School meal regulations to include additional criteria on food quality

Food being prepared in a school canteen.
Food being prepared in a school canteen. Source: Olev Kenk/ERR

General price increases have meant that maintaing the quality of school meals has become more expensive. While currently the Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs does not regulate food served at schools according to its quality, only the calorific content, this is set to change in the future.

Due to increases in the cost of raw ingredients, school lunch prices in Estonia are also on the rise. In order to maintain the quality of food served, some municipalities have raised the amount parents are required to contribute, while others want to ensure school meals remain free of charge.

To adapt to the 25 percent rise in prices, the City of Tartu has increased the amount parents are required to contribute toward the cost of school meals by an average of 31 cents.

"For the catering in Tartu schools, 50 percent of the ingredients used are organic, with suppliers also having to take this into account. In this way, it ensures that the food is of high quality," said Tartu Deputy Mayor Meelis Leidt (Isamaa).

High school student Ats Mattias Tamm, who is also board chair of the Estonian Student Union (EOL), said that school meals could still be free for students.

"Actually, it's also really important for students. For many students, it's the only hot meal they get in the day," said Tamm.

In Tallinn, for the last seven years, school lunches have been subsidized by both the city and the state. The former contributes 80 cents, and the latter €1 per meal.

Even though parents in the capital do not contribute financially toward school meal costs, according to Kaarel Rundu, head of the Tallinn Education Department, schools there are also starting to improve the quality of ingredients used.

"From this fall, an organic food component has also been added in Tallinn, which means that 20 percent of the raw ingredients used have to be organic. Tallinn certainly does not currently have plans to start asking parents for more financial contributions," Rundu added.

Ats Mattias Tam said that he is more or less satisfied with his school lunches, though he does think that the food has become worse over time.

"If we take an Estonia-wide perspective, then we do hear a lot of complaints. This is where the state and local government should really take a look at the budget and add a little more for school meals," said Tamm.

In Pärnu, school meals are also provided without parents needing to make a contribution. Deputy Mayor Ene Täht (Isamaa) believes that as school cooks are extremely resourceful, price increases have not led to a reduction in the quality of school meals.

"At the moment, we do not have direct plans for school lunches. However, we do carry out regular random checks in all our educational institutions."

Heli Laarmann, head of the Ministry of Social Affairs' department of public health, said that the ministry plans to adapt the regulations for school meals, to include national dietary recommendations and specific guidelines on sources of energy and nutrients in addition to the current the calorie count requirements.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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