Diet for a Green Planet - School meals that honor local produce

Based in Sweden 2 minutes read

A holistic food concept has revolutionized school meals in southern Stockholm, where thousands of students now enjoy locally produced and seasonal food.

In a public procurement-driven system, authorities tend to favor low-cost products. In the case of school meals, it means that the pea soup served to Swedish pupils on Thursday afternoons is often sourced and prepared thousands of kilometers away from their canteens. But the municipality of Södertälje has chosen an alternative path. Through its Diet for a Green Planet project, it mobilizes local food producers to supply fresh produce to nearby establishments.

Diet for a Green Planet offers healthy and environmentally friendly lunches to students. In doing so, it uses nutrition as a powerful tool to combat climate change. By limiting imported produce and their transport-related carbon footprint, the project enables schools to contribute to sustainable food production and consumption. It even expands its impact to other sectors and countries via various networks and services.

Schools as testbeds for institutional kitchens

School kitchens in Södertälje, a town in the southern part of Metropolitan Stockholm, are an epicenter of sustainable cuisine. Not only do they serve wholesome, locally-sourced food, they also serve as testbeds for innovative sustainable dishes.

When Michelin-starred chef Mathias Dahlgren participated, he added a twist to 2 classics. He cooked a falafel of local, protein-rich, grey pea wrapped in a sourdough pita bread mixing Swedish spelt, rye, and barley. His meat option, a ground chicken souvlaki, was made of organic spent hens that would otherwise be euthanized because they stopped laying eggs. Both got rave reviews from more than 27 000 kids and adults.

Beyond celebrity chefs, municipal employees continuously create and improve the quality of their menus with seasons. Their main goal is to minimize the ecological footprint while maximizing nutritional intake. With strict budget constraints, Södertälje has successfully implemented the concept in its schools, kindergartens, and retirement homes since 2010. The town shared also his learnings with cities Mollet del Vallès in Spain, Molėtai in Lithuania, and Lomza in Poland through URBACT – a European exchange program for sustainable urban development.

What started as a research project by BERAS (Building Ecological and Regenerative Agriculture and Society) now also reaches companies via training sessions organized by MatLust.

From circular farming research to practical guide

The original research project explored Ecological Regenerative Agriculture (ERA). This agricultural method reduces negative impacts on water sources and increases organic matter levels in soils, creating carbon sinks.

Diet for a Green Planet emerged as a spin-off project when the researchers wanted to create a model for environmentally friendly eating habits based on ERA protocols. They then broadened the initial scope from the Baltic area to the entire planet, since the concept can be adapted to different geographical conditions. Together with Novia University, BERAS now offers online course Managing Transformations in the Food System to producers and restaurants alike.

Diet for a Green Planet follows and teaches five essential guidelines for sustainable eating habits. All are in line with EAT-Lancet healthy diet:

  1. Tasty and healthy food
  2. Organic (preferably ERA) food
  3. Fewer animal products; more vegetables, legumes, and whole grains
  4. Locally-produced, seasonal food
  5. Reduced production, processing, distribution, cooking, and overall food waste

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