Maryborough Education Centre
Maryborough Education Centre (MEC) is a Prep to Year 12 public school in Maryborough, Victoria.
Their successful two-year canteen transformation shows that making healthy changes doesn’t have to happen overnight.
How did they do it?
Forming a committee
In 2016, MEC formed a healthy eating committee that consisted of the principal, assistant principal, business manager, canteen manager and school nurse. This ensured they had school leadership’s commitment from the start to ensure that healthy eating was reinforced throughout the school.
Reviewing the canteen menu
One of the committee’s first decisions was to update the canteen menu to meet the Victorian Government’s School Canteen and Other School Food Services Policy. They also included this goal in the school’s healthy eating policy, to so that having a healthy menu was made a priority for the school.
A dietitian from the Central Goldfields Shire Council initially helped the committee to assess the menu using FoodChecker. It provided a report that colour-coded the foods and drinks as GREEN, AMBER and RED, and included suggestions of healthier alternatives.
Then the healthy eating committee and MECafé team worked with a dietitian from the Maryborough District Health Service to create their new, healthier canteen menu, with support from the Healthy Eating Advisory Service.
Engaging the whole school
The committee kept everyone in the school community in the loop about the upcoming changes to the menu. Gradually making changes over two years meant that students and parents had time to absorb the changes and helped to prevent backlash.
The committee also advertised upcoming changes on posters around the school and discussed them with the students well ahead of time. This meant students had a greater understanding of why the canteen menu was changing.
They also connected healthy eating content in the curriculum to the canteen so the students were being educated on the reasons why the canteen was no longer selling certain items.
Small changes, big results
The canteen menu initially included many numerous RED items, such as hot dogs, meat pies, sausage rolls, slushies, chips, icy poles, sports drinks, flavoured mineral water, and large milk drinks.
MEC decided to first phase out the RED drinks, then move onto improving the meals and snacks.
Some simple changes made to the menu included swapping full fat cheese (AMBER) for reduced fat (GREEN), reducing some drink sizes (AMBER to GREEN), and swapping salty chips (RED) for low salt popcorn (GREEN/AMBER).
Meals were improved by replacing white bread and rolls with multigrain or wholemeal options and by including more vegetables. They also removed large pies and sausage rolls, and added sushi and salads to the menu.
MEC also found ways to cut costs whilst incorporating more vegetables into dishes, such as freezing fresh tomatoes and carrot ends to use in tomato-based pasta sauce, and using more fresh produce over pre-made items like hot dogs, sausages, pies and pastries.
Making healthy options sell
Many freshly made menu items are displayed in an appealing and eye-catching way for the students in a new large display fridge.
And the printed menu now groups GREEN items together, and places them above the AMBER options. MEC’s online ordering tool, QKR, uses the traffic light colours for parents to easily identify the healthier options.
And by having more freshly made foods on site, their profit margins are better now than when they were selling pre-made, processed foods.
The key to success
“I think the key to all the changes we made was to educate the students why we were making the food changes in our canteen and to take your time making the changes. We introduced our changes gradually over two years so that the students and parents had a chance to absorb the healthy eating changes that we wanted to make.”
Lynda McLean, Canteen Manager
MEC says using the Healthy Eating Advisory Service was essential to their successful transition to a healthier menu. They attended training, used the Infoline for support, and assessed their menu online using FoodChecker, as well as assessing recipes to make small changes and find healthier options. It also helped them to work with food and drink suppliers to source healthier alternative products.
Want to make healthier changes at your school canteen?