Step 3: Freshly prepared food check

Step 3 of the 10 Steps to a Healthy School Canteen program looks at:

  • freshly prepared food
  • how to measure portion sizes
  • some food safety tips and tricks.

Canteen staff preparing fresh food

Part 1: Freshly prepared food and portion sizes

Preparing meals and drinks from scratch in the school canteen means you can control which ingredients are included, what size portions are sold and how much variety is on the menu.

Choosing the content of meals

You can choose fresh, seasonal produce and save money by shopping for what's on special and in abundance. This is also a good way to support your local grocers and butchers.

Choosing the portions

You can serve prepared foods and drinks in portion sizes that meet the criteria. Making and portioning items in the canteen avoids exceeding maximum portion sizes, maintains consistency and avoids food being wasted.

Choosing a varied menu

Having freshly prepared on site (canteen-made) items allows for variation on the menu. You can create new products, provide seasonal items and use up leftover ingredients. This can also be a great learning tool that can help the students to link fruits and vegetables to seasons.

You can determine whether a freshly made item is Everyday or Occasional and if there is a maximum portion size for that item by using the Menu Ready Reckoner and the Essentials Shopping list.

Using the Menu Ready Reckoner for fresh foods

The Menu Ready Reckoner helps improve your healthy school canteen by providing suggestions of Everyday food, meals, snacks and drinks to fill your menu. It also has examples of Occasional products that you should limit or, in the case of sugary drinks, not provide.

Items are listed by menu section (cold food, hot food, snacks, drinks and breakfast) and you'll find information about how to select the appropriate item in each food group for both packaged and freshly prepared food. You will also find the required portion sizes for primary and secondary students.

Use the ‘freshly prepared on site’ section for canteen made items.

Using the Essentials shopping list

In addition to stocking your fridges and pantry with Everyday food such as vegetables, legumes, fruit, bread, pasta, rice, lean meats, fish, chicken and dairy food, you can use the pantry and fridge items in the Essentials Shopping list. Items are listed as Buy and Avoid. Use the Buy items in your preparation and cooking to make Everyday and Occasional meals and snacks in your school canteen.

Understanding and measuring portion sizes

The following foods and drinks have maximum portion sizes:

  • all Occasional items
  • hot foods (except for Everyday toasties, open melts and soup)
  • juices
  • flavoured milks and milkshakes/ smoothies

The portion sizes are listed in the Menu Ready Reckoner. You can usually find portion size on the packaging. If not, ask your supplier for the information. For freshly prepared on site items, compare to a typical object like a tennis ball or check the cake tin size and number of serves you get from one tin.

For a guide to measure portions without weighing them, see this table (External link).

Staff holding a platter of food

Part 2: Food safety

Food safety is vital because children are more vulnerable to food-borne illnesses than most adults. Food safety in a canteen is particularly important as it applies to:

  • high-risk foods
  • chopping boards
  • defrosting
  • refrigerating
  • cooking
  • reheating.

High risk foods

Extra care is needed when handling, storing and preparing these foods, as they are more likely to cause food poisoning and are therefore seen as 'high risk':

  • raw or cooked meat
  • raw eggs
  • dairy products
  • seafood
  • ready-packed salads and pre-cut fruit
  • cooked pasta and rice
  • any ready-to-eat foods containing the above ingredients

Chopping boards

Use different coloured chopping boards for different foods, especially raw and cooked foods, as it helps prevent cross-contamination of bacteria.

Defrosting food

  • Defrosting is critical, because bacterial overgrowth can occur if this is not done properly.
  • Two common mistakes are defrosting food using hot water or leaving it sitting on a counter to defrost.
  • The safest way to defrost meat is in the refrigerator. Depending on the weight of the meat, this can take at least a day, so you will need to plan ahead.


  • To avoid contamination, items should be stored in the following order from the top to the bottom of the fridge:
  1. ready to eat foods
  2. vegetables
  3. well wrapped raw meats.

Cooking and reheating

  • Temperatures are important when it comes to cooking and reheating food.
  • Heat high-risk foods to at least 75°C while other foods can be heated to 60°C. After foods have reached these temperatures, they need to be kept out of the Temperature Danger Zone, which is between 5°C and 60°C.
  • This temperature range is considered dangerous because it creates perfect conditions for bacteria in food to multiply and become harmful.
  • This means hot foods must always be kept above 60°C.
  • All temperatures should be logged and recorded on a chart and kept on file.

Five food safety tips

1. Use gloves to avoid cross-contamination

  • Change gloves after each task – especially when going from raw to cooked foods.

2. Colour code the chopping boards

  • Use plastic chopping boards as they are easier to keep clean and quicker to dry than wooden chopping boards.
    • Use red for raw meat
    • Use yellow for raw chicken
    • Use blue for raw seafood
    • Use brown for cooked meats
    • Use green for vegetables
  • Make sure everyone knows what colour to use for what foods.

3. Quick defrosting

  • If there hasn’t been the time to plan ahead, the microwave can be used to defrost.

4. Organising the fridge

  • Label each shelf so everyone knows where to place particular foods
  • Ensure all foods are labelled and dated in the fridge and food is rotated according to their dates
  • Most fridges have a fruit and vegetable crisper on the bottom shelf – in this case, raw meat placed above the crisper must be stored in containers to collect any drippings
  • Each day, check that the temperature of the fridge is below 5°C to keep bacteria from growing

5. Check the temperature

  • Heat up food quickly so it doesn’t stay in the danger zone.
  • Slow heating allows time for bacteria to multiply.
  • Before serving food, place a thermometer in the core (the very centre) of the food to check that it has been heated up to a safe temperature.

If you have any questions after completing this step, contact the Healthy Kids Support line on (02) 9876 1300 or 1300 724 850 if you are calling from outside of Sydney.


Activity 1: Understanding and measuring portion sizes

  1. Highlight the food and drink items on your menu that have maximum portion sizes.
  2. Now check those highlighted items against the maximum portion size in the Menu Ready Reckoner to find out if you need to make any changes.

Activity 2: Food handling

Think about your staff and volunteer training needs.  Do they need training in food safety or food handling to make sure everyone in the canteen is following the requirements?

Handy links

Return to top of page