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More Green Please - school canteen menus
Improving our school canteens
While the face of the traditional ‘tuckshop’ is changing, the canteen as a primary delivery service of food to students is an important part of the healthy eating message.
No school canteen is the same. They may be run by volunteers, or operate as a commercial business. They may operate in a state of the art kitchen, or in a room next door to the Principal’s office. They may tailor menus to meet cultural expectations, or have restricted access to food supply. However, they can all be a powerful healthy eating conduit within the school setting.
We know you're concerned this may not alway be the case. Below is a series of comments from members of The Parents’ Jury which reflects some of their concerns:
If I were in a situation where I had to rely on canteen lunches for my son,
I'd be very concerned.
I once saw chocolate tiny teddies listed as a green light food, so
I have no faith in that system.
Little to no vegetables or salad on the menu choices.
The Parents’ Jury sought to investigate whether public school canteen menus adhere to state/territory school nutrition guidelines, in addition to examining the general health levels of their menus.
In late 2012, under the guidance of The Parents’ Jury, Monash University and VicHealth, research was undertaken to develop a snapshot of school canteen menus in Australia. A sample of 263 menus from across Australia was assessed, representing approximately 4% of all government schools.
Across Australia, almost 30% of all surveyed primary schools and almost 19% of surveyed secondary schools are compliant.
Surveyed states where green food made up more than half the menu are Western Australia (93%) and the Northern Territory (93%) followed by QLD (58%).
With the exception of South Australia, secondary schools have more red items on their menus than primary schools.
Over 38% of menus across all surveyed secondary schools feature soft drink.
56% of all surveyed menus feature chocolate or other forms of confectionary. Over 96% surveyed schools feature pastries as a regular part of the menu.
87% of all surveyed schools also serve pies regularly on their menus and 69% serve salads. The average price for a pie is $3.17 and the average price for a salad is $3.83, a difference of 66 cents. In some states and territories, the difference was over $1.00.
On average, 76% of all the surveyed school menus feature fruit.
The full report can be found HERE.
We call on government to:
Ensure all government school canteen menus contain over 60% green menu items.
All nutrition guidelines suggest that foods categorised as green should be part of a child’s every day diet. Foods that fall into the amber and red categories are higher in energy, saturated fat, sugar and/or salt and, particularly in the case of the red category, energy dense and nutrient poor. They’re considered to be ‘extra’ foods and should only be an occasional treat.
As part of a school setting, canteens can assist in the healthy eating message being delivered to children and their families. In addition, with a growing number of working families utilising the services of the school canteen menu, it is important that healthy options are regularly available. Evidence suggests exposing children to healthy fruit and vegetables at school can double their consumption (Tapper, Lowe and Howe 2003).
The surveyed schools across Australia show 47.75% of their menus are green. However, over half of menu items on average fall into the amber (48%) and red (3%) categories. The Parents’ Jury is not suggesting the ‘amber’ category be removed from the menu, but it should not be on par with or exceed the proportion of ‘green’ food items available.
Ensure all government school canteen menus use a traffic light, front of pack food labelling system.
In order to enhance children’s understanding of food to be eaten ‘all the time’ and food to be eaten ‘occasionally,’ items on school canteen menus should be clearly marked.
Evidence suggests consumers understand traffic light food labelling (Kelly et al 2008) and there are a number of surveyed schools in this research whose menus do feature this.
Introducing a clear labelling system will increase children’s overall understanding of food content and increase the likelihood of the healthy eating message being spread and supported in the home.
Achieve this by requiring all government schools to work with canteen support services.
Every state and territory has one or more organisations, created to help school canteens offer a healthy and comprehensive food service. Some are more resourced than others; however (with the exception of Western Australia) they’re all reliant on schools and canteen businesses contacting them on a voluntary basis.
We urge governments across the country to enhance these services and require public schools to avail of them. Not only will their canteen menus improve, schools across the country will deliver the same, consistent healthy eating message.
Click here to find our step by step guide to campaigning for change.
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