Designing a sustainable school food system

Kund | The National Food Administration & Vinnova

Projekt | System Design

How do we design a sustainable school food system? And use the lessons learned to restructure the entire food system so that we can achieve the global sustainability goals? That was the starting point when we started the work, together with the National Food Administration and Vinnova, to map and innovate the school food system in Sweden. The next step is to develop the concrete solutions together with four selected municipalities.


Watch the film that we have made on behalf of the National Food Administration to explain the project.

What and how we eat affects not only our health but also carbon dioxide emissions. We need to design a new and sustainable food system so that we can produce, buy and eat food that benefits both our health and the environment. This is exactly the challenge we are exploring in the project "A new recipe for school meals". 

With innovation, we can solve several challenges using the same starting point

What would happen if we used the school meal system as an innovation platform to solve challenges related to climate, public health, and social justice? Imagine if we could decide that in Swedish schools we only serve food that is good for health and the environment. It would increase the demand for sustainably produced foods. What if all students in Sweden got to learn about sustainable development through the school meal? So that they understand that their generation really can make a difference.  

Useful methods for creating change

The vision of the project "A new recipe for school meals" is that all children in Sweden should receive good and sustainable school food. The National Food Administration coordinates the project while Vinnova handles the financing. Antrop contributes with methodology on service design, system innovation, and policy lab. These are methods that are useful for creating the change that is needed. Initially, we have developed in-depth insights about different target groups, mapped the entire school meal system, and identified the rules, governing documents, working methods, and routines that prevent and support a sustainable school meal system today. All these components that make up the system are visualized in a system map. Based on the system map, we can also identify important so-called leverage points, ie points where we can make changes that affect the entire system.  

System change begins with those affected

Mapping a complex system like the one around school meals requires research. All different sustainability aspects and parts of the system need to be covered. In the project, we, therefore, work with everything from food as part of the education and new ways of using school restaurants and school kitchens, to logistics and reduced food waste. It can also be about farmers' conditions for producing sustainable food, which in turn is demanded and procured by the municipalities.

In the research work, more than 80 interviews were conducted with, among others, students, school principals, and meal chefs, teachers, parents, principals, politicians, food producers, and industry organizations, which has resulted in new insights. Working needs-driven with an innovation process often provides new perspectives.  

– This is a new method for us at the National Food Administration, to experiment with new solutions together with others, project manager Ulrika Backlund said when the project was launched.

The ideas are now being tested in practice in four municipalities

During the past year, several authorities have jointly identified important areas to address to make the system around school meals more sustainable. Now those thoughts will be tested in practice in four municipalities. Munkedal, Hofors, Vallentuna, and Karlstad were selected from 25 applicants, as they have different challenges and are assessed to have good conditions to be able to change their school meal system. 

These include smarter procurement of sustainable food, increasing competence in sustainable food at all levels - from politicians to educators - and involving students to a greater extent.

Results and lessons learned from the four municipalities will be used when the project is scaled up. 

At the national level, we may, for example, need to screw up curricula or rules for procurement and food handling, or develop national goals and strategies to give schools and businesses the conditions to work sustainably, said project manager Ulrika Backlund when the project was launched.

System innovation to meet the global sustainability goals

- Design, innovation, and system mapping are powerful tools and together they can create the change that companies, as well as authorities, need to make to meet the sustainability goals towards 2030, says Erik Hammarström, Antrops Head of Business Design.

Actors collaborating in the project:

The National Food Administration, Vinnova, the National Agency for Education, the Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society Affairs, the Swedish Board of Agriculture, the Swedish Public Health Agency and the Swedish Procurement Agency are actively participating in the project. In addition, we collaborate with the National Board of Housing, Building and Planning, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, and the Swedish Competition Authority.