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 Criteria 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 Criteria so you can make the best choices for your canteen menu.

The four main elements of the Food and Drink Criteria

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

  1. There are two categories of food and drinks: EVERYDAY and OCCASIONAL – EVERYDAY food and drinks should make up a minimum of 3/4 of a canteen menu and OCCASIONAL food and drinks shouldn’t make up more than 1/4 of the menu.
  2. The Health Star Rating – All OCCASIONAL packaged 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 only EVERYDAY choices – The goal is to make healthier EVERYDAY food and drinks stand out and sell well compared to OCCASIONAL food and drinks.

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 Criteria 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.

1. New categories: EVERYDAY and OCCASIONAL

A healthy school canteen menu is one that provides at least three-quarters EVERYDAY food and drinks and no more than one-quarter OCCASIONAL food and drinks.


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. 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.

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 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. A healthy canteen menu should contain no more than one-quarter OCCASIONAL food and drinks.

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, 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 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

What about coffee flavoured milk?

All kinds of milk (packaged and non-packaged) which contain any coffee are OCCASIONAL in canteens and should not be sold in primary schools, as per the ready reckoner in the Food and Drink Criteria. A coffee flavoured milk drink can only be classified as EVERYDAY if it does not contain any coffee.

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 maximum portion size listed in the Food and Drink Criteria.

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 in that food category.

OCCASIONAL packaged 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 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. If a product doesn’t have a Health Star Rating and you can’t find it on Healthy Food Finder or in the NSW Buyers’ Guide, contact the Healthy Kids team for support.

For commercial products made by local bakeries, there is no need to have a HSR, only portion size 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.

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 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 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.

Planning your menu

Use the four-step process on page 9 of the Food and Drink Criteria to help 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 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 the 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 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!

Watch the five 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