Menu Planning

When planning a menu for the canteen, there are many factors that should be taken into consideration, including the size of the school, number of lunches prepared, the number of people who work in the canteen and their level of expertise in preparing food, and the equipment available. The menu should reflect the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

When planning school menus, emphasis should be given to the following foods that contribute significantly to meeting students’ nutritional needs:

  • Breads and cereal foods e.g. rice, pasta, especially wholegrain varieties
  • Fruit – preferably fresh, but including frozen and canned
  • Vegetables – fresh, frozen and canned
  • Reduced fat varieties of milk, cheese, yoghurt, soy
  • Lean meats, skin-free poultry, fish, eggs, baked beans and other legumes
  • Plain water

Many canteens prepare food from scratch on site. This is a great way to make use of fresh seasonal produce, specials, ensure items are within your budget (and that of student spending) and are healthy. Visit the following websites for delicious healthy canteen recipes:

For further food ideas and recipes specific to school canteens, see the Fresh FOCIS on Food for Canteens and the FOCIS Registered Products Database.

Allergy Aware

A food allergy is an immune response to a food protein.

What is allergy?

Allergy occurs when a person’s immune system reacts to substances in the environment that are harmless for most people. These substances are known as allergens and are found in house dust mites, pets, pollen, insect venoms, moulds, foods and some medicines Allergic reactions vary and it is important to know what to do if someone has a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).

What is anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is the most severe form of allergic reaction and is potentially life threatening. It must be treated as a medical emergency, requiring immediate treatment with adrenaline usually via an adrenaline autoinjector (such as EpiPen®) and urgent medical treatment Anaphylaxis usually occurs within 20 minutes, up to 2 hours of exposure to  the trigger and can rapidly become life threatening.

There are more than 170 foods known to have triggered severe allergic reactions. Any food has the potential to cause an allergic reaction, however, 9 foods are responsible for approximately 90% of food-induced allergic reactions in Australia. These include eggs; milk; peanut; tree nuts (e.g. cashew, walnut, pistachio, hazelnut); fish; shellfish (e.g. prawn, lobster); sesame; soy; and wheat.

According to the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA), the prevalence in Australia is:

Infants up to 12 months: 10%            Children up to 5 years: 4-8%             Adults:  approximately 2-3%

More information

The ‘traffic light system’

The FOCIS nutrient criteria and traffic light system (2016) closely align to the National Healthy School Canteen Guidelines (2010). The traffic light system enables the practical identification of food and drinks suitable for school canteens. See the Traffic light system fact sheet.

GREEN: contain a wide range of nutrients; generally low in fat/sugar/sodium (salt). These foods and drinks correspond to core food groups in the Australian Guide to Health Eating.

AMBER: contain some valuable nutrients; may also contain higher levels of fat/sugar/sodium (salt); over-consumption could contribute to excess energy intake.

RED: low in nutritional value; often contain excess energy (kilojoules)/fat/sugar/sodium (salt); often discretionary foods. Products that do not meet the FOCIS nutrient criteria are red.

Food Labels

On food labels in Australia and New Zealand, nutrition figures are presented in a standard table format called the Nutrition Information Panel or NIP. This shows quantities per serve and per 100g it is an invaluable tool to assess how nutritious the food may be. However understanding exactly what it means can be tricky. This Reading Food Labels poster developed by FSANZ clearly explains all the elements in a simple way.  Also, you may have heard about the new Country of origin labelling – Catherine Saxelby, one of Australias leading nutrition experts, breaks this down in her blog