Toorloo Arm Primary School kids are happy with healthy lunch orders

Thursday 8 September, 2022

Toorloo Arm Primary School is in Lake Tyers Beach in Victoria’s Gippsland region. The school has 175 students and has embraced the new Vic Kids Eat Well movement with support from Gippsland Lakes Complete Health (GLCH).

Principal Kerry Hughes was attracted to the initiative’s simple and healthy food and drink swaps.

“Vic Kids Eat Well is great because it provides schools with a healthy food and drink umbrella to work under,” she said.

“Healthy children in our care is our job. When I came across the initiative I said to school council, ‘let’s do this’!”

Kids and teacher with healthy food and a Vic Kids Eat Well poster

The school has been on a long journey towards healthy changes. Several years ago, they had outsourced lunch orders that didn't comply with health eating guidelines. This was later overhauled when the school gained a new building with kitchen facilities. However, progress was interrupted by the pandemic. When school returned, it didn't have enough volunteers to run an onsite canteen.

"We had to quickly pivot and think differently. Taking the issue to school council, it was decided that we'd hunt for a new outsourced lunch provider and ended up putting an ad in the local paper," Ms Hughes said.

“We also have a really strong connection to Jaquie Nethercote our local health promoter at GLCH. We’ve benefited from tapping into her passion for kids’ health, her expertise and knowledge,” Ms Hughes said.

Stepping through Vic Kids Eat Well

With a new lunch provider engaged and GLCH’s support, Toorloo Arm Primary School joined Vic Kids Eat Well so the revived food and drink offerings were refuelling kids in a healthy way.

“Switch up the snacks” was one of the Vic Kids Eat Well “small bites” Toorloo Arm adopted.

“We had to rethink cakes and muffins. They were taken off the new lunch order menu and there was no comment from kids! It’s been going 10 weeks with our new service provider and no one has noticed,” Ms Hughes said.

“Refresh the fridge" was another Vic Kids Eat Well “small bite” Toorloo Arm completed.

“We did have other drinks but now we’re a water-only school. Our kids bring their own water bottles to fill up,” she said.

“Boost veggies and salad” and “change up the menu” were two more bite-sized changes the school completed.

“We now have vegetarian pasta, homemade vegetable soup and chicken wraps with salad. 

Response from kids

“With our new weekly lunch orders, kids appreciate the treat. No qualms about the healthy options, kids just like something special on Friday,” Ms Hughes said.

School girl eating chilli con carne

School Boy eating healthy pasta and soup

What’s next

The next Vic Kids Eat Well “small bite” the school is embracing is “Put the fun into fundraising and marketing”.

“Now that we’re a fruit first and water only school, I can’t see why we would have a hotdog day. If we can shift a little bit, our healthy messages will be consistent across the board.

“Vic Kids Eat Well is all about easy tweaks. In brainstorming healthier fundraising we’re looking at doing BBQ corn on the cob and veggie burgers. 

“We’re planning our Father's Day breakfast – we’ll be inviting our community in and giving them healthy messages. We’re looking at wholegrain muffins and simple things to reduce fat and salt.”

Dedicated health promoter support

As part of Vic Kids Eat Well, member organisations get tailored support from a health promotion professional.

Health promoter Jaquie Nethercote said the school’s connection with GLCH has been in place for several years; working on climate action, respectful relationships and health and wellbeing.

“It’s been great supporting a school that’s been eager to go outside the comfort zone. Toorloo Arm students now enjoy veggie packed buddha bowls and chilli con carne. These aren’t expected items on a school menu and it’s wonderful to be expanding the kids’ tastes in a healthy way,” Ms Nethercote said.

“I helped the school align to Vic Kids Eat Well by reviewing their new menu. I suggested reducing the volume size of flavoured milks and juices. To my surprise, the school decided to cut flavoured milks and juices altogether. Positively, this reduced the climate impact of packaging waste as kids now bring reusable water bottles from home.”

“With Toorloo Arm, before we knew it, we’d ticked off several small bites and some big bites – that’s made a huge impact on what’s offered to kids in this environment,” Ms Nethercote said.

Jaquie Nethercote said schools can start Vic Kids Eat Well at any point as it’s a self-select initiative.

“Vic Kids Eat Well’s fundraising bite might be a good starting point if a school isn’t ready for canteen changes. For other schools, slowly changing-up the menu might be more plateable.”

Supporting school leaders

Principal Kerry Hughes used the team around her to make improvements.

“Rather than principals feeling like they have to do something like Vic Kids Eat Well on their own, I’ve really benefited from reaching out to school council and our health promoter to utilise their skillsets.

“The narrow focus of Vic Kids Eat Well is great. The initiative is not asking us to change the world, it’s just reflecting on current processes for our food environment and making small tweaks that benefit kids’ health.

“Being part of Vic Kids Eat Well feels really good, we’ve promoted our involvement in our school newsletter with the support material provided as part of the initiative.”