The work on renewing the dietary recommendations for higher education students, which has taken all year, is reaching its end as the working group discussed comments and suggested changes that had come in as the recommendations were circulated publicly for comments. A group of experts from the National Nutrition Council of Finland has been in charge of updating the dietary recommendations for higher education students. The recommendations were last updated in 2016. This time the recommendations are being updated to better match the latest nutritional recommendations and themes relating to sustainable development. SYL has participated in the preparation of the recommendations both as part of the expert group and in the small groups working on updating the dietary recommendations. The work has taken all year, and the plan is to publish the new recommendations at the start of 2021.
The dietary recommendations for higher education students include all decrees, documents and nutritional recommendations relating to student meals. The recommendations apply to students, higher education institutions and student restaurants. For the students, the recommendations include practical examples of meals and food choices that provide energy and promote well-being. For the higher education institutions, they include quality recommendations to support the tendering process, and for student restaurants, they include instructions on how to produce and serve subsidised meals. This means that the dietary recommendations for higher education students have a huge impact on what kind of food is served at student restaurants and how it is served.
While updating the recommendations, particular attention was paid to student meals that are nutritious, beneficial to students’ health and environmentally friendly. A sustainability and climate perspective has been included in the recommendations as a major theme, with attempts being made to include this perspective in all topics that are discussed in the recommendations. Special attention has been paid to reducing food waste and increasing the number of vegetarian and vegan dishes. One of the duties of the higher education institutions and student restaurants is to promote and facilitate sustainable choices. From the students’ perspective, the updated dietary recommendations highlight that the student meals should encourage students to eat vegetarian foods and to reduce meat consumption and food waste. It is also important that the meals are healthy, affordable and varied and that they are of a high quality and produced in a sustainable way.
The student perspective has been particularly highlighted when discussing the target group and the aims of the recommendations and how to organise and evaluate student meals. From the students’ perspective, particular attention has been paid to sustainable development by indicating the origin, nutritional content and carbon footprint of the food, as well as the fact that environmentally sustainable choices have to be made in the procurement of ingredients. It was also seen as important to promote plant-based ingredients by e.g. increasing the amount of plant-based drinks, placing the vegetarian option first in the canteen and increasing the number of vegetarian and vegan dishes in the examples. These are small changes, but in the long term, they can have a significant impact. The solutions of today reach far into the future, and that is why it is important to include small ways to increase the sustainability in student meals in the recommendations. Food-related choices are vital when it comes to a sustainable lifestyle and the well-being of the environment.
In addition to these important themes, an advocacy goal that remains is the takeaway student lunch, which was found to work well this year. Only the meals that are eaten improve the ability to study, energy levels and well-being. A takeaway meal supports the ability to study and increases energy levels when studying remotely or when there is no time to eat at a student restaurant because of an internship or a tight studying schedule. As the amount of independent and remote study increases, a more flexible approach would allow student restaurants to meet the needs of the students of today.