At our P&C... improving our canteen

Creating and promoting healthy canteen foods, without going out of business, remains a challenge for many P&Cs. We caught up with a couple of school canteens to hear about their journeys.

“It’s a work in progress” is how Kaleen Primary School Canteen Assistant, Kate Rowntree, describes her canteen’s transition to a healthier menu. For starters, the hot dogs, chips and hash-browns have gone.

“We used to sell five or six trays of hash-browns at recess” says Kate. “It is cold for a lot of the school year and the kids like to have hot food. So we have replaced the hash-browns with healthier hot snacks.”

Apparently, small cups of cheesy pasta or spaghetti bolognaise are popular replacements. At just $1 each, they sell by the potful. Bags of popcorn and cups of fruit salad also sell out every day, and the canteen team are experimenting with soups too.

The healthier food does take longer for staff to prepare, Kate concedes. “We are now dependant on volunteers. If they were to leave it would leave a big hole. In the past, we’d been able to manage without any volunteers.”

So how is the canteen’s bottom line coping with the transition?

“The younger kids don’t miss the old menu items at all,” says Kate, “Our sales went down a bit at first. The older kids were in the habit of buying, say, hot dogs, but we are grateful for the support of parents — the new foods are now selling well.”

“We are now making a profit. Originally our P&C elected to review the canteen on a term by term basis but at the end of term two decided to definitely continuing trading three days a week for the rest of the year.”

“We received a $2000 grant from Council to help transition our canteen. We have been using some of the new appliances we bought — popcorn maker, blender, slow cooker — to provide the new range of hot menu items.”

Ainslie School was also one of 34 canteens to benefit from Council’s canteen grants last year. Libby Bailey from Ainslie P&C explained how the money was used there: “This grant gave us the opportunity to add some welcoming elements to our canteen after it had been renovated.”

“We designed and printed some great thank you certificates for our year six students, in recognition of their volunteering. It goes without saying that volunteers are the backbone of many activates at schools. So our new certificates aimed at recognising those who volunteer at the canteen and have been welcomed by all.”

“We had a parent, who is a professional photographer, take some great photos of the students engaged in activities around healthy food and with the grant we had these made into large canvases and have hung them up in the canteen area. New signage for the canteen’s new name was also made with the grant. A few dads have helped hang all this up which has given our canteen entry a happy friendly facelift.”

Access to our largest garden was always an issue for the oldest students. The grant has made it easy for students to have access to the garden at break times. This has given rise to more interest in the garden, has given students another area to ‘hang out’ as well as highlighted to the students that healthy fresh food can be easy to grow!

“All these small elements have made a significant difference to our canteen and our aim of encouraging, role modelling and give our students access to healthy food.”

Council is pleased to have been able to provide the grants to canteens last year as part of a larger grant to Council from the ACT Government.

This article appeared in ParentACTion, Term 4, 2016. See other past editions of our quarterly magazine.