Queensland’s best tuckshop recipes revealed – and they’re packed with (hidden) veggies

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

A family favourite, packed full of hidden veggies, has been awarded the top prize in the Queensland Association of School Tuckshops (QAST) annual Tuckshop Recipe of the Year competition.

The panel of judges simply couldn’t look past Southport State School Tuckshop Convener, Angelique Scarpignato’s homemade Butter Chicken, awarding it the coveted title.

Since starting in the role of Tuckshop Convenor at Southport State School in mid-2022, Ms Scarpignato has fast become a pillar of the school community.

And the secret to her award-winning recipe?

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“One, it’s made with love. And two, we use a butter chicken paste, rather than a pre-made sauce… I wanted to make something that had lots of flavour and a bit of punch,” Ms Scarpignato said.

“Our aim is to make it as healthy as possible and to give the children as much nutrition as we can, so I add six to seven veggies in – hiding them in the butter chicken. I start cooking in the morning and people come up to the tuckshop and say it smells so lovely, and the kids walk past and say ‘oh, it’s butter chicken day – yay’.”

Delicious counts – but so does being nutritious

Competition for this year’s contest was extremely fierce, but QAST Senior Projects Manager, Deanne Wooden says Ms Scarpignato’s entry was a stand-out.

“Butter chicken is a firm favourite in many Australian households, with adults and kids alike, so it’s always going to be a popular item on tuckshop menus,” Ms Wooden said.

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“Angelique has taken her version of this classic to another level, packing it full of veggies, to ensure it is both delicious and nutritious.”

The competition, which is supported by Health and Wellbeing Queensland, is delivered by the QAST and attracts entrants from school tuckshops across Queensland.

Each of this year’s 31 entries showcased a high level of creativity and innovation, considered by an expert panel of judges from a range of backgrounds.

“We had a tuckshop convenor at a large high school, a dietitian from Health and Wellbeing Queensland, a representative from Catholic School Parents Queensland, two of our longstanding QAST Management Committee members, and importantly, two high school students,” Ms Wooden told EducationDaily.

Health and Wellbeing Queensland Chief Executive, Dr Robyn Littlewood, said she was, once again, impressed with the quality of entries and the range of healthy options tuckshops are offering students across Queensland.

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“We know tuckshops play an important role in providing nutritious, affordable and convenient food and drink options for Queensland families, and I congratulate this year’s winner,” Dr Littlewood said.

Australian children need more vegetables in their diet

In 2022, 68.8 per cent of Queensland children ate the recommended number of serves of fruit each day, but even less (2.8 per cent) ate the recommended daily serves of vegetables.

“We also know that, between 2013 and 2022, the number of children meeting the vegetable consumption guidelines decreased by 44.1 per cent,” says Ms Wooden.

Although she says here are different opinions on “whether it is a good idea to hide vegetables or keep them up front, so children can get used to the textures and flavours”, the QAST believes there is a place for both approaches.

“When it comes to the home environment, the most important strategy is to offer vegetables every day, with a good variety,” Ms Wooden told EducationDaily. “If the vegetables are not on the plate, there is no chance the child can get enough into their diet. The other critical strategy is for parents to role-model enjoying a variety of vegetables. People often say children ‘can’t be what they can’t see’ and this is no truer than when it comes to seeing the people they love more than anything in the world enjoying meals while making positive food choices.”

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With data showing 39 per cent of Queensland families use the school tuckshop at least once each week – and some much more frequently – Ms Wooden says it is “very important that tuckshop menus give children the opportunity to boost their vegetable intake”.

“QAST has been working with our members for many years to improve the quality, and variety of healthy options available. We have seen more innovative and creative meals being made on site by motivated convenors. This enhances both the nutritional quality of the menu, but also increases profitability so the tuckshop can remain viable over time,” she says.

Although she admits there is sometime “pushback from people who say that healthy options won’t sell”, Ms Wooden told EducationDaily that making improvements to the menu while communicating the changes – including the ‘why’ – to the school community, is the key to a successful tuckshop operation.

“More and more, this is what parents and the community are coming to expect.”

2023 finalists:

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live