Arkea prepares school meals with love and expertise, with the well-being of the children the first priority.
Arkea creates school meals for the City of Turku. The meals are first developed by professionals to meet the meal service agreements of the City and to follow the required nutritional and quality criteria, after which they are written down as recipes. Eventually, school kitchens around the city prepare the dishes. Arkea’s employees are all passionate about preparing high-quality meals for children and young people.
‘At least I am motivated by the small children with their lives ahead of them. We are able to teach them about good nutrition, which is the foundation of well-being. School lunch is a third of the nutrition of the day, which means that we can steer the children in the right direction and give them new flavours to experience,’ says Virpi Sarakaski, who works with Arkea’s product development and menu planning.
Arkea’s kitchens prepare over 20,000 meals for the schools and daycare centres every day, and the recipes and preparation methods must be unified. The recipes created through product development are tested, and the prices of the raw materials are calculated exactly, as a few cents off will result in large sums of money when multiplied by 20,000 meals. Even though the prices of school meals are often the topic of discussion, the people at Arkea do not consider them to be a problem.
‘Good raw materials can be found even for a low budget per portion. The potato and ham casserole at school contains just as much meat and cream as your mother’s version. If you count how much the raw materials cost when you make it at home, it isn’t much,’ says Arkea’s product and service designer Jarkko Malmberg, continuing:
‘We struggle more with time. With an hour and a half to feed a thousand people, the production in the kitchen must be extremely fluent, and the serving dishes can never be empty for a moment.’
Arkea’s cooking also considers the exact nutritional objectives based on the criteria for the quality of nutrition as defined in the recommendations for school meals for overall fat content, saturated fat, and salt, among other things.
‘The planning of all dishes starts with the nutritional recommendations, which also provide instruction in the use of salt and ketchup, for example, which is why even the use of ketchup is an item on the menu. There is also no salt to be added, whereas we do provide other, non-salt seasonings, like herbs and peppers,’ Sarakaski says.
The entire Arkea team likes getting feedback and encourages people to give it, because feedback allows the operations to be developed in a direction which pleases the customers more.
The future is in vegetarian foods
In the past years, Arkea has noted how vegetarian food has become an increasingly large part of the diet of school children. Kari Kaivola, who works as a cook at Turun klassillinen lukio upper secondary school, says that a third of the students are vegetarians.
‘Arkea’s vegetarian recipes and raw materials are really good. No wonder that the students like the vegetarian meals,’ Kaivola says.
Kaivola’s workplace is also in the middle of a climate-friendly school pilot project, which includes planning and experimenting on different kinds of tangible actions for the reduction of the carbon dioxide emissions of meal services in cooperation with the city. The pilot includes replacing some of the minced beef with broad beans, among other things. In bolognaise sauce, for example, 20 per cent of the minced beef will be left out and replaced with broad beans. This way, one school can cut down on the use of minced meat by up to 800 kilos during one six-week menu period. The effects are increased when the results of the pilot project are eventually copied by all schools and early childhood education.
The amount of minced meat replaced will be further increased from 20 to 35 per cent during the pilot project. Students will be asked to provide feedback on the flavour of the food and other changes.
‘The students at Klassinen Lukio are able to provide extremely adult-like and objective feedback, which is why the project was carried out there,’ Sarakaski says.
Sarakaski describes herself as a semi-vegan with 25 years of experience, which has allowed her to fulfil her own ideas more over the past few years. Or, in her own words, ‘my history of saving the planet has helped’.
Vegetarian food and replacing meat on the menu remain a controversial topic. The people at Arkea are relaxed about past sensations. Finnish schools have served vegetarian foods for decades, whether in the form of spinach soup, vegetable soup, or a traditional porridge day.
‘It is always a good thing to receive feedback, but sometimes, we need to consider the extent to which it is worth reacting to,’ Sarakaski says, smiling.
Plenty of alternatives served every day
After their day of work, Malmberg, Sarakaski, and Kaivola all prepare food at home. Malmberg and Kaivola confess to emphasising cooking on weekends, and making larger portions to be eaten throughout the week, whereas Sarakaski’s young children get freshly prepared food almost every day.
‘Taking ideas from a Thai kitchen, for example, is more difficult at work, but we can take small hints for cooking, even with our exact recipes. At home, I cook all kinds of things, and find the cuisines of different countries interesting,’ Kaivola says.
Even though it is impossible to bring their own cooking influences to the school world, all three consider Arkea’s range of school meals to be versatile.
‘Home cooking rarely provides as many alternatives as we do every day,’ Malmberg says. Kaivola continues:
‘We offer three different kinds of salad every day. Not everyone takes the time to make that many alternatives at home.’
The Arkea team occasionally cooks dishes familiar from work even at home, and they each have their own favourites on the Arkea menu. Sarakaski particularly likes the tomato and lentil soup, and has recently tried broad bean and potato casserole at home for the Eat my Turku photo shoot. Malmberg favours traditional fish fingers, and sometimes even prepares the Arkea tuna pasta for his family. Kaivola, who will be retiring soon, has in his 45-year kitchen career found his favourite in the various potato casseroles.
‘Even with the vast amount of recipes collected in my head along the years, I often try new school recipes at home, as well. Due to the exact recipes, my use of salt has also decreased along the way,’ Kaivola says.
- Saithe with orange sauce
- Chipsters saithe balls with cheddar and orange sauce
- Chipsters fish nuggets with two dips
- Broad bean casserole