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Nutrition in school canteens

06 Nov 2020

Kate and the canteen staff are sharing the food

Children and young people consume the majority of their daily food intake at school. So it’s important that schools must have a range of nutritious options available for students to stay healthy and keep their energy levels up to better focus on studies and school activities.

Over the years, school canteens have transformed their menus to offer a variety of exciting, healthy, home-cooked food and limit access to unhealthy options. In most ACT Public School canteens are run by dedicated parents or carers, in either paid or volunteer roles.

Mount Rogers Primary School’s canteen is just one of the schools that go above and beyond to provide a range of fantastic food options for students.

Kate is the canteen manager and, with the help of her team of canteen staff, she provides an array of healthy foods for the school community.

What kind of food do you offer on the menu?

We have a big menu, and we cook nearly everything from scratch. Every day we offer something different, that’s only available that day. We also have a range of great regular items available all the time. These include hot food and a full sandwich bar where students can pick and choose the ingredients they like. We also offer add ons like a salad, yogurt, and gluten-free and dairy-free options. There are a lot of students who are coeliac/gluten intolerant, so it’s important that we always cater to suit everyone and that there are plenty of options available.

What work goes into providing these options?

We cook nearly everything from scratch. It can be trickier if you’re buying things in.

Packaged food is often classified as an amber food and contains added salt/ sugar.

All public schools have to adhere to the nutrition Australia guidelines, and they assess our menu yearly.

Everything has to be classified as green, amber or red and 50 percent of the menu has to be green foods. If you put in the effort to make it from scratch, you have more control over what goes into the food. For example, when we make our Bolognese sauce, we pack it full of extra vegetables, grated carrot, grated zucchini and mixed herbs.

When it comes to the cakes and muffins, we reduce the amount of sugar used or add wholemeal flour. It just bulks it up and adds that extra fibre. One of the favourites, the Better Brownie, is a recipe used by many schools and has over 12 blended up Weetabix added.

Nutrition Australia is also excellent support as they provide stacks of recipes that are easy to follow.

Why is it important to have healthy food on offer for young people in schools?

The canteen is part of a whole-school approach to positively influence the way children are thinking about food and their health. Lots of schools have a kitchen garden program where they’re growing and harvesting their food at school. They then go on to cook with the supervision of a teacher. At Mount Rogers, they have chickens, the worm farm, and a big vegetable garden so the students can learn the paddock to plate concept. It’s that whole-school approach, and everybody is involved in educating and practising healthy eating habits.

We’ve hit on the right things at Mount Rogers. From the teaching staff and executive to the families and students, the Mount Rogers community is encouraging and supportive. It’s just such a lovely place to be.

Visit the Nutrition Australia website for healthy lunch ideas.