NSW Healthy School Canteen Strategy

The NSW Healthy School Canteen Strategy, based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines, outlines food and drinks permitted for sale through canteens in NSW government school canteens and vending machines. It also supports the Nutrition in Schools Policy, which identifies that any school program or activity relating to or involving food and drink should promote healthy eating and good nutrition for students.

The Food and Drink Criteria underpins the new strategy and guides school canteens to promote healthy food and drinks. 

The five main elements of the Food and Drink Criteria

These are the minimum activities schools are expected to meet to implement the Strategy successfully:

  1. Sugar-Sweetened drinks SHOULD NOT BE SOLD in the school canteen or in vending machines. This includes frozen varieties also.
  2. There are two categories of food and drinks: EVERYDAY and OCCASIONAL – Everyday food and drinks should make up a minimum of 75% of a canteen menu and Occasional food and drinks shouldn’t make up more than 25% of the menu.
  3. The Health Star Rating – All Occasional packaged foods and All Everyday cereal must have an HSR of 3.5 stars and above. For all other Everyday foods, there is no HSR needed.
  4. Portion size limits – There are portion limits for just a few categories of Everyday food and drinks and ALL Occasional food and drinks.
  5. Market and promote Everyday choices – The goal is to make healthier Everyday food and drinks stand out and sell well compared to Occasional food and drinks

Where to Start?

The best place to start is to check out the “Getting to Know the NSW Healthy School Canteen Strategy” webinar. This webinar covers the below six steps.

You can view the webinar and slides here.

In addition to watching the above webinar, read though the Strategy Food and Drink Criteria published by NSW Health. Here you’ll learn how to determine if food or drink is Everyday or Occasional to help you plan or review your menu.

There are six key steps that you need to take to ensure your menu meets the Strategy:

  1. Remove all sugar-sweetened drinks

This shouldn’t be much work as sugar-sweetened drinks have been banned in school canteens since 2007.

A sugar-sweetened drink is any drink that includes a form of sugar-based sweetener. These include regular sugar (sucrose), fructose, honey, fruit juice concentrates and syrups (rice malt, maple, agave).

  1. Classify foods and drinks as EVERYDAY or OCCASIONAL

Everyday foods are the foods on the plate of the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. They include foods from the five food groups including vegetables, fruit, dairy such as milk, yoghurt, cheese, bread, rice, pasta, lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts and legumes. As these foods contribute a substantial amount of nutrients to our diet they are the basis of healthy eating and should be consumed on a daily basis. A healthy school canteen menu should contain at least three-quarters Everyday food and drinks.

What are EVERYDAY food and drinks in the canteen?

  • Sandwiches and toasties with Everyday fillings like cheese, tuna, lean chicken, lean meat, egg and salad.
  • Sushi with Everyday fillings like tuna, salmon, avocado and other vegetables.
  • Salads.
  • Hot foods made from Everyday ingredients such as lasagne, pasta bolognese, rice and noodle dishes and burgers.
  • Fruit, yoghurts and custard, veggies and dip, cheese and crackers, plain popcorn.
  • Plain and flavoured milk, smoothies, 99% fruit and vegetable juice.

Canteen made food

A helpful resource to use when making Everyday foods in the canteen is the Essentials Shopping List. The items on this list are pantry and fridge ingredients (e.g. healthy oils, herbs, sauces and baking products) you can use to make Everyday meals and snacks. The Essentials Shopping List also outlines ingredients that should not be used in the canteen (e.g. butter, cream, salt).


Occasional foods and drinks should be selected carefully as they are mostly high in saturated fat, sugars and/or salt and often with little nutritional value. These foods aren’t on the plate of the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.

What are OCCASIONAL food and drinks in the canteen?

  • Sandwiches, wraps, toasties and sushi with Occasional fillings, such as Occasional meats: commercial crumbed chicken schnitzel, salami, devon, chicken roll and sausages.
  • Hot foods such as crumbed or coated chicken, hot potato chips, hash browns, pies and sausage rolls, instant flavoured noodles.
  • Chips, pretzels, cakes, biscuits and desserts.
  • Smoothies made with ice cream/gelato/sorbet and all diet drinks such as diet soft drinks, diet iced tea and diet flavoured waters, etc.
  • Ice creams and frozen yoghurt.

When making Occasional food and drinks in your canteen, it’s important to select the healthiest ingredients possible where you can. You can do this by referring to the Essentials Shopping List when selecting the ingredients for recipes.

What about coffee flavoured milk?

