Students standing in front of the canteen
Students standing in front of the canteen

Manifold Heights Primary School

Getting started

Manifold Heights Primary School registered with the Achievement Program in June 2015 to improve the health of the school community. They chose to look at the significant amount of unhealthy food sold in the school’s canteen. The school has since successfully improved the canteen menu for its 400+ students to align with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s School Canteens and Other Food Services Policy.  

Using a whole school community approach, a health and wellbeing committee was established including parents and teachers. The committee felt it was the right time to make positive change with the introduction of a new canteen provider.

“I feel it is our responsibility to provide an environment where it is easy for kids to choose food that is good for them.”
- Sam, Canteen Manager

Improving the menu

The canteen manager and the health and wellbeing committee were determined to provide a healthier menu and environment for students and staff. The first steps taken were the removal of ice creams and deep fried foods from the canteen menu.

Local government and community health partners at Healthy Together Geelong assisted the canteen manager to submit the updated menu to Nutrition Australia’s Healthy Eating Advisory Service (HEAS) for further advice and improvements. The menu assessment report from HEAS supported the canteen manager to remove more RED category items and improve existing recipes.

The driving force for change was the canteen manager’s initiative and passion for healthier options. The result was a new and improved menu to be launched the following Term. In addition, new health promoting signage and a healthier look to the canteen menu (e.g. updating pictures on menu) were created.


Overcoming challenges

Getting the community on board

The ‘Skool Bag’ communication app was utilised to inform the school community of the new menu. This was in addition to canteen updates in the newsletter and discussions at school assemblies. This helped students, teachers and parents to see the changes as a positive step. The school community responded well and even had an influx of new students ordering from the canteen.

Having parents on the health and wellbeing committee helped involve and engage the school community. Grade 6 students were asked to taste test potential new canteen menu items with great results! Many couldn’t tell the difference between some hot food changes!

Sourcing healthier products

Healthy Together Geelong provided a list of products from local suppliers already assessed as either GREEN or AMBER in accordance with the School Canteens and Other Food Services Policy. This made it easier for the canteen manager to identify and order suitable products.

Making RED items healthier

Sam, the canteen manager found creative ways to replace RED items/ingredients with healthier alternatives:

  • The best selling hot dogs were renamed as ‘Hulk Dogs’ and given a healthy makeover by adding (reduced fat) cheese and blending spinach into the (salt reduced) tomato sauce.
  • Muffin recipes were improved by adding bran and replacing chocolate chips with homemade stewed fruit for added fibre
  • Ice creams were replaced with reduced fat vanilla ice cream with a sprinkle of Milo.
  • The pasta carbonara recipe was changed to be made from predominately veggies, such as cauliflower and mushrooms. Reduced fat cheese was also used!
  • Nachos were made with additional vegetables and used reduced fat cheese
  • AMBER sausage rolls/party pies were made available only on Fridays
  • Healthier pizzas were made in the canteen with the addition of more vegetables and use of wholemeal buns as the base
  • Chips were changed to healthier versions.
  • ‘Hulk’ sauce (tomato and spinach) was introduced.
  • More vegetable-based options were offered.

Other tips

  • Trial new products to gauge their popularity. At Manifold Heights, yoghurt and muesli moved from being a special ‘breakfast day’ food, to become a permanent menu item!
  • Research suppliers who provide products that fit the Green and Amber categories.
  • Monitor sales and feedback, and make changes as needed. Manifold Heights found sales dipped slightly to start with, however after they communicated the changes to the community it resulted in more students using the canteen.
  • Use fun and descriptive words on the menu to make new, healthier foods more appealing.


What made it work?

  • Having a driven, innovative, enthusiastic and passionate canteen manager aiming to provide a healthier environment for the children and the school community is an invaluable enabler for change.
  • An organised and dedicated Health and Wellbeing Committee who can effectively communicate with parents, school council, staff and the rest of the school community about the broader health agenda to build strong foundations for improvements in the canteen.
  • Collaborating with health promotion staff at Healthy Together Geelong, the Healthy Eating Advisory Service, parents and other experienced canteen managers with healthy menus. Also utilising the online resources available (i.e. Achievement Program framework, policy templates, recipes, posters) supported the canteen manager along the entire process to help make appropriate changes before assessment.
  • Cooking knowledge and facilities help to overcome gaps in product availability.


Q&A with Sam (Canteen Manager) and Rachelle (Parent Committee Member)

What has been the financial impact on your business of moving to a healthier menu?

Sam comments, “Our canteen closed for four months when our food service provider closed and we sourced a new one. Despite the removal of popular unhealthy items the students quickly supported the new menu. Sales are steady with the exception of fruit based muffins being less popular than the previous chocolate chip flavour. The canteen’s new menu is proving to be financially viable.”  

What has the response/feedback been?

Initially there were some issues with parents regarding menu changes. However Sam, the canteen manager, says that, “The kids seemed impressed by the new menu” and have been enjoying the new changes. They are often heard to say, ‘You don’t have a lolly, that’s so healthy!’

The new canteen menu options have brought in more students who are eager to taste the new varied homemade menu items!

What role has the health and wellbeing committee had in the menu changes and nutrition policy?

“This committee is the driving force behind health and wellbeing changes across the school, including policies, often consulting the school community to ensure their involvement,” says Rachelle. “The canteen menu is developed and finalised by the canteen manager, who is supported by this team.”

How has the Health and Wellbeing committee helped in improving your canteen menu?

“The committee has supported Sam to make changes to the canteen menu”, comments Rachelle. “They are developing a healthy school environment through a school nutrition policy, and participating in the Achievement Program.”

Any other tips for a healthy canteen?

Sam says, “Patience is required in implementing changes and using a whole-of-school approach! Everyone has a role to play.”

Printer-friendly version