Remember my Healthy and Sustainable School Canteen?
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How do you set about making sure your canteen serves sustainable school lunches? It’s a tricky question, partly because not everyone has the same understanding of sustainability. For some people it means simply ‘green’ or ‘environmentally friendly’. For others, it has a deeper meaning. Something is sustainable if it can endure or last. But even if you agree on that second definition of sustainability some people might be concerned with the financial sustainability of the canteen project. Others might be concerned about the canteen’s impact on environmental sustainability. These issues need to be thought through when setting up a new canteen. I thought I’d share how we defined healthy and sustainable school lunches.
That part is relatively easy. It is prescribed for us. The NSW Department of Education’s Fresh Tastes @ School Strategy uses a traffic light system to classify the health of food. From the beginning, the P and C was adamant that a school canteen must promote healthy eating by selling only healthy food. We wanted to support the whole school curriculum of healthy bodies, lifestyles and environments. All items served in the canteen would be classified as green.
The main purpose of our Healthy Choices Canteen trial were 1) to provide affordable, healthy lunch options for students and 2) to promote healthy and sustainable food. The canteen was not designed to fundraise for the school. Even though our healthy and sustainable school lunches were profitable over a term, profit was not our driving motive. We wanted to prioritise the quality of our food, not our profit margin.
Our canteen used research from the Australian National University to decide what sustainable school lunches were. Researchers from the ANU have found four food behaviours that have measurable impacts on the environment. Luckily, these behaviours are all very healthy too. They are:
So this is what we did:
We are proud of our Healthy Choices Canteen project, particularly that we were able to make a profit selling healthy and sustainable school lunches not the pre-packaged rubbish that is often peddled to kids.
Soup was on the menu at our healthy choices canteen last week. It was a classic Ribollita soup. I roughly followed Hugh Fearnley- Whittingstall’s recipe. However, there was no wine in my soup. I also broke up a packet of spaghetti for extra heartiness. I used chicken stock, which on reflection was unnecessary. I should have used a vegetable stock as we would have be able to take a few more orders from vegetarian members of our school community.
Of course, we served our soup in reusable cups with plastic spoons (that we could recycle). We offered free refills which were enthusiastically taken up by the older kids.
Our healthy choices canteen trail has run really well this term. Next week, for our last week, we will offer sushi again as that was so successful last time.
Our healthy and sustainable lunch orders got off to a flying start last Friday! It was an exciting morning. This is the first time our school has run a regular school canteen, so there was a nice buzz about the grounds as kids and parents came to order before the day began. All through the week we had been very clear with the kids that they had to give in their money and order before morning lines and most kids did exactly the right thing. One parent told me that her kids woke up and bounced out of bed shouting “It’s canteen day mum – I need to get myorder in before assembly!”
Our first school canteen menu item was Lovely Lebanese Bread Wraps. We had lots of parent volunteers on hand ready to chop up the ingredients and start rolling them. I had no idea how many kids would order. I arranged ingredients for 100 wraps but in the end needed half that. We had 44 orders in total – which considering the size of our school was about what my previous experience told me to expect.
One exciting element of our new school canteen is that we are not working against an existing culture of a junk food canteen. We are starting something new and developing a new food culture. We call ourselves a “Healthy Choices” school canteen because we only offer healthy options. If kids want to buy from the canteen they choose between two options that are equally good for them – and equally delicious. We want to support everything that is in the NSW School curriculum about healthy eating and sustainability. This means that not only are we packing out every item with vegetables, but we are also using recyclable packaging where possible and really thinking through the ethics of each decision we make when sourcing food.
If you are interested in starting a school canteen from scratch, here are some of the lessons we learned on Friday:
Our first school canteen had great feedback about the deliciousness of our food. Here is the recipe:
1 Wholemeal flatbread wrap (fresh from the bakery if possible – it makes them easier to roll)
Approximately 30g baby spinach leaves
Approximately 50g grated carrot
Approximately 50g sliced tomato
Approximately 50g sliced cucumber
EITHER 50g sliced ham
OR 70g grated cheese
Place ingredients inside bread and roll. Roll baking paper around wrap. Cut in half. Place in order bag.
My kids go to a small, government school in Sydney. It is a great school with a welcoming and energetic P and C, a dynamic principal and a diverse student population. It is a real gem of a place.
For a while we have had a great canteen facility that we have only been using for special events, but recently the P and C decided that we would like to start a canteen to give kids a chance to buy their lunch. Fortunately, the P and C executive were determined that we shouldn’t sell off the space to a private business or sell our kids pre-packaged junk for lunch. I told them about the trial I had run at my previous school and they were keen to try a healthy and sustainable school canteen in term one this year.
So guess what I’ll be doing on Fridays? You guessed it: co ordinating lunch orders for hungry primary schoolers. Am I crazy? It’s a good question and one I have asked myself over and over. Three kids, full-time masters program at university, job-hunting, blogging and a canteen. Honestly, I may well be mad but at least I won’t be bored!This trial is going to be a little bigger than my first one. That one was successful in so far as it provided yummy, healthy lunches for very little cost and even raised a bit of money for the school on the side (but only a little). It was run by dedicated mums, but as I was the driving force behind it, it didn’t continue after I moved. This time, my goal is to set up a sustainable lunch program with all the policy, settings and infrastructure in place that I can hand over the role to someone else.
I’ll have plenty to write about, too, because I’ll be taking you through the nitty-gritty of starting a healthy and sustainable school canteen. I’ll talk you through all the steps and share what we learn about making healthy and sustainable food delicious for kids at lunch.
My kids go to a pretty small, independent school. A while ago, older students at the school were agitating for a canteen. The school trialled a “Canteen Day” by outsourcing the preparation to a local cafe. After seeing the selection of burgers and wraps on offer (and their cost) I was pretty sure that we could serve healthier, cheaper food by doing it ourselves.
So I, along with a small group of mums, took on the challenge of trialling a few more School Lunch Order Days. The idea is pretty simple. We were determined to serve freshly prepared, healthy food. No packets or preservatives! Rather than buying items that we then sold on, we thought up a few meals that could be easily made on the day in the school’s kitchen. Knowing that we could never appeal to every child’s taste or every parent’s convenience, we offered one choice per day. First up – freshly made pumpkin soup and a roll. At $2.50 for a small serve and $4.50 for a large serve, it was a good deal for a winter lunch.
I wouldn’t say that the kids went wild over it but one large stock pot of soup was made and enjoyed with wholemeal bread rolls from a local bakery. Three mums were involved on the morning to pull it together and I think we can be proud of our efforts. Even within a small school or with only a small team, running a school lunch order day like this isn’t hard.
Here is the recipe for the soup, scaled down for a family. This recipe yields approximately 2.5 litres of soup.
A glug of olive oil
1 clove garlic
2 sticks of celery, sliced
1 onion, diced
1 heaped tsp ground cumin
1 heaped tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
1/4 Jap Pumpkin – peeled, seeded and cut into large chunks (about 1kg of prepared chunks)
1 litre of chicken stock
In a large, heavy based saucepan, gently fry the onion, celery and garlic in oil until starting to go golden.
Add spices and fry for 1-2mins until fragrant.
Add potatoes, pumpkin and stock.
Bring to boil then simmer 20-30mins until pumpkin and potato soft.
Blitz in pot with a hand blender until smooth.
Serve with a dollop of yoghurt, some freshly chopped parsley or coriander and a bread roll.