My kids go to a small, government school in Sydney. It has a welcoming and energetic P and C, a dynamic principal and a diverse student population. It is a real gem! Until the beginning of this year, we had only used our canteen facilities for special events so the P and C decided that we would like to start a regular canteen to give kids the chance to buy their lunch. The P and C executive were determined that health and sustainability should be at the centre of what we did and decided to hold a trial of a healthy and sustainable school lunch order program in term one. We called it our “Healthy Choices Canteen” and offered kids the chance to purchase a healthy, prepared lunch every Friday for a set price of $4 with all profits to go to the P and C.
We decided to use these well-established “Healthy and Sustainable” food behaviours as our guide:
• Don’t over-consume – Our serving sizes were all kid-sized.
• Reduce animal products – We encouraged vegetables to be the centre of our menu. We usually offered a vegetarian variation of the menu item.
• Reduce discretionary foods – We sold meals not snacks and all meals were prepared from fresh ingredients on the day they were eaten.
• Don’t waste food – We managed our purchasing carefully and composted organic matter in the school worm farm.
Over the course of the term we served things like Lebanese bread wraps, sushi, curry and soup. Everything was packed with vegetables and well within the green range set by the Fresh Tastes @ School strategy for school canteens. The kids loved the food and we made a modest profit over the course of the term. It was a great beginning!
We continued our lunch orders in term two and then again in term four. Each term a different parent took on the main responsibility for coordinating and cooking the canteen day. They set their own menu, rallied their own helpers and because of their dedication our canteen has been able to expose kids to new tastes and encouraged them to eat plenty of vegetables. Our little experiment shows what is possible if parents roll up their sleeves and get involved. I hope this inspires you to try something new in your school next year.
• This is a great way to educate kids about healthy food. We made vegetables mandatory (no opt outs) because we wanted kids to see their friends chomping on vegetables and hopefully be encouraged to try something new.
• Serving healthy lunches was a relatively simple fundraiser for our P and C that avoided junk and snack foods well as providing a service for parents.
• Canteen days were fun and convivial for parents and great way to get to know new friends.
• Making a fresh lunch allowed us to use recyclable packaging and reusable cups.
• Our small size meant we could be agile and flexible accordingly to the school schedule.
• We discovered interesting things about attitudes to food within the school that we were able to take on board to make our canteen better for everyone.
• This is a volunteer-heavy undertaking. We rotated the coordinator role so no-one felt too overwhelmed and allowed each coordinator to arrange the way they worked according to their circumstances. We decided against holding the canteen in term three because we knew a school musical would compete for scarce volunteer resources.
• Some people felt $4 was too much for food however the P and C felt that it represented value-for-money.
• We found it difficult to manage both time and waste without requiring that students order and pay on Wednesdays and then collect on Fridays.
You can find more details on our Healthy Choices Canteen Trial here.
Jennifer Richards writes beyondthetrolley.com about sustainable food, ethical eating and supermarket-free shopping. You can find our Healthy and Sustainable Canteen recipes on that site.