School canteens play an important role in influencing healthy food and drink choices; not just through what’s on offer, but also how it’s promoted.
Making changes to your canteen can feel like risky business and can raise many questions… Will healthy products sell? What will the financial impact be? How will students accept the changes?
Here’s where to start:
When making changes to your canteen, it is easier to begin with one or two areas as a starting point. Small and gradual changes are more likely to be accepted by students and it also gives you an opportunity to evaluate the outcomes.
Throughout the process, remember to communicate with the school and wider community about changes to your canteen. Encourage support by highlighting the changes that will benefit students’ nutrition, health and wellbeing.
There are some simple tips to help transform your canteen and encourage students to make healthier food and drink choices…
Review your menu
Take a look at your menu and all the products on offer. Can some of the less healthy options be removed from the menu? Particularly if they don’t sell well. Or, can they be replaced with healthier alternatives? E.g. products lower in saturated fat, sugar and salt?
Don’t forget to consider portion size. Nowadays, the serving or portion size of some food and drinks can be much larger than necessary. Check to see whether products come in a smaller size. If you’re preparing food from scratch, can you cut or serve smaller pieces?
Be sure to give the healthier options on your menu exciting names that will appeal to students. Be creative: these could be linked with movies, countries, bands or sports. For example, ‘Olympian Omelette’ and ‘Tex Mex Pizza’.
When reviewing menu options, encourage students to get involved. Have you thought about running a taste testing day or naming competition with new menu items? This is a great way to gather feedback and acceptance from your important customers.
Look at the layout
Stand from where the students queue and take a good look at how your canteen is presented and organised. What are the first products or menu items in sight? What foods and drinks are displayed on the front counter? Is the menu clearly visible? Do the meal deals and healthy items stand out?
It’s best to have the healthiest choices on display at the front counter. This could include fresh fruit, whole grain rolls with lots of colourful fillings and plain popcorn or nuts.
The Heart Foundation supports schools to be water-only. Visit our website for more information about how your school can become water-only. Reshuffle your fridge and place plain water and low or reduced-fat milk at eye level so it is easily visible. You could also have some on display at the front counter.
Communicate and promote your healthy canteen
There are many marketing strategies you can use to promote healthier options. We all know about the importance of cost when making purchasing decisions, so remember to ensure your healthier choices are priced competitively. They could be sold as part of a meal deal or combo or they could feature as a ‘seasonal special’.
Be bold with your marketing and promotion to make use of what’s available; noticeboards, assemblies, newsletters, the school website or a Facebook page. Don’t forget to give your canteen a catchy name (why not ask the students to come up with some ideas?).
Create a welcoming environment
An important part of establishing healthy eating habits is by eating slowly and enjoying meals with others. Take a look at the space where students eat. Is it clean and tidy? Use furniture, decorations (especially for themed days), greenery and posters to create a welcoming environment. Posters about nutrition are a good way to help educate students about the importance of healthy food. These can be linked to relatable topics like sports or exams.
Be a good role model
Encourage all canteen and school staff to be good role models by making healthy food choices themselves. This will encourage healthy foods and drinks in the classrooms.
Sarah White works for the Heart Foundation as the Fuelled4life programme manager. She is a New Zealand registered dietitian and is passionate about food, cooking and enjoys helping others make healthier lifestyle choices.