Mildura Specialist School leads the way with healthy food and drink options for students

Monday 23 May, 2022

Mildura Specialist School was one of the first schools to join Vic Kids Eat Well – a state-wide movement that’s helping schools and other community organisations boost their healthy food and drink offerings for children and young people.

The school has 188 students from prep to year 12 and runs a successful Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) program.

Making healthy food

Health promotion support

Vic Kids Eat Well is supported by the Victorian Government and is delivered by Cancer Council Victoria’s Achievement Program, in partnership with Nutrition Australia’s Healthy Eating Advisory Service. 

A feature of Vic Kids Eat Well is the one-on-one support organisations access from a health promotion professional.

Rachael Giddens is the local health promotion team leader at Sunraysia Community Health and she has worked closely with Susan Alexander, the school’s healthy communities coordinator. Rachael supported the school for several years as it progressed through the Achievement Program, a complementary health and wellbeing initiative. The school is now looking to Vic Kids Eat Well to continue its journey.

“A lot of Mildura Specialist School’s curriculum is based around wellbeing and healthy lifestyles; our efforts are backed by the services, support and programs Sunraysia Community Health provides,” Susan Alexander said.

Connecting though food

Students plantingThe school’s social and emotional wellbeing aspects often relate back to healthy food and drink options, such as the school’s breakfast program. 

“Some kids have additional sensitivities and sensory needs. One way we cater for this is by locating our breakfast programs in students’ classrooms so they’re comfortable,” Susan Alexander said.

“At our breakfast program, students are responsible for cooking their own toast and clean-up. We offer healthy cereals, quinoa salads, fruit, muesli, milk, soup and tinned foods such as baked beans.

“As an applied learning exercise, we’ve also developed a breakfast program shop. It’s a learning centre for kids to run a small business and stocktake foods. It covers healthy food supply, demand and students monitor distribution throughout the school.”

Student led canteen

Mildura Specialist School has a canteen that runs once a week. Meals are planned by students and cooked at school. 

“Our kids cook healthy meals such as cottage pie, stir-fries and fried rice. Our cooking program is so strong that kids provide lunches for students and staff,” Susan Alexander said.

Offering healthy meals is a bite-sized change recommended though Vic Kids Eat Well. Mildura Specialist School will get instant acknowledgment in this area along with some new healthy food and drink ideas as part of the new initiative.

Sensory development that’s healthy

Mildura Specialist School provides a sensory taste and smell program for students.

“We make healthy options available at school for students to try. For example, we make sure our kids get to experience lots of different fruits,” Susan Alexander said.

“We also promote water all the time and students know not to bring sugary drinks to school. Instead, kids bring refillable water bottles.”

Rachael Giddens helped the school access sustainable drink bottles for students. Rehydrating with water is also a feature of Vic Kids Eat Well.

Graduating into the community

Students with their teacherOne of Mildura Specialist School’s aim is to prepare its students for the workforce.

Rachael Giddens said: “A lot of the jobs these kids go on to feature food production; whether that’s work at a farm, a local tourist attraction like our maze or specialist food shop.”

Susan Alexander said: “For our school, joining Vic Kids Eat Well is about giving kids a great start with healthy food. Long term, this is about creating healthy communities.”

Looking ahead

Mildura Specialist School has a unique plan to achieve Vic Kids Eat Well success through food and drink sales.

“We have a lovely kitchen but want our offering to grow. Our aspiration is to have a café on-site. We will open this up to the public. We’d like to use herbs out of our own vegetable garden,” Susan Alexander said.

Upon joining, Vic Kids Eat Well participants receive a promotional pack to show their community they’re part of the movement.

“We use our school newsletter to feature healthy eating tips and promote wellbeing like good sleep patterns. Vic Kids Eat Well will give us some bright and engaging content to inspire our community,” Susan Alexander said.

Further recognition

Vic Kids Eat Well supports improvements schools and other community organisations might undertake as part of the broader Achievement Program. The two programs dovetail each other.

Rachael Giddens said: “Like many schools locally, achieving recognition for the healthy eating and oral health priority area in the Achievement Program is a significant piece of work. Whereas Vic Kids Eat Well offers the opportunity to look at healthy eating across the entire school or community organisation in smaller bites and highlights progress quickly and easily.”

“We know at a local level, so many schools offer programs like breakfast clubs and kitchen garden programs; Vic Kids Eat Well supports them in being recognised for their efforts while still progressing towards the healthy eating and oral health priority area of the Achievement Program.”