An audit of ACT school canteens has found healthy food choice on lunch menus has increased by 20 per cent, while unhealthy options have decreased by nearly 40 per cent.
Nutrition Australia ACT has been reviewing school canteen menus for the past three years, on behalf of ACT Health, with the goal of expanding the quality of food found on lunch menus.
Nutrition Australia ACT spokeswoman Leanne Elliston said the canteen menus of 59 Canberra schools had been assessed, of which 17 had been revisited this year to monitor progress.
The results showed an encouraging increase of "green" options on the menus and a decrease of "red" foods.
Green foods are the most nutritionally whole foods and include fresh fruit and vegetables, bread, rice and lean meat.
Red foods are the least healthy options, which contain excessive energy, saturated fats and salt. These include traditional canteen fare such as lollies, hot chips and sausage rolls.
The ACT government launched the Fresh Tastes program earlier this year and the program aims to educate primary schools about healthy eating. Twenty-two schools have already signed up. The results of the most recent audit of Canberra schools were presented at the ACT Canteen Expo on Tuesday afternoon.
With a quarter of sixth graders in the ACT overweight, Nutrition Australia ACT has been providing advice to primary schools on ways to improve the nutritional quality of their menus.
Ms Elliston said some schools were resistant at first, but many were now trying to change their menus.
“Initially it was hard to take the food we were trying to remove but there is gradual progress towards cutting back red foods,” she said.
“In three years we’ve seen some improvements in the canteens but that alone isn’t going to reduce the risk of these diseases later in life.”
Ms Elliston said educating children on healthy eating was a good idea, but the message often went out the window when all children saw at school were sugary treats.
“Lollies, chocolate, cakes, biscuits, we don’t want those to be on the menu.”