The latest assessment of ACT public school canteen foods shows the menu is the healthiest it has ever been with unhealthy options decreasing by nearly 20 per cent in the past two years.
The assessment by Nutrition Australia ACT showed an encouraging increase of “green” options on the menus and a decrease of “red” foods, with more than 50 per cent of the food and drinks served in canteens being deemed healthy, up from 32 per cent in 2015-2016.
Green foods are the most nutritionally whole foods and include fresh fruit and vegetables, bread, rice and lean meat, while red foods are the least healthy options, which contain excessive energy, saturated fats and salt. These include traditional canteen fares such as lollies, hot chips and sausage rolls.
Nutrition Australia ACT has been reviewing Canberra’s public school canteen menus for the past seven years, on behalf of ACT Health, with the goal of expanding the quality of food found on lunch menus.
Nutrition Australia ACT program manager Leanne Elliston said the shift to healthy foods across the past seven years had been hard work but was delighted with the recent results across the 76 public schools audited.
“In the seven years we’ve seen some major improvements in the canteens but that alone isn’t going to reduce the risk of childhood obesity,” she said. “Health is a multifactorial problem but healthy foods at canteens can play a major role in improving kids’ health.”
Minister for Education Yvette Berry and Minister for Health Meegan Fitzharris congratulated ACT school canteens for their achievement.
“It’s really great to see so many schools taking action and making sure their canteens are offering healthy, fresh food to students so they can eat well and get the nutrition they need to learn and play,” Ms Berry said.
“Through the promotion of healthy choices, ACT school canteens are contributing to and driving positive lifestyle habits for Canberra’s children and helping to make sure all children have access to fresh, healthy food.
“The proof really is in the pudding, with the ACT public school menu assessment by the ACT Nutrition Support Service finding that since 2015 there has been a substantial improvement to the food environment across ACT public schools.”
Ms Fitzharris said that with children consuming 32 per cent of their total energy needs during school hours, the food and drink choices available at school, including in the canteen, are an important influence on the development of children’s attitudes, behaviours and habits towards food.
“A wide range of ACT Government and community initiatives are helping to support schools to create healthy food environments such as the ACT Government Fresh Tastes initiative which has 93 primary schools participating,” she said.
“Fresh Tastes has been integral to helping schools achieve fundamental shifts to their whole school food and drink environment over the past few years, and create stronger links with canteens and better health and education outcomes for students.”