Vegetarian meals and leftovers for sale – New meal recommendations for higher education students put the focus on sustainability

The new meal recommendations for higher education students call for all students to be offered equal access to tasty, diverse and nutritious meals regardless of their individual dietary needs or place of study. The recommendations also address sustainability goals.

The meal recommendations put out by the National Nutrition Council and Kela specify the criteria that student meal programmes must meet to qualify for Kela meal subsidies. A newly updated version of the recommendations puts an emphasis on efforts to support student health and wellbeing as well as sustainability. As one example of the focus on sustainability, student restaurants are encouraged to sell off leftover food.

Plant-based drinks alongside milk and buttermilk

The new recommendations provide practical suggestions that student restaurants can follow to offer plant-based meals that are both healthy and sustainable. Restaurants are recommended to provide a daily vegetarian meal option. Plant-based drinks are available alongside milk and buttermilk.

The service counter should be set up in a way that places the side salad and the vegetarian options first. The recommendations also contain instructions for putting together a salad bar that meets health and nutritional requirements and makes the restaurants eligible under the meal subsidy programme.

Students to play a role in developing meal programmes

The new recommendations offer a variety of tips for how students, schools, meal services and student healthcare systems can work together. The goal is to promote best practices in student meal programmes and to support communality in higher education institutions. “We hope that as many students as possible will take advantage of the meal subsidy by eating at a student restaurant, and encourage students to get involved in improving student meal programmes together with the restaurants”, Sari Miettunen of Kela says.

Who are the meal recommendations for?

The new meal recommendations are intended for those in charge of student meal programmes as well as for student restaurants, universities, the Finnish Student Health Service, student organisations and, as a source of information, the students themselves. “As requested by student restaurants, they include concrete advice on food purchases and on how to monitor and evaluate service quality. As a new feature, the recommendations include a self-evaluation tool designed for student restaurants”, says Arja Lyytikäinen of the National Nutrition Council.

The recommendations were drawn up by an expert group appointed by the National Nutrition Council. The new recommendations replace the previous version released in 2016. Student restaurants are expected to adjust their operations in line with the new recommendations starting 1 January 2022.

The recommendations will only be published online, and are available on the websites of Kela and the National Nutrition Council. They are also available in Swedish and English. 

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What is the meal subsidy?

The meal subsidy is a form of financial assistance paid by Kela to student restaurants. Thanks to the subsidy, the maximum that students pay for the basic student lunch option is €2.70. The meal subsidy programme covers about 300,000 students, who can eat a subsidised meal at 300 restaurants around Finland. The meal subsidy programme has been in operation for more than 40 years.

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