Dandenong West Primary School makes healthy eating and wellbeing a top priority

Kids in front of school garden

Dandenong West Primary School in Melbourne’s south-east is leading by example by being one of the first schools to sign up to Vic Kids Eat Well. 

Principal Bev Hansen said the school has already implemented a number of healthy eating and wellbeing initiatives, including removing sugary drinks and providing fruit bowls in every classroom.

“Kids struggle to learn when their stomachs are rumbling. We know students need brain food that’s healthy and fresh so they’re ready to focus and learn. Sugar doesn’t help children settle into routines, nor does it fuel the brain for learning,” Ms Hansen said.

Girls with green veggies

Healthy hydration and nutritious nibbles

The school became a water-only school a few years ago to help reduce students’ sugar intake.

“Our students are not allowed to bring any kind of drink besides water to school,” Ms Hansen said.

“I’ve had a lot of people ask us how we became water only and it really wasn’t all that hard – we just made it the rule, and the students and parents embraced the change. It’s easier when you know it’s the right thing to do. There is no doubt that water only at school is the best option.”


The school also has a “no lollies” initiative.

“We spent a lot of time putting information in our newsletters explaining what sugar does to our body, so we had very little pushback from parents about the no lollies initiative. Of course, we got some pushback from the students,” Ms Hansen said.

Providing fruit and vegetables is also a priority for the school. Dandenong West Primary provides fresh fruit in every classroom through the food donations it receives from local organisations.

“When we have an excess of food donated to us, we encourage our families to take it home so nothing goes to waste,” she said.

Girls with green veggies

Every morning the school hosts a breakfast club with fruit, healthy cereal and toast. 

“Students who don’t have lunch know they can come into breakfast club and make a nutritious meal to eat later in the day,” she said. 

“We’ve reached out to lots of organisations for help and we are part of the state government’s School Breakfast Clubs program.”

Environmental focus

The school is also focused on reducing its environmental impact. Once a week the school encourages student lunches that don’t have any wrapping or packaging.

“We know that by reducing the packaging, we’ll be reducing the amount of chips and unhealthy snacks. While we don’t have sugary drinks and lollies, we still have too many students bringing packaged snack foods,” she said. 

A community approach

About 90 per cent of the school’s 300-student cohort speak a language other than English at home, while a third of students have a refugee background. 

Ms Hansen said making strong connections with the school’s diverse families was incredibly important to its success.

The school has a community hub on site with daily programs, like English language classes, for parents to take part in.

“When the hub first started, we held some cooking classes with parents which then became healthy eating cooking classes. That really made us consider what other healthy eating initiatives we were doing at the hub that could be brought into the classroom too.

“As part of our cooking classes, parents went shopping for healthy ingredients including those they use to cook traditional meals which are often very healthy. 

“Many of our healthy eating initiatives came from the community hub and the work we were doing with parents.

“For example, once a month parents at our community hub create sandwiches which are frozen, this helps ensure there’s healthy food available for students,” Ms Hansen said.


Looking ahead

Ms Hansen said the school was honoured to be one of the first organisation to sign-up to the new Vic Kids Eat Well initiative. 

“When something like Vic Kids Eat Well comes along, it gives us another opportunity to get the message out to our school community and remind them why healthy eating is important,” she said.

“Every school knows its own context and what will work best for them. They must do things in a way that works for their families and that might be taking smaller steps at the start.” 

Health Promotion Practitioner at Monash Health, Christine Pereira, has worked with Dandenong West Primary School to support their healthy changes.

"Dandenong West Primary School has made healthy eating a priority for its students for many years,” she said.

“It's inspiring to hear about their healthy meals, their preference for water and the way they share healthy eating messages with the entire school community."