All types of milk (packaged and non-packaged) which contain coffee are Occasional and should not be sold in primary schools, as per the ready reckoner in the Food and Drink Criteria.

However, if a product containing coffee uses decaffeinated coffee or coffee flavour instead, it could then be considered an Everyday beverage as long as it is below or meets the portion limit listed in the Food and Drink Criteria.

  1. Selecting healthier choices – Health Star Rating

The Health Star Rating (HSR) is a quick and easy way to compare the nutrient content of similar packaged foods. It will help you make healthier choices in a food category – for example, we can compare one ice cream with another, or one muesli bar with another. The more stars, the healthier the choice in that food category.

Occasional packaged foods and drinks and Everyday cereal offered in the canteen requires a HSR of 3.5 stars or above and meet portion limits listed in the Menu Ready Reckoner.

How do you find the Health Star Rating?

Keep an eye out for the HSR information on product labels. If the HSR isn’t on the label, there is a website called Healthy Food Finder where you can find the HSR for a range of products. Additionally, you can look for the product and its HSR in the NSW Buyers’ guide

For commercial products made by local bakeries, there is no need to have a HSR, only portion limits need to be adhered to. You could also have a chat with your baker and discuss working towards making healthier products for your school canteen. Making a healthier version of a product could be done by substituting one or more ingredients for a healthier option, e.g. swapping butter for margarine, adding more vegetables or using a leaner cut of meat.

  1. Get the Portion sizes right

Care needs to be taken to avoid serving large portions of all Occasional foods and some Everyday foods (flavoured milk, juices and hot meals). See the Menu Ready Reckoner to check the maximum portion size limits for menu items and ingredients.

  1. Balance your menu with mostly EVERYDAY (≥75%) foods and drinks

Canteens should offer mostly Everyday foods and drinks which provide essential nutrients necessary for students health and wellbeing. A healthy school canteen menu is one that provides at least 75% Everyday food and drinks and no more than 25% Occasional food and drinks.

To balance your menu first you need to count all your food and drinks on the menu. Remember to count every flavour, variety and size of each product. There is also no need to count repeated items. For example, if your menu offers a sandwich with the option to toast, you don’t count this as two separate items.

For those that have sandwiches on their menu, different Sandwich fillings are only counted once no matter what different types of bread are offered and condiments and extras (fillings) are not counted.

Different menus on different days are counted as separate menus and should all have ¾ Everyday foods and drinks.

At the end of counting your menu, you would have a total number of items.

Next, you count all the Everyday foods and drinks on the menu. Once you have the total number of Everyday foods you will need to calculate the percentage of Everyday foods and drinks.

To do this you divide the Everyday number by the total menu number and then multiply by 100 (Everyday ÷ Total Menu Number x 100).

Everyday foods and drinks should make up at least 75% of your menu and Occasional foods and drinks should make up no more than 25% of your menu.

  1. Market and promote healthier choices

There is no point in having a menu that is predominately Everyday if the majority of sales are from the Occasional category. Ensure that those Everyday foods are presented enticingly and you promote them.

  • Promote the Everyday foods you sell through advertisements in the school newsletter, notice boards, social media, signage and displays.
  • Use new packaging methods to help make Everyday foods look more appealing and place the Everyday foods at eye level in the fridge or on the front counter.
  • Price healthier Everyday foods at a lower cost than an Occasional item. Increase the mark up of Occasional foods to compensate for the lower prices of Everyday foods to ensure your costs are covered.
  • Include Everyday foods and drinks in meal deals or specials.
  • Occasional food and drinks should not be promoted or displayed in prominent positions. Remove Occasional foods from display at eye level, the point of sale, meal deals and specials.

View the slides here.

Sample menus

If you need help planning your menu to ensure it fits the guidelines you may want to start by looking at some sample menus – these example shows how important it is for Everyday foods to dominate 75% of the menu, with Occasional food appearing less frequently (less than 25% of the menu). Get inspired by checking out our canteen recipes, and like our Facebook page so you can receive updates, menu ideas and inspiration for your canteen.

The Healthy Kids Buyers’ Guide

If you are after some ideas on pre-packaged products that meet the guidelines, the Healthy Kids 2018 NSW Buyers’ Guide lists a range of Everyday and Occasional products with a Health Star Rating of 3.5 stars and above. All NSW schools were sent a copy of the Buyers’ Guide in Term 2.

Help and support are available!

Check out the Healthy Canteen Checklist to get started and help your school canteen to be as healthy as possible. Need further help? Contact us.

Getting Started Today!