Australian schools are getting more and more conscious about food policies, both to cater for children with allergies and to teach students about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Here we describe some of the most common policies seen in schools and outline how food and nutrition education is being integrated into the school curriculum.
Gone are the days when canteens only sold fast food like dim sims or hot chips. Today, students can choose from a much wider and healthier selection of foods.You can expect your child to see fresh fruit, healthy wraps and even sushi at some schools. While most schools offer a range of healthy alternatives in addition to fast food, others restrict unhealthy foods to special event days (running a sausage sizzle at the swimming carnival, for example). State governments encourage schools to follow a traffic light system that promotes ‘green’ foods and recommends that ‘amber’ and ‘red’ foods are restricted. ‘Green’ options may include vegetables and healthy sandwiches; ‘amber’ foods include fruit juice and flavoured milk; while ‘red’ foods include chocolate bars, soft drink and some hot foods. Visit the government websites listed below for details.
Banning nuts and nut-based foods is becoming more common in schools due to the risk posed to children with nut allergies. Schools may implement a complete ban or opt for an allergy awareness policy, which encourages students, staff and parents to be mindful of the risks, rather than banning nut products altogether. Parents, for instance, may be encouraged to teach their child about their allergy and help them understand which foods they can’t eat and why. Because children may share food with classmates or even swap lunches, the latter can be difficult to enforce. If your child has severe allergies, make sure the school knows so it can put in place an Anaphylaxis Management Plan for your child. If your child has a severe allergy and uses an epinephrine injector (such as an ‘EpiPen’), it’s important that they, and staff, know how it’s used.
The nude food movement has been spreading over the last few years. The general rule is that food sent to school with your child is not wrapped in disposable packaging. Instead, parents are encouraged to take a more sustainable approach and use recyclable packaging options such as a small reusable tub for fresh fruit pieces or a ‘sandwich case’ rather than using a zip-lock bag or plastic wrap. This helps to eliminate packaged and highly processed foods such as chips and soft drink from children’s diets, and also encourages environmental awareness. Some schools enforce a nude food policy all year round, while many others participate in Nude Food Day, which runs during National Nutrition Week each year (13–19 October in 2013).
Development and implementation of the Australian Curriculum is continuing in 2013, with the Foundation to Year 10 Health and Physical Education (HPE) curriculum expected to be taught in schools from the 2014 school year. It is proposed that the curriculum will have two strands: personal, social and community health, and movement and physical activity. Food and nutrition education will play a large part, aiming to teach students about the origin of different foods, what types of foods are nutritionally sound and how they can make healthy choices.
Contact your child’s school for information about its food and allergy policies. For a broad overview of the canteen and healthy eating policies encouraged within your state or territory, refer to the government resources below.