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 to students.

The Food and Drink Benchmark underpins the new strategy and guides school canteens to promote healthy food and drinks. The benchmark replaces the traffic light criteria (GREEN, AMBER and RED) of the previous Fresh Tastes @ School Strategy. Determining what’s allowed and what’s not can be complicated in the school canteen. Healthy Kids is here to help you make your way through the benchmark so you can make the best choices for your canteen menu.

The 4 main elements of the Food and Drink Benchmark

These are the minimum activities schools need to meet to successfully implement the new strategy:

  1. There are two categories of food and drinks: EVERYDAY and OCCASIONAL.
  2. The Health Star Rating – All OCCASIONAL foods must have an HSR of 3.5 stars and above. For EVERYDAY foods, there is no HSR needed.
  3. Portion size limits – there are portion limits for just a few categories of EVERYDAY food and drinks and ALL OCCASIONAL food and drinks.
  4. Market and promote healthier choices – the goal is to make healthier EVERYDAY food and drinks stand out and sell well.

Sugary drinks continue to NOT BE SOLD in school canteens or vending machines.

Where to start?

The best place to start is to check out the Food and Drink Benchmark published by NSW Health. Here you’ll learn how to determine if food or drink is EVERYDAY or OCCASIONAL to help you plan your menu. A healthy school canteen will provide mainly EVERYDAY food and drink choices and limit OCCASIONAL menu items.

1. New categories: EVERYDAY and 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. These foods form the basis of a healthy diet and should be eaten every day.

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 bolognaise, 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.

Homemade 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 be 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).

EVERYDAY food(s) + Ingredient(s) from the Essentials Shopping List = EVERYDAY menu item


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. They should be eaten only sometimes and in small amounts.

What are OCCASIONAL food and drinks in the canteen?

  • Sandwiches, wraps, toasties and sushi with OCCASIONAL fillings, such as OCCASIONAL meats: crumbed chicken schnitzel, salami, devon, chicken roll and sausages.
  • Hot foods such as crumbed or coated chicken, hot potato chips, hashbrowns, 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.

What if I combine EVERYDAY with OCCASIONAL foods?

When a menu item includes any OCCASIONAL foods, it makes the menu item OCCASIONAL. However, you may like to encourage healthier choices by teaming up your OCCASIONAL foods with EVERYDAY foods. For example, team chicken tenders or nuggets with a side salad. Keep in mind these meal deals for OCCASIONAL foods should not be promoted.

EVERYDAY food(s) + OCCASIONAL food(s) = OCCASIONAL menu item

2. 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.

OCCASIONAL foods and drinks offered in the canteen will need to have a Health Star Rating of 3.5 stars and above and meet portion size 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 it isn’t on the label, there are websites and mobile phone apps available where you can find the HSR for a range of products such as Foodswitch. For commercial products, have a chat to your local food supplier (e.g. local bakery) – they might be able to find out the HSR or work towards making healthier products. If a product doesn’t have a Health Star Rating on the label, contact the Healthy Kids team for support.

3. 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. If you feel that a small serving wouldn’t satisfy the hunger of a student, then the foods should be combined with a salad, bread roll, fruit or milk.

4. Promote EVERYDAY foods

There is no point 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 promote them.

  • Promote the EVERYDAY foods you sell through advertisements in the school newsletter or on notice boards, 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 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, point of sale, meal deals and specials.

Planning your menu

Use this four step process to help you implement the new strategy in your canteen. Firstly, list ALL the items for sale in the canteen. This includes items that you have on the counter that may not be listed on your menu.

1. Check ALL of your current items to see if they are EVERYDAY or OCCASIONAL using the Menu Ready Reckoner.

Sugary drinks must not be sold in NSW school canteens. Sugary drinks are those with any type of sugar added to them, except milk. Frozen commercial ice blocks (less than 99% juice) are considered frozen sugary drinks and should not be sold.

2. Next, check if you’ve selected the healthiest choices of these foods.

  • EVERYDAY: check portion limits for flavoured milk/shakes, juice and hot meals.
  • OCCASIONAL: check portion limits and HSR 3.5 stars and above.

Food and drinks that do not meet the benchmark should be removed from the menu (or modified to make them compliant). For example, reduce 300ml 99% fruit juice to a 250ml serve size or less to meet the benchmark.

3. Balance each section of your menu with ¾ EVERYDAY food and drinks and only a few (less than ¼) OCCASIONAL food and drinks.

Use the Menu Ready Reckoner for ideas of how you can swap OCCASIONAL items to EVERYDAY healthier alternatives to balance the menu.

4. Market a healthy canteen

  • Display, price favourably, promote and advertise EVERYDAY choices.
  • Change placement of OCCASIONAL foods and drinks if they are in prominent positions.

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 3/4 of the menu, with OCCASIONAL food appearing less frequently (less than 1/4 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 prepackaged products that meet the guidelines, the Healthy Kids 2017 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 will be sent a copy of the Buyers’ Guide in Term 2.

Help and support is available!

Check out the Healthy Canteen Checklist to get started and help your school canteen to be as healthy as possible. If you’re looking to change or update your existing menu to make it more nutritious, you may like to start with a menu review (free for Healthy Kids members). This will provide information on how to ensure your menu meets the new Food and Drink Benchmark. Need further help? Contact us.

Getting Started!

Watch the 5 training videos below for more information on the nitty gritty of the new Strategy and tips on how to plan your Healthy School Canteen.

Introduction to the Food and Drink Benchmark

STEP 1: Categorising Foods and Drinks

STEP 2: Select the healthiest choices

STEP 3: Balance your menu

STEP 4: Marketing Healthier Choices