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 and specials, ensure items are within your budget (and that of student spending) and are healthy. Visit the following websites for delicious healthy canteen recipes:

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 is available from:

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

Food labels in Australia and New Zealand, must show nutrition information presented in a standard table format called the Nutrition Information Panel or NIP. This shows quantities per serve and per 100g and is an invaluable tool to assess how nutritious the food may be. However, understanding exactly what it means can be tricky. The Reading Food Labels poster developed by FSANZ clearly explains all the elements in a simple way.

Food must also comply with Country of Original labelling, which provides information on if the food was:

  • made in Australia – last major process was done here
  • grown in Australia – 100% of ingredients are grown here
  • a product of Australia – 100% of ingredients are grown here and all major processing was done here
  • packed in Australia – includes a bar chart to indicate percentage of Australian ingredients.

For more information see the ACCC guide to Country of Origin Food Labelling.