Over the past few years P&Cs which run canteens have been working especially hard on their menus and increasing the number of healthy options available in order to meet the ACT’s School Food and Drink policy. It hasn’t been in vain — nearly half of all canteen menu items across ACT public schools are now ‘green’ (high nutritional value) and the proportion of unhealthy ‘red’ food and drinks has dropped from 23% to only 3%. Congratulations everyone!
At Canteen Connect in September — an event drawn together by ACT Health — the success of canteens in creating healthy menus was celebrated. ACT Education Minister Yvette Berry presented certificates to 30 school canteens that had recently been assessed as meeting the National Healthy School Canteen Guidelines.
But here at Council, we know that it hasn’t been easy and that help is still needed to keep menus fresh and appealing and to promote the healthier foods to your community. That’s why we’ve been part of a collaborative working group that has been focusing on healthy eating at schools. The group has been running several projects to help canteens market healthy foods and a great range of new resources are now available, free for all to use. Many of these were launched at Canteen Connect. In case you couldn’t make it, we’ve outlined the new resources below, and where to find them.
A major focus at Canteen Connect was a presentation by the Healthy Kids Association (HKA) on strategies for marketing your canteen (partly funded by a grant from Council’s school canteen improvement program). The presentation gave the more than 50 attendees some good ideas on how to better market the healthy food options at their canteens. Suggestions included:
- placing the healthy foods up front on the counter
- using interesting names to describe the good options
- providing taste testing of new and healthy foods
- using colourful posters and packaging to promote the healthy food messages (see resources below)
- having healthy food specials
- selling products that can be eaten with one hand (particularly in high school & college where the other hand is then free to text!)
- pricing healthier options cheaper and less healthy items more expensive
- creating a core menu with rotating specials
When it comes to making sure your canteen is attractive and has a strong profile within your school community, consider the following tips.
- Check the quality and safety (eg temperature) of your foods.
- Don’t sell anything which is not up to standard (either in presentation or safety).
- Consider doing fewer items but doing all of them well.
- Have hand washing posters up on both sides of the counter (ie for both canteen staff and students).
- Canteen staff and volunteers should present well (for example, with clean uniform and personally well presented).
- Have regular theme days and utilise your school’s multicultural community for new options and volunteers.
- Use social media to promote the canteen menu as well as specials and theme days.
- Make the canteen exterior and interior more attractive and colourful.
HKA have almost finished writing a marketing manual which will capture all these great ideas and more, and step canteen managers through the process of promoting their canteens more effectively. We will let you know as soon as it is available via our website (check the Canteen Support page) and social media.
Meanwhile, there is a wonderful array of new resources to help.
Stickers and matching templates
We have also created a matching menu template and a template for a banner for the top of your specials board. These use the same graphic elements as the stickers to create a professional look for your canteen which carries right through to the products the students receive. They are available to download on the Canteen Support page of our website and are ready for you to adapt them to the needs of your school.
A major project which we jointly funded with ACT Health — several years in the making — has been the creation of marketing ‘messages’ for healthy food at school. Working with an external consultancy firm, the project created a suite of ideas, words and ‘slogans’ which will influence and motivate school students to buy greener food from the canteen. These have been tested, in several rounds, with ACT school students to ensure that they are understood and really have an impact on their thinking. It has been great to see the methods of the advertising world — so well employed by junk-food producers — being turned to help canteens and our kids’ health!
The most useful output from all this work for canteens is probably a range of eye-catching posters (pictured on the back page) which use the tested ‘messages’. We think that your customers will love them, so they are available on our website for you to download, print and hang at your canteen.
Council is extremely grateful to ACT Health for progressing this excellent project.
Great recipes with matching imagery
Using a Heathy Canberra Grant, HKA have created a fabulous resource for canteens looking for healthy menu items, fresh ideas, and a professional look. There is a comprehensive selection of delicious healthy recipes, along with visual aids to use around the canteen, or to showcase the items in school newsletter or on your menu. Several of the recipes also come with a video to show you how to make them. This means you can select a new recipe — such as Vietnamese salad, tandoori and mint yogurt pockets, or egg muffin cups — and add it to your menu, accompanied by a professional, enticing photograph. The video makes it easy for your volunteers to create the same dish, at a high standard, every time.
To access these fabulous resources, go to healthy-kids.com.au/marketing-food-at-school-catalogue
They really are worth a look!
‘Go for Green’ guide
Even the most experienced canteen manager can be tripped up by the details of the traffic light system of food classification, and knowing if your home-cooked stir-fry really is ‘Green’, or has slipped into ‘Amber’ can be tricky. Coming to the rescue is an easy to use guide from ACT Health and Nutrition Australia called ‘Go for Green’.
The guide details how to apply the National Healthy School Canteen Guidelines in practice, how the Traffic Light System works and how to classify any food or drink. It includes clear worked examples, including classifying your own recipes. There is an extensive list of popular ingredients, tips about greening your menu items and links to recipes. Every canteen should have a copy on hand!
Find it on the Fresh Tastes website under ‘schools’, ‘food for sale’ — goodhabitsforlife.act.gov.au/fresh-tastes.
We’re currently updating on the Canteen Support page of our website to include all of these resources so that they are easier for P&Cs to find.
Please contact Council if you have any questions or an idea or suggestion for the resources. We are keen for canteens to make the most of them and happy to help!
This article appeared in ParentACTion Magazine, Term 4, 2017.