Helsinki. Summer. The playgrounds are overflowing with children and around noon someone starts serving free food to them. Every day. Fiction? No, Finland.
The children eat for free in Helsinki during the summer
Every child under 16 years old can eat for free in the capital of Finland at any of the more than 50 designated points – parks – throughout the city. Most of them open every day during the months of June and July. And we say every child: it doesn’t matter if they have more or less resources. It’s like the Finnish baby box: it’s for everyone.
Food is served to the little ones during the weekdays. There is no need to register to attend, and the only thing the little ones need to enjoy this service is to bring their own utensils: bowls or soup plates, spoons and forks.
The menus are designed by the city authorities. Specifically by the Education division of the city council.
What kind of food do they serve?
For example, the very Finnish rice porridge, various kinds of creamy vegetables, and several other Finnish classics, such as pea soup, sausage soup (some say that sausage is Finland’s national vegetable, and we don’t contradict that) and many kinds of fish soup. Also Italian-style stew or Archipelago Soup made with rainbow trout . If we talk about desserts, the traditional rhubarb pie was served last year during Helsinki Day.
If you want to take a look at last year’s menu (in Finnish), here is the link. On this website there is a link to the daily menus and the allergens contained in the meals so parents know exactly what their child would eat.
The history of free food service for children
This 2020 marks the 88th anniversary of this measure. According to the website of the City of Helsinki (FIN), this service began in 1942 during the Second World War. At that time many of the inhabitants of the Finnish capital were suffering from food shortages. Therefore, a solution was found that was mainly focused on the smallest ones: they would be guaranteed at least one meal every day.
Today the service has evolved, as people clearly do not have food problems. The service is now more focused on nutritional and social reasons, like making summer days easier for families.
And there is another reason: normally children have one free meal a day at school but not during the summer holidays. Thus, the municipality helps while the parents still have to go to work.
Only in Helsinki?
And it seems Helsinki isn’t the only city who does it. Vantaa tried this concept last year as well, and it seems they’re repeating it this year again Last year they made a video about the experience that is very illustrative for this post. YLE’s article on this subject is also good.
And you, what do you think of this almost hundred year old Finnish initiative? Would you go or would you like to see it implemented in your city?