School Canteens – How to make good choices on lunch order day

For some parents, lunch orders are simply a day off from packing lunch boxes, while for others, it has become a necessity when your child won’t eat anything sent from home. Either way, it is a time when children are left on their own to make food decisions for themselves (for some, this is the first time they have had this responsibility).

While some schools are adopting the National Healthy School Canteens Guidelines, originally released in 2011, unfortunately, many are not. A recent study of 39 Australian schools has unfortunately found that while some of them do have some healthy items on the menus, majority of the menu is not what would be considered healthy options of food or drinks.

What are the National Healthy School Canteens Guidelines?

Australian Government Department of Health, National Healthy School Canteens – Guidelines for healthy foods and drinks supplied in school canteens (2014). https://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/5FFB6A30ECEE9321CA257BF0001DAB17/$File/Canteen%20guidelines.pdf

These guidelines were designed to assist canteen managers to make healthier food and drink choices available in school canteens. These guidelines are not mandatory (do not have to be followed) but have been designed to provide a framework to school canteen services.

Green Foods and Drinks

Foods and drinks classified in the Green category are the best choices. They contain a wide variety of nutrients and are usually low in saturated fat, sugar and/or salt.

These foods which should be available every day at the canteen. They should be included as main choices on the canteen menu and presented in appealing and interesting ways. They should also be promoted as being healthier options.

Australian Government Department of Health, National Healthy School Canteens – Guidelines for healthy foods and drinks supplied in school canteens (2014). https://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/5FFB6A30ECEE9321CA257BF0001DAB17/$File/Canteen%20guidelines.pdf

Amber Foods and Drinks

Foods and drinks classified in the Amber category have a reasonably good nutritional profile but they may also be high in saturated fat, sugar or salt. These foods are suitable to have sometimes but should ideally not be included in large amounts.

The recommendation is for these foods to be sold in smaller portion sizes and be less prominent on the canteen menu.

Australian Government Department of Health, National Healthy School Canteens – Guidelines for healthy foods and drinks supplied in school canteens (2014). https://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/5FFB6A30ECEE9321CA257BF0001DAB17/$File/Canteen%20guidelines.pdf

Red Foods and Drinks

Foods and drinks classified in the Red category are low in nutritional value and likely contain excess energy, saturated fat, sugar and/or salt.

Ideally these foods will not be available at the school canteen.

Australian Government Department of Health, National Healthy School Canteens – Guidelines for healthy foods and drinks supplied in school canteens (2014). https://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/5FFB6A30ECEE9321CA257BF0001DAB17/$File/Canteen%20guidelines.pdf

Is your school canteen a 'Healthy Canteen'?

It is a good idea to check with your school canteen about whether they are adhering to the guidelines, and if not, encourage them to do so. The more parental support around the guidelines, the more likely the canteen are to implement healthy changes.

How to Help Your Kids Choose Healthy Lunch Orders

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