Goulburn Valley Grammar School

Taking small steps can add up to significant change. And that’s how Marlene Rutherford at Goulburn Valley Grammar School approached the transition to a healthier canteen menu.

As Canteen Manager at the independent secondary school, Marlene has a vision of providing food that’s nutritious and delicious for students.

GVGS canteen staff

With just five staff and the support of volunteers, the canteen serves more than 690 students each day. This means a very busy schedule, so Marlene was looking for quick and simple ways to improve the menu, without blowing the budget or losing sales.

They started with a free menu assessment from the Healthy Eating Advisory Service, which categorised all the available foods and drinks as Everyday, Select Carefully or Occasionally, and provided tailored advice for healthy changes the canteen could make in a step-by-step approach. The aim was to make Everyday foods dominate. The major recommendations were to start slowly removing the Occasionally items, and increasing the number of Everyday items on offer.

So far, Goulburn Valley Grammar School has made good progress and they’re committed to working towards meeting the School Canteens and Other School Food Services Policy.

Marlene says some of their major successes were making changes that the students didn’t even notice, like increasing the number of dishes made on site, including more veggies in their favourite foods, and no longer putting margarine and butter on rolls and sandwiches. These small changes instantly improved the nutritional value of many of the foods, and the students actually prefer it!

Vegetable-packed dishes made on site, such as pizza and bolognaise, are now more popular than the pre-made varieties. This is a great result for Marlene and the team, as making more meals on site gives them full control over the ingredients, the nutritional value and their budget.

The canteen also now promotes water consumption by lowering the price to make it the cheapest drink to buy, which has seen water sales increase as a result.

The feedback from students, staff and parents is very positive and encouraging. They’ve welcomed the changes and Marlene remains committed to applying the recommendations from the Healthy Eating Advisory Service menu assessment. Her vision is to have even more healthy, tasty dishes, helping to educate the students to make informed food and drink choices, even when they’re away from school.

Popular items at Goulburn Valley Grammar School

• sweet chilli chicken wraps
• canteen-made spaghetti bolognese
• salads
• yoghurt with berries
• fruit salad
• water and reduced fat flavoured milks


Q&A with Marlene Rutherford, Canteen Manager

What were some of the easier changes you made to have a healthier menu?

We started by reducing the size of our muffins made on site, removing butter from our rolls and sandwiches, and only stocking small sizes of drinks that are not water.

What small changes have made a big impact?

We now cook more of our own meals on site, instead of buying them in. And we add all types of veggies to our cooking, which the students don’t really notice, but they really enjoy them.

How do you get students involved with healthy food?

We encourage students to make healthy choices by giving them suggestions at the register. And we always praise them if they’ve made a healthy choice.

We also have a daily ‘special’ that keeps the students interested in new foods. The special is just something we decide to cook on the day which is not on the regular menu, such as chickpea curry and rice, roasted vegetable pasta or roasted vegetable risotto.

What challenges or barriers did you face during planning and implementation, and how did you overcome them?

We’ve experienced big challenges with having something quick and healthy to offer students after school for the bus ride home. We started providing fruit and veggie sticks, and we’re always looking for more ideas.

What are your best selling healthier foods?

Popular meals include sweet chilli chicken wrap, canteen-made spaghetti bolognese, salads, risotto, fried rice, chickpea curry, vegetable soup, pumpkin soup. Snacks would be carrot and celery sticks, light cream cheese and sweet chilli sauce, canteen-made mini muffins, yoghurt with berries, fruit and fruit salad. Reduced fat milk and water are the most popular drinks.

What are your top critical success factors for changing to a healthier canteen?

1. Removing all butter/margarine from rolls, wraps and sandwiches.
2. Cooking most of our own food on site.
3. Adding more vegetables in our cooking.
4. Switching to reduced-fat products, such as mayonnaise and cheese.

What are the top three things you have learned from this process?

1. To read ingredients labels.
2. That some things that appear healthy are not.
3. That we still have a way to go to make our menu as healthy as it can be. But we’re always working on it!

What advice would you give to other schools looking to implement the school canteens policy?

Just to take it slowly. Little changes make a big difference in time and they’re worth it.

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