School canteens and tuck shops play key role in boosting kids’ healthy food intake

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
School canteen and tuck shops can help children boost their fruit, vegetable and milk intake.
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The latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) have revealed a concerning decline in fruit, vegetable, and milk apparent consumption among Australians.

In response, the Queensland Association of School Tuckshops (QAST), in collaboration with the Federation of Canteens in Schools (FOCIS), has reaffirmed its position to work with government, state canteen associations and stakeholders across the country to empower school communities to make decisions that result in healthy food services.

The new report issued by the ABS paints a sobering picture, indicating a noticeable reduction in the purchasing of essential food groups, particularly fruits, vegetables, and milk, from Australian supermarket outlets.

This decline is another sign of a shift towards less nutritious dietary choices, which can have profound implications on public health and well-being, says Deanne Wooden, QAST CEO.

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“It’s crucial we work with canteen networks and associations across Australia, as these important organisations are the cornerstone of school nutrition initiatives essential to the physical and cognitive development of children and adolescents,” Ms Wooden says.

“Queensland’s youth are facing challenges when it comes to maintaining a balanced diet.

“As we witness a decline in the consumption of fruits and vegetables and an increase in unhealthy packaged snack foods”, she says it becomes increasingly evident “that the role of school tuckshops in providing healthy food choices for children has never been more crucial”.

By offering a diverse range of nutritious options, school tuckshops serve as vital hubs for instilling lifelong habits of healthy eating and nourishment for young children

QAST CEO Deanne Wooden

Finding interesting ways to serve healthy choices

Most packed lunches will contain fruit, Ms Wooden told EducationDaily, “so there is no reason why it can’t be the preferred snack option on tuckshop menus”.

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“Kids love the sweet and juicy nature of fruit, whether it is served as whole pieces, a fun apple slinky, a cool watermelon slice, or frozen ‘hula hoop’ pineapple rings.”

Milk, including flavoured milk, Ms Wooden says, is a good source of calcium, protein, iodine, vitamin A, vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B12 and zinc.

“Whilst there is some added sugar in flavoured milk, around half of the sugar occurs naturally as lactose,” she told EducationDaily.

“To help children meet their dairy requirements, small servings of flavoured milk can be included occasionally on healthy tuckshop menus.”

Nutrition education starts at home

Although Ms Wooden knows the significant roles school tuck shops and canteens can play in helping children access nutritious food, she says “a consistent approach to healthy food across the whole school is most effective in nourishing children, whilst boosting academic outcomes”.

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“Healthy lunchbox messaging without stigmatising or judging parents, integration of nutrition concepts into a variety of curriculum areas, and junk food-free school events all combine to create a supportive environment for children to succeed,” she told EducationDaily.

FOCIS will foster a unified approach

In response to the ABS findings, the FOCIS has called for renewed focus and investment in additional support for canteen associations and school-based nutrition initiatives and is committed to:

  • Holding regular National School Food Network meetings to discuss current trends, pool resources, share insights, and collectively address challenges associated with promoting healthy eating in schools.
  • Advocating for Systemic Change: Working with canteen associations and networks FOCIS will continue to advocate for policy reforms at both state and federal levels, urging the implementation of measures that prioritise and support the well-being of school children. FOCIS recently provided a submission to the Australian Government consultation on limiting unhealthy food marketing to children.
  • Efficient Resource Allocation: FOCIS and its members create and share digital content and online training resources to allow for more efficient allocation of resources, enabling joint initiatives, educational campaigns, and the development of educational modules aimed at empowering schools to implement and sustain healthy eating practices.

“Through collaborative efforts with school canteen associations and networks, communities, and government agencies, we are dedicated to supporting innovative strategies that promote the consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables, and dairy products among students,” says Leanne Elliston, Chairperson of FOCIS.

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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]