What is the Healthy Kids Buyers’ Guide?

24/02/2016 Help for Parents

Healthy Kids develop a yearly School Canteen Buyers’ Guide to assist school canteens to select healthier versions of packaged foods. Ideally, all school canteens should cook fresh Everyday/GREEN snacks and meals, however in reality many canteens rely on packaged foods for convenience. Under state/territory guidelines, packaged foods need to be assessed to ensure they meet certain nutrient criteria for canteens. Healthy Kids dietitians assess products submitted by food companies for registration to ensure they meet the Healthy Kids Nutrient Criteria as well as state/territory guidelines. Food products do not need to be registered in this scheme to be sold in school canteens.

NSW Healthy School Canteen Strategy

Alongside the NSW Healthy School Canteen Strategy (or relevant state/territory strategy), the Buyers’ Guide can be used as a tool for selecting compliant products when developing a menu. It is not intended that a menu be filled with products listed in the Buyers’ Guide, particularly because the nature of packaged foods makes them predominantly Occasional/AMBER.

To meet the NSW guidelines, a canteen menu should contain over 75% Everyday items, less than 25% Occasional items, and no sugary drinks.

Why are there more AMBER foods in the guide?

In states other than NSW, the type of foods requiring detailed assessment against a nutrient criteria under specific guidelines predominantly fall under the AMBER and RED categories and are packaged. GREEN foods are usually fresh foods and easily assessable within their category; items such as fresh fruit, vegetables and lean meats etc. Fresh foods usually come from local suppliers who choose not to register their products due to the nature of the product. Therefore, by default, most foods listed in the Buyers’ Guide are AMBER.

Conflict of interest?

Healthy Kids is sometimes questioned as to whether producing the Buyers’ Guide is a conflict of interest. We are a not-for-profit organisation with a mission to improve the food supplied to schools. We are open about our relationships with the food industry and work with food companies to help improve the healthiness of the food supply in Australia. Our question is – why shouldn’t more dietitians and nutritionists be working to improve the food supply?

In reality, packaged foods are used by most people today for convenience and cost, among other factors. Without significant investment in school canteens to assist them to cook healthy items from scratch, there will always be a place for packaged foods in the canteen. 

Healthy Kids wholeheartedly support canteens to be as healthy as possible. We base our advice on reputable scientific evidence. We hold training days, cooking workshops, develop resources and offer advice to promote Everyday/GREEN foods and encourage canteens to limit Occasional/AMBER foods. To support this aim, we include a dedicated editorial section in each Buyers’ Guide.

The reality of canteens

In many school canteens the facilities, equipment, time and staffing limit the freshly made Everyday/ GREEN items that can be produced. These canteens tend to have a ‘heat and serve’ menu, which relies heavily on packaged foods. Our feedback from canteen managers and volunteers is that the guidelines can be confusing and that having a list of products that have already been assessed (for over 30 categories of food) simplifies the process significantly.

The canteen is a food business that is required to follow policy and guidelines founded on scientific research. Healthy Kids is well-placed to help with practical solutions that meet guidelines and policies due to our experience running and supporting Australian canteens for the past 25 years.