Step 3: Balancing your menu

School canteens should provide mostly Everyday food and drinks that contain essential nutrients necessary for children’s health and wellbeing. Make Everyday food available and visible, price them favourably, advertise and promote them.

Occasional foods are mostly those high in saturated fat, sugar and/or salt, and often have little nutritional value. They should be limited on the menu, and not promoted in advertising, at point of sale or in meal deals.

A healthy canteen menu should contain at least ¾ Everyday items and no more than ¼ Occasional items.

How to achieve a healthy balance

Structure your menu to encourage children to eat a variety of nutritious food:

  1. Provide a variety of both cold and hot items.
  2. Provide a variety of both freshly prepared and packaged meals and snacks.

A step-by-step guide to balancing a healthy canteen

  1. List ALL items sold on the menu.
  2. List menu items in sections, for example:
    • breakfast
    • hot food
    • cold food
    • snacks
    • drinks
    • frozen
  3. Remove Sugary drinks from the canteen and the menu. These items should not be sold.
  4. Count the Everyday and Occasional items in each section.
  5. Balance the menu to ensure at least ¾ of the items are Everyday.
  6. You don't need to count food options that are only provided for children with special dietary needs, e.g. gluten-free options.

Canteen menu with a healthy balance

Everyday: Fill ¾ of menu

Table showing canteen menu with everyday foods
Breakfast Hot food Cold Food SnacksDrinks
Fruit and bran cereal Vegetable pasta Tuna salad sandwich Fruit salad Water
Scrambled egg roll Lean skinless chicken and rice Roast beef salad wrap Yoghurt 99% orange juice
Toast with thin spread and margarine (gluten free available) Lentil soup Bean salad Plain popcorn Plain milk

Occasional: no more than ¼ of menu

Table showing canteen menu with occasional foods
Breakfast Hot food Cold Food SnacksDrinks
Egg and bacon roll Chicken schnitzel roll Cheese and bacon roll Muesli bar Diet lemonade soft drink

Remember that all packaged Occasional food should be at least 3.5 stars or above.

What does ¼ of the menu mean?

Example 1

  • If you have 40 items in total, then at least 30 should be Everyday.

Example 2

  • If you have 9 types of drinks in your fridge, then at least 7 should be Everyday.

For tips on how to put more Everyday food on your menu see the Menu item ready reckoner.

For sample menus with ¾ Everyday and ¼ Occasional food items see the Sample menus.

Make sure Occasional food and drinks aren't in a prominent position in your school canteen – the overall impression should be mostly Everyday food. You can find more on Marketing a healthy canteen.

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