Step 5: Maximising your menu and your stock

Fruit platter

In Step 5 of your journey to creating a successful, healthy canteen we look at what makes a successful menu and how to minimise waste in the canteen by looking at what food items can do double or triple duty on the menu!

The role of the menu

The menu is an effective marketing tool which can direct students towards choosing the healthier Everyday items over Occasional items.

There is a science to creating a menu which many restaurants to influence customers - mainly because it helps maximise profits.

The principles of menu science can be applied to canteens even when profitability isn't the only goal. Here are some great tips to help you use the different elements involved in creating a menu to your advantage. You’ll never look at a restaurant menu the same way again!


Pricing To customers, price indicates the level of quality and can influence their choices. Instead of using whole, round numbers like $7.00, use $6.95, or $6.90. This makes it seem like the person is getting a good deal as the see it as $6 rather than $7. This may be more relevant in Secondary Schools, but can still be used in Primary schools where parents view the menu.
Naming menu items The name of a food or drink generates attraction for your Everyday menu items and can increase sales. Create fun names for your items such as Kickin’ Chicken Skewers, Thor’s Celery Sticks, and Super Spaghetti. Involve the students at the school by holding a naming competition for some of your menu items. Even “Fruit of the day” can help to get the kids choosing fruit.
Colours Colours can affect what we order by invoking feelings/an emotional response or stimulating appetite. Green says freshness and yellow draws in the attention of the reader.
Pictures and logos Pictures and logos can also draw attention to menu items. Mark your Everyday foods with a dot, in bold or a brighter coloured font to encourage students to choose them.
Photos of foods also encourage students to choose those pictured, so try adding pictures of yourEveryday meals.
Location and order of appearance Where items are placed on the menu can influence how much attention they get. List Everyday foods with the highest margin in the prime position – the middle of the menu with a blank space around them.
The next best position to place Everyday items is the top right, followed by the top left corner of the menu. People also tend to pick the first two or the last items from each menu section.
Number of choices It may sound like a great idea to give plenty of options however, more options may make it difficult for people to make a decision. 5 to 7 options per section is a good number to stick with.

Hot tip: Be selective about what’s on the menu and use sales data to inform your decisions when you want to change the menu.

Minimising food waste

Here are some ways to minimise wastage when using fresh ingredients.

Freeze leftover bread ⇒ Turn it into breadcrumbs or croutons.
Use leftover vegetables ⇒ Add them into a tomato sauce for pizza or pasta.
Store fruit and vegetables well
⇒ Keep them in airtight containers to keep them crisp for longer.
Don’t prep too much ⇒ Only prepare the amount of fresh ingredients you need. They will last longer in the fridge if they are kept whole.
Shop smart ⇒ Buy versatile ingredients that can be used in several dishes.

Plan ahead, waste less

Plan weekly specials ⇒ This lets you know what to order.
  ⇒ Include an Everyday special for the last day of the week so it uses up leftovers.
Write daily prep lists ⇒ Having a daily preparation list for each staff member will reduce over preparing.
Portion up items before you freeze them ⇒ Freezing in small amounts or portion sizes will save having to throw it all out if you do not use it.

Track food wastage

You can even design a simple a wastage sheet including columns for the date, item and cost to track your actual wastage and identify where you can make changes.

Costing each item means you can work out how much each wasted item costs.

Tracking your food wastage each week or month will encourage you to build on your success.

Freezing food

Freezing food can help you keep your food costs down and reduce wastage. Many people don’t realise what can be frozen. Some of the foods you might not have thought about freezing include:

  • Chopped herbs/shallots — freeze leftovers in ice cube trays so they can be added to cooked dishes.
  • Cheese — can be frozen grated or sliced.
  • Tomato paste — most canteens never use a full jar before the use by date, so pop it in the freezer in ice cube trays .
  • Eggs — when they are reaching the use-by date, break eggs open into ice cube trays and defrost them in the fridge (for food safety reasons) when you need them. You can freeze the whites and yolks separately for use in particular recipes.
  • Cooked rice — use leftovers for other hot dishes such as fried rice.

Some more popular items to freeze include:

  • Oranges — cut them into segments and store in an airtight container then sell them as a cool treat.
  • Banana — peeled bananas can be frozen whole or cut into bite sized pieces. Sell as a frozen treat or use in banana ‘ice cream’ or smoothies.
  • Yoghurt — freeze yoghurt that is leftover or nearing its use by date. Insert a paddle pop stick so frozen pieces can be sold as a treat or blended into smoothies.
  • Milk — freeze leftover milk before its use-by date. Use plain frozen milk in smoothies or when cooking. Flavoured milk can be sold as a frozen snack.
  • Fruit juices — make your own 99% fruit juice ice blocks by freezing 99% fruit juice.
  • Bread — excess bread can be frozen and toasted at breakfast time or used as pizza bases.
  • Vegetables — blanch vegetables before freezing. Do this by plunging them quickly in boiling water. Then put them in ice water to stop the cooking process. This helps the vegetables keep their colour, flavour and texture.

Make the most of non-perishable pantry items and frozen foods

Some items in your pantry or freezer can be stored for longer periods of time are staples and you can use them in a number of different ways. As they are easy to store and deteriorate less quickly, these items will lead to less wastage. Here are some suggestions to transform these handy foods into tasty meals.

In the pantry

  • Tinned tomatoes — use in bolognese sauce and other pasta dishes, pizza bases, soups, curries and chilli con carne.
  • Pasta — use in pasta dishes, pasta bakes, soups and salads.
  • Dried herbs — use when cooking hot dishes.
  • Rice — use cooked rice with hot dishes, salads, fried rice, risotto, burritos, baked rice dishes and added to meatball mixes.
  • Canned chickpeas — use in salads, hummus, soups, curries or roasted as a snack
  • Canned beans — use in burritos, chilli con carne, bean salads, winter stews and curries.

From the freezer

  • Diced fruit/berries — use in muffins, smoothies and yoghurt.
  • Vegetables — use in hot dishes like fried rice, stir-fry, pizza, soup, curries and as a snack of veggie sticks.
  • Meat and poultry — use in hot dishes like pastas, stir-fry, burritos and curries.
  • Bread (sliced and flat bread) — use in burritos, melts and quesadillas.
  • Cheese — use in pasta, sandwiches and pizzas.

Bringing your staff on the journey

While on the journey to become a healthy school canteen, ensure your canteen staff understand the processes and procedures the 10 Steps program identifies. Sharing the knowledge will be essential to the successful operation of your new Healthy School Canteen.

Share the 10 Step program with them all.

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: Prioritise Everyday items on the menu

Look at your menu; think about how you could change the look and order of the items to get students to choose Everyday options.

Consider the names and prices of menu items, as well as where they are placed on the menu and how appealing the menu itself is, in terms of the colour scheme, font and photographs/graphics it features.

Activity 2: Reducing Waste

a) Using the tips in this step to guide you, write down three things you can start doing now. Share your ideas here in our forum!

b) Create a simple wastage sheet (either on your computer or by hand). Make sure it includes columns for date, menu or food item name and cost. Put it up somewhere prominent in the canteen and use it to assess and track your waste reduction strategies.

There's many ways to reduce food waste. To develop a thorough plan for your canteen, visit the Love Food Hate Waste website produced by the NSW EPA.

Activity 3: Freezing food

Make a list of all the food items in your canteen that could be frozen.

Activity 4: Useful pantry items

List four long shelf life ingredients (either Everyday or the Essentials Shopping List) you have in your canteen that you can use for multiple dishes

Activity 5: Bringing your staff on the journey

Identify staff training needs including operations and processes and totalling stock

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