Climate friendly school meals doesn’t necessarily make the students less happy. FOTO: iStock

What we eat has a major impact on the climate. In a new study, researchers have tested a strategy to reduce the carbon footprint of school meals without reducing student satisfaction with the food.

Six schools in Lund Municipality in southern Sweden participated in the study, where four schools were served a school menu with a 20 percent lower carbon footprint. At two of these schools, pupils were shown an informative video about the menu change. Two schools functioned as control groups where students ate the standard menu.

By measuring the food intake and letting the pupils answer surveys regarding their opinion of the food, the researchers were able to find out the effect of the new climate-smart menu.

Good acceptance of low-carbon meals
The results show good acceptance of the low-carbon menu. Neither the amount of food eaten nor the satisfaction changed significantly compared to the regular menu.  

In previous studies of introducing climate-smart meals, many students have not noticed the change. Therefore, the researchers also wanted to investigate whether student satisfaction was affected by information.

The study showed that there was no difference in acceptance between the group that had seen the educational video about the new school meals and the group that had not. Erik André, a PhD student at Chalmers University of Technology, says that there might still be long-term benefits of raising pupils’ awareness, and that in any case it does not seem to have a negative effect. 

Giving pupils a positive connection to climate-smart food could contribute to sustainable eating habits outside of school, as private food consumption accounts for the vast majority of the climate impact of food.

Promising strategy
To reduce the carbon footprint of school meals, recipes were modified to reduce the amount of ingredients with a high carbon footprint and increase ingredients with a low carbon footprint, all within the nutritional recommendations for school meals. Serving meals made from ingredients with lower climate footprint may be a more socially accepted alternative to more vegan days.

— Our study confirms that it is possible to reduce the climate footprint and serve nutritious food that is appreciated as much as the food the pupils were given before. And at the same cost, says Erik André. 

Thelma Åberg

Read “Acceptance of Low-Carbon School Meals with and Without Information—a Controlled Intervention Study” in Journal of Consumer Policy here. 

Erik André
Municipal Phd Student, Department of Space, Earth and Environment, Chalmers University of Technology, and Environmental Administration, City of Gothenburg.
+46 31 368 39 91