has noticed that investing in continuous food education promotes school satisfaction, learning results and creates opportunities for collaboration between schools and parents.

Impact & scalability

Impact & Scalability


The school cafeteria can be used to increase student well-being in many ways.


Student participation grows and school lunches become something more than a quick lunch.


This innovation could be applied in any school that offers some kind of school lunches or snacks.

Implementation steps

The wake-up call
The school leadership needs to realize that lunch can be more than a quick visit to the cafeteria.

The work can be started with a discussion about how school lunches work currently with the involved parties. Ask the student council what students really think about the food served at school and how welcoming they find the cafeteria area. If your school doesn’t have a student council, create a new student council from students who would like to be a part of the project. Ask the food provider how much food is consumed and any other observations they might have about school lunches.

Based on these discussions, you can start creating change in small increments. Even changing the eating habits of a few students is a great start!

Knowledge and courage
After preliminary discussions, carry out a more organised survey on school lunches with different focus groups.

Student opinions can be gathered in several ways. The student council should discuss school lunches every meeting and send the feedback forward to you. Satisfaction in school lunches can be measured electronically with different applications (for example Rate It). You can, of course, use analogue measures or a voting system, such as putting stones in bowls marked with happy and sad faces.

Teachers play a crucial role. They set an example to students on how to behave in the cafeteria and are also in communication with parents. School lunches should be discussed at staff meetings, so that lines of communication are open both ways.

Collecting information makes it possible for data-driven leadership. However, it is best to leave the door open for off-the-cuff ideas and experimentation. This gives way to bold experimentation, and more people will feel like they are able to participate.

Open communication
It is best to be open about the changes you’re making.

School accounts on different social media can be used to raise appreciation for school lunches: you can publish the school menu and weekly pictures from the school restaurant.

For example, at the Cygnaeus school students took pictures of their lunches and sent them to parents, who in return sent pictures of their own lunches. This creates natural opportunities for dialogue about school lunches.

It’s a good idea to use the school restaurant as a way to get all parties involved.

Gathering to eat is a natural way to meet people and build a school community.

There are a lot of possibilities for getting students involved. Older students can pitch in with school lunches by helping with the dishes or putting salads out. This makes students feel like they are part of it all – and the salad might taste better if it is ‘made by students’.

The school restaurant can also be used to participate parents. The Cygnaeus School offers breakfast for parents on Mother’s and Father’s Day as well as other occasions. This creates a natural opportunity for discussions with parents, improves the impression parents have of the school, and brings out the best of the school restaurant.

To ensure continuous development, continue collaborating closely with the students, parents, teachers and kitchen workers, and strive to find new partnerships.

An easy partner for collaboration is, of course, the contracted food provider, but there are other options out there. Are there any food producers in your local area like farmers or organizations representing them? Could you organize a themed week on local food?

The Cygnaeus School partnered with Finnair.

The school has also started growing their own herbs in the school restaurant with the help of ten Plantui smart gardens sponsored by Plantui.

Spread of the innovation

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