The health of food in school canteen Essay

Summary and Recommendations

This study was concerned with assessmg whether the Star Canteen

Accreditation Program (STARCAP) better met the National Health and Medical

Research Council's (1991) Recommended Dietary Intakes and the Goals and

Targets for Australia's Health in the Year 2000 and Beyond (1993) compared

to REGULAR canteens. Results conclude that the food choices made by

students from REGULAR canteens contributed more to protein, (for which

REGULAR Male students exceeded one-third of the RDI) and fat, (for which

REGULAR Female students approached the

patterns, with sausage rolls, potato wedges, ice confections and flavoured milk

beverages being popular choices.

The recommendations in this section are presented to address nutrient concerns

that are relevant to the students in this study.

Reduce Fat Intake to Less Than 30% of Total Energy Intake

There are a number of changes that school canteens could implement to meet

this recommendation, the simplest being the replacement of high fat foods that

are presently offered for sale with organoleptically attractive lower fat foods.

However, care needs to be taken so that organoleptic acceptance is not

compromised as taste has been identified as an important determining factor in

food choice behaviour (Huon, Wardle & Szabo, 1999; Neumark-Sztainer",

Story, Perry & Casey, 1999). There have been attempts by school canteens to

replace popular, high fat food items with lower fat varieties, most notably

'Munja' meat pies. According to canteen management opinion, students did

not like the taste of this food item and consequently it was removed from the

canteen menu. Despite entrenched taste preferences for less than healthy

items, the sale of high fat foods (including chocolate-based confectionery, high

fat cake and pastry items and 'meal deals') could be restricted to special

occasions on the school calendar to reinforce dietary recommendations that

these foods as suitable for occasional consumption only. By providing a more


positive food environment, students may be encouraged towards healthier

selections (Nestle et al., 1998).

Reduce Saturated Fat Intake to Less Than 10% of Total Energy Intake

One main contributor to the intake of this nutrient, particularly for STARCAP

students, was the consumption of whole-milk flavoured beverages

(Supershakes ). The removal of this item from canteen menus would be one

simple way to reduce saturated fat intake. Milk is, however, an important

contributor to a number of nutrients. Therefore, it is recommended that wholemilk beverages be replaced with reduced or low-fat milk beverages. Although

reduced and low-fat milks would not be appropriate for young children, for

adolescents who consume milk as a recreational item, reduced and low-fat

varieties would be beneficial in maintaining the intake of nutrients provided by

this food.

Increase Folate Intake to One-Third ofthe 200ug RDI

Folate occurs in a wide variety of foods, particularly green leafy vegetables",

fortified breakfast cereals, citrus fruits and nuts. Canteen menus which include

a variety of folate-rich foods would be an effective way to help students to

obtain a higher intake of this nutrient, particularly in light of the limited

canteen food consumption patterns exhibited by the students in this study.


Canteens could encourage students to eat a wider variety of folate-rich foods

by including them in the preparation of food items. For example, carbohydrate

rich products can incorporate fortified cereals and nuts; salad rolls, sandwiches

and burgers can be served with dark green lettuce varieties such as rocket and


Increase Fibre Intake

A number of items offered by school canteens, such as sandwiches and rolls

pasta-based dishes, soups and salads are good sources of dietary fibre. Whilst

they were not popular choices with the students in this study, there may be

factors that make these choices unappealing in terms of perceived

'convenience'. Therefore, for meals that require seating, canteens could play a

role to ensure these amenities are provided to students. Canteens could also

present these foods as practically as possible for students to consume 'on the

run'. For example, some fruits and vegetables could be peeled, cut and

prepacked for sale. Although cutting and peeling reduces the dietary fibre (and

vitamin) content to some extent, food preparation techniques such as soaking in

minimal water and preparing these items close to serving time can aid in

nutrient retention. Ultimately, to increase the fibre intake of students, the

inclusion of fibre-rich foods such as cereals, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts",

seeds, breads and baked goods produced with wholemeal, mixed grain",

wheatmeal and bran could help students to obtain the health-related benefits

that.fiqre offers.


Increase Calcium Intake

For REGULAR students who had access to soft drinks in this study, it appears

that these items displaced flavoured milk beverages and were accountable for

lower calcium intakes compared to STARCAP students. Because soft drinks are

nutrient-poor, it may be better if they were not offered for sale by school

canteens. Similarly, while ice confection items contributed to students'

calcium intake, these items also contributed to fat and refined sugar intake. A

more nutritious option would be frozen yoghurt because of its lower fat and

higher calcium content compared to ice cream. Cheese is also an excellent

source of calcium and therefore it is recommended that food items which

include fresh, reduced or low-fat cheese be considered for inclusion on canteen

menus. Examples are numerous and include pasta and vegetable-based dishes

such as ricotta macaroni, tomato and cottage cheese cannelloni, feta and

zucchini moussaka and baked stuffed potatoes. Similarly, a variety of breadbased dishes which feature low-fat cheese as an ingredient include suggestions

such as ham and pineapple pizzettas, focaccia melts, and open and club


Increase Iron Intake

To address the low iron intakes demonstrated by the students in this study, the

promotion of good food sources of iron such as lean meat and lean chicken",

fish~ eggs, fortified breakfast cereal, legumes and dried fruit is of paramotmt


priority. Accordingly, canteens could offer a range of food items that may

assist students to obtain adequate amounts of this nutrient such as steak

sandwiches and burgers with salad-based fillings served on a variety of breads",

packaged dried fruits and nuts, frittatas, chicken drumsticks, sweet 'n sour pork

spare ribs, shaved beef open sandwiches, kebabs, chicken Hawaiian pita rolls",

lean beef and lean chicken stir-fry and noodles, and meat-based dishes such as

satay, tandoori, moussaka, cannelloni, bolognaise, ravioli and lasagne.


Australia's 7000 school canteens "feed over one million students [and]

... collectively, this comprises Australia's largest take-away food outlet"

(Nutrition Australia, 2000). Due to societal changes, school canteens are

increasingly being relied upon as a main supplier of food for school-aged

children; for the students in this study, 75% of foods consumed at school were

sourced from the school canteen. Given this, it is fundamentally important that

school canteens implement dietary intervention strategies that provide students

with nutritious food which, in tum, will enhance general well- being and assist

in the prevention of diet-related diseases. Due to their location within

educational sites, school canteens have an obligation to reinforce health-related

education programs taught in schools and the wider community if they are to

play a positive role in influencing the health status of students.

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