National News

Will the school canteen as we know it survive? ASCA’s Celebrate Canteen Week – May 24-28

ASCA is a not for profit member association of over 6000 schools Australia wide.

Each year ASCA helps schools and canteens save millions of dollars, and it also funds a wide range of charities that support the education of vulnerable children such as the Smith Family and Stewart House.

Each year ASCA runs “Celebrate Canteen Week” to recognise the work of volunteers and staff in school canteens. They do an important job but rarely get recognised. This year Celebrate Canteen Week is back from May 24 – 28.

It is also an important opportunity for school canteens to increase awareness in their school communities about what they offer. Often, they have themed days, or introduce new menus, or just do fun things with the students.

This year school canteens are recovering from a difficult year impacted heavily by Covid and temporary school closures.

There are increasing pressures on school canteens to remain profitable and viable, which leads us to ask the question, will the school canteen as we know it survive?  Among the 5000+ school canteens in Australia it would be rare to find one that is not facing increasing pressure due to working with thinner profits and the difficulty in offering healthier menu choices while competing with local food outlets. 

David Edwards, ASCA CEO, says, “ASCA believes that canteens can be both successful and healthy, as long as these objectives are kept in balance.”

Many school canteens have adapted well to the pressures they face, and not surprisingly they have recovered well from last year.

The recipe for successful school canteens includes a number of different components. Right at the top are the staff in the canteen who must be properly trained and understand the needs of the school community. Outsourcing the canteen can seem an irresistible temptation to principals who have the core job of addressing the learning needs of their students. However, outsourcing to a catering firm that does not understand the school community may be a recipe for disaster.

Equally important is a well-equipped school canteen. Unfortunately, state government healthy eating guidelines have not been accompanied by resources for school canteens to properly equip. Many still have little more than a pie warmer.

Well-staffed and well-equipped canteens were able to adapt last year to the challenges of Covid, catering for staff needs, providing take home meals for students who were still in the school, and many more innovations. Such canteens have also made a point of listening to parents and students, and providing them with the choices they want, while also increasing the health of the menu.

Finally, technology in the canteen is vital. Online ordering and cashless transactions have long been seen as important for improving productivity in the canteen. However, today’s Covid safe requirements include avoiding big queues, and handling of cash. Good systems also mean a well run canteen with less waste.

There is no question that more change will be necessary for school canteens to survive and prosper. However, ASCA is confident that schools that adopt best practise approaches to running their canteens will be successful. Celebrate Canteen Week is a time when schools should review whether their canteens are achieving all they want for their schools, and if not, then what should be done.