Healthy hub grows from school garden

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THE days of serving deep-fried rolls, chips and pies at school canteens will soon be over if the students at North Ainslie Primary School have anything to do with it.

The school has just launched its own healthy eating hub, swapping salty, sugary treats with snacks such as homemade soup, zucchini fritters and vegetable cups, all made using fresh ingredients from the school’s garden.

Students from year 5 and 6 help to run the hub, voluntarily spending their recess and lunchtimes chopping, peeling and helping to prepare food for lunch orders once a week on a rostered basis.

Principal Louise Owens says the school’s P&C group decided to open a revamped, healthy canteen after the original canteen closed down.

“The co-ordinator of our old canteen left, and so for about 18 months we didn’t actually have a food service,” Louise says.

“We thought it would be great to get the students involved in the next one as well as a few parents, and to have entirely healthy, freshly made food.

“We applied for a grant through the [ACT] government and received some funding through their Health Promotion Grants Program.

“When the new canteen opened, we were all so surprised – there was a massive queue of people eagerly waiting.”

The healthy eating hub’s introduction is a timely one: research by Monash University in March showed ACT school canteens were the unhealthiest in the country.

Louise says she hopes her school will kick-start a “health trend” across the capital.

“I always say ‘from little things, big things grow,’” she says.

“We hope other schools follow suit because it’s not just delivering food to students, but introducing healthy eating habits in the family.”

The hub is open once a week, taking lunch orders only to avoid “huge lines”, but the school hopes to increase its opening times next year.

Year 5 student and hub volunteer Adrian Roodt says he prefers the healthy eating hub to the old canteen “because it’s cheaper”.

“One serving of anything is 50c but at the old one, we were paying $3 to $5, so you don’t need much money now to eat,” he says.

“I also fill up much quicker on the healthier foods compared to the unhealthy foods we were having at our old canteen.”

Favourites on the menu so far are homemade vegetable pizzas, real-fruit ice creams and tomato soup. Free plates of vegetables are also prepared by students each day for every class to share.

“We really didn’t want to put a high price on healthy food,” says Louise.

“We use whatever is available in the garden so the menu is quite varied, and students can really have a say in what they want made.”

And it’s not just the students who benefit from healthier lunches – teachers are reaping the rewards, too.

“Teachers have thanked us saying students are so much more settled when they come back from lunch now, compared to when they were eating food with a high sugar intake,” Louise says.

“The feedback from parents has also been extremely positive, we have so many people just thanking us for opening it.

“It’s just been a great experience for the students who work there, as they’re managing the rosters and learning important work skills. The whole school is benefitting from this.”

Visit nthainslieps.act.edu.au/our_community/canteen for more on the healthy eating hub.

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