Confusion around healthy school food guidelines prompts call for urgent review

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

Children buying lunch from school tuckshops in Queensland can still order sugary fizzy drinks and potato chips – prompting a call for an urgent review of the state’s nutrition policy.

Queensland Association of School Tuckshops (QAST) chief executive Deanne Wooden says the organisation is frustrated by what seems to be a lack of enforcement when it comes to healthy school food guidelines.

Ms Wooden points to the QAST’s latest audit of more than 250 state and independent schools – both primary and secondary – which revealed none of the tuckshop menus were fully compliant.

“QAST has been working with school tuckshops to achieve healthier menus for over 25 years,” Ms Wooden told EducationDaily.

- Advertisement -

“We are very aware of the many challenges they face, including lack of volunteers, time pressures, poor facilities, confusing nutrition information, and sometimes lack of demand for healthy options by students and parents. But we also know that implementation support and monitoring and reporting are key enablers to achieving a healthy food supply in any setting.”

Ms Wooden told EducationDaily that the Smart Choices policy has been in place in Queensland since 2007 – “and there have been many healthy changes in tuckshops since then”.

“But despite the mandatory nature of the policy, an audit we conducted on 274 randomly selected tuckshop menus from school across the state in 2022 showed that there is still more work to be done,” she says.

“All menus assessed had at least one RED item, and the average proportion of GREEN was 43 per cent – falling short of the required 50 per cent.”

- Advertisement -

Food and drink companies are bypassing the system

The state’s ‘traffic light system’ was last updated in 2020 and includes colour-coded food ratings, including ‘green’ for foods that should be encouraged, ‘amber’ for foods that should be limited and avoided in large servings, and ‘red’ for foods that should only be made available occasionally – only twice per term, at most.

But Ms Wooden says that, despite this directive, strategies by food and drink companies have been circumventing the Smart Choices policy for the past four years.

The issue is a particular problem in the state’s high schools, where Ms Wooden says tuckshop menus promote “loads of sugary drinks, soft drinks, and other mineral or carbonated drinks that are full of sugar”.

To adhere to the guidelines, she says, no carbonated drinks, aside from sparkling water, can be offered at school tuckshops.

Plenty of potato chips, as well as commercially made baked and sweet goods that fail to meet the Smart Choices criteria are also available in Queensland school tuckshops, Ms Wooden says.

- Advertisement -

Schools must make healthier choices

With no enforcement of the Smart Choices food guidelines, Ms Wooden says adhering to the healthy food directive is up to individual schools and principals.

“We know many schools across Queensland still have lots of red items on their menus,” she says.

But she was also careful not to point the finger at the many hardworking volunteers who donate their time to ensure school students can access tuckshop food.

“It is important to note that many tuckshops are doing a great job with healthy menus, despite the challenges, and QAST celebrates good practice when we see it,” she told EducationDaily.

“But there are many that need an extra push, and better monitoring of the policy might just be the thing that gets them across the healthy line.”

- Advertisement -
Share This Article
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]