School Lunches in Italy: Who are the lunch superstars?

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 11.57.48 AMThis week I’m blogging about school lunches in Italy.  This is the fifth post in the series.  If you’re interested, start from the top.



A 2010 paper outlines five ‘best practice’ towns in Italy who have strong school lunch programs:   Turin, Rome, Sesto San Giovanni, Piacenza and Argelato.  Piacenza and Argelato are in Emilia-Romagna, the region where we live.

Piacenza (95,000 inhabitants) has a long history of farming and food production and the town is proud of its rich agricultural traditions, so it’s not surprising that the community has insisted that their local food is served in their schools.  The operations of their central school kitchen is tightly integrated with the local farm economy.  The kitchen buys most of its produce from the local produce consortium.  Any produce they can’t get in town they try to procure elsewhere in Emilia-Romagna. A 2010 survey shows that 90% of the schools’ fruit and vegetables were from local sources.  The kitchen orders produce from the consortium on a weekly basis.  Vegetables are delivered to the kitchen twice a week and meat once a week, ensuring that the ingredients are fresh and at their peak in terms of taste and nutrition.  One of the struggles in this model is keeping costs down.  The price per meal for a family not eligible for financial aid and with one child in the school  was €4.75  (about $6.44). [1] [2]

Rome is another ‘best practice’ case outlined by the study.  Unlike Piacenza, Rome is a major city with 710 schools and 150,000 meals served daily.   Rome’s school lunch system was dramatically reformed beginning in 2001 in large part due to the efforts of the tenacious director educational policy at the time, Silvana Sari.  The reforms introduced a greater focus on organics, seasonality, variety, and nutrition; a new set of purchasing standards (based on both quality and price); and a system for regular monitoring of catering companies.  In 2007, Roman schools had 70 nutritionists on staff to help plan menus.  According to data from 2010, 70% of ingredients in Roman school lunches are organic, 95% of the fruit and vegetables are sourced locally, and 50% of the meat, milk and dairy is sourced locally (in this case, local means products from Lazio and other central regions).  In addition, there are no vending machines in Roman schools, and children are not allowed to bring outside food into school. [3] [4]

What can we learn from the superstars?

The ‘best practice’ study concludes with a few lessons learned.  First, it notes that regional laws have been successful in promoting the use of higher quality products in school cafeterias (e.g. organics).  It also emphasizes the importance of close collaboration between producers, caterers, towns, and schools in order to create a shorter supply chain and more efficient processes.  This tight collaboration helps to manage the costs associated with buying high quality products as well as to minimize the environmental impact of the system.  Lastly, the authors stress that there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.  Each town must build the local relationships between producers, caterers, and consumers and customize a solution that works best for the town’s needs.  I’d add to this the observation that most Italian school lunch programs serve a single menu to most kids.  By reducing the number of items on the menu, schools are able to focus on purchasing the best quality ingredients possible and work to build relationships that enable them to purchase those ingredients at the best price possible.  Less choice also means that schools don’t have to guess about supply and demand which cuts down on waste (a huge environmental win) as well as cost.

Up next: Are Italian kids healthier than American kids?


[1] Nölting, Benjamin (Ed.) (2009) Providing organic school food for youths in Europe – Policy strategies, certification and supply chain management in Denmark, Finland, Italy and Norway. International Centre for Research in Organic Food Systems (ICROFS), CORE Organic Series Report. Proceedings of BioFach 2009, GastroForum, Nuremberg, Germany, February 20th 2009.

[2] Spigarolo, Roberto; Sarti, Valerio; Bocchi, Stefano and Giorgi, Giulio (2010) School catering supply chains: study on 5 cases. International Centre for Research in Organic Food Systems (ICROFS), Tjele, Denmark.

[3] Liquori, Toni. “Rome, Italy: A Model in Public Food Procurement: What Can the United States Learn?” Baum Forum.  Accessed on February 8, 2014

[4] Teaching Channel.  “How They Do It in Rome: Nutritious School Meals.” Accessed on February 8, 2014.

Photo credit: Screenshot from Teaching Channel’s “How They Do It in Rome: Nutritious School Meals.”


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