Most of us have a vivid memory of tuckshops from our school days – the delicious aroma of hot food on cold days, the special treats we could share with our friends during break, and of course the warm and friendly convenor and volunteers behind the counter. As parents, perhaps it is a memory of volunteering at your local tuckshop as crowds of kids descended for their lunch orders!
In Queensland, most students need to provide their own food and drinks during the school day either by taking food in a lunchbox or purchasing food and drinks at the tuckshop. School tuckshops (known as canteens in other Australian states and territories) vary across Queensland. Some open only once a term while others provide a daily service, 5 days a week. Food and drinks on tuckshop menus also vary with school size, equipment available, storage, ordering system used (online or counter) and the number of volunteers assisting any paid staff.
Considering every Queensland school is different, due to geographical location and community characteristics such as socio economic and cultural backgrounds, it has never been more important for tuckshops to supply appropriate but healthy food and drinks to their unique student community.
Nowadays, food and drinks available outside school means children have access to a wide and diverse range of products, many being unhealthier options such as ultra-processed packaged snacks that may be high in kilojoules, sugar, fat and salt.
By only offering healthier food and drink options on tuckshop menus, ensures kids have a chance at better health, improved learning and behaviour outcomes in addition to optimising growth and development during the earlier stages of life. When kids have access to healthy food and drink options, this helps establish life-long habits and behaviours to support them through their future years.
Queensland Association of School Tuckshops (QAST) is an organisation dedicated to promoting and supporting Queensland tuckshops in their endeavours to offer nutritious, hygienic and economically viable food. Chris Ogden from QAST says “it’s inspiring to see convenors creating new exciting and most importantly, tasty dishes that reflect choices seen outside the school environment. Tuckshops are impressively able to deliver these healthy choices at low cost and often with limited equipment and time”.
One thing in common between all school tuckshops is the aim to nourish their students, so it is important that food and drink choices are nutritious and healthy to help kids learn well and concentrate in class. “It is so important for children to have exposure to see, taste and smell different foods during their early life. Tuckshops provide an ideal opportunity to serve and promote tasty and healthy choices, ensuring kids obtain optimal nutrition to help them learn, grow and develop into healthy adults” says Carly Booth from Nutrition Australia Queensland.
The Queensland Government’s Smart Choices – Healthy Food and Drink Supply Strategy for Queensland Schools (Smart Choices) supports schools and their tuckshops to achieve this. By following the recommendations, which are based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines, tuckshops know they are offering a range of great choices to students.
Smart Choices has provided guidance to Queensland schools on the type of food and drinks that can be sold in school tuckshops since 2007, using a traffic light system. This encourages healthier options to be available every day, with sometimes or unhealthier choices (e.g. red items) offered only twice a term.
“It is crucial that kids today are not subjected to consistent marketing and promotions of unhealthier food and drinks while they are at school. Let’s give these kids a break from all that and help guide their developing healthy habits by offering and providing only healthy options, as guided by Smart Choices, children can focus on learning in the classroom, building on their education and developing into healthy adults” says Dr Robyn Littlewood, CEO of Health and Wellbeing Queensland.
“By collaborating with non-government organisations such as QAST and Nutrition Australia Queensland, Health and Wellbeing Queensland are supporting Queensland students to be able to choose healthier food and drink options while at school. Through the hard-work and agility of school tuckshops, we can make healthy happen”.
For more ideas and tips on top tuckshop sellers or quick and easy healthy snack ideas, visit https://education.qld.gov.au/students/student-health-safety-wellbeing/student-health/smart-choices/fact-sheets
With thanks to Nutrition Australia Queensland and the Queensland Association of School Tuckshops for their assistance in preparing this article.