National Healthy School Canteens

Trainer's Manual

Topic 3: Special Dietary and Cultural Needs

Page last updated: 22 October 2013

(Slide 77–85)
Planning a school canteen menu involves more than just meeting the NHSC nutrient criteria. You may also need to take into consideration the cultural and special dietary needs of your clients. This session primarily involves engaging participants in discussions regarding whether they need to, or how they might consider special dietary needs and cultural issues when planning menus

Food allergy and food intolerance

(Slides 78–82)

The term allergy is often misused to describe everything from a headache through to tummy bloating, and you may have the impression that every second child you meet is allergic.

True food allergy is a serious life-threatening condition. Some people are allergic to the protein found in common foods. Their immune system mistakenly detects the protein as a ‘foreign’ substance and mounts an attack, very similar to when you get a cold. The runny nose, aches and pains, watery eyes etc. are due to your body trying to get rid of the ‘foreign’ bacteria. When your body has killed off enough bacteria, you start to feel better.

With food allergy, however, the immune system does not know when to stop and so the reaction keeps going and can be life threatening. This is called an anaphylactic reaction. The reaction usually occurs within 30 minutes of exposure to the food, either by eating or, in

Some people, by touching or coming into contact with the food containing the protein. Children at risk of anaphylaxis will probably have an epi-pen (a one-dose adrenaline injection) and an action plan detailing the procedure to take if exposure to the allergen occurs. The action plan is usually placed in prominent positions around the school. Strict avoidance of the protein is necessary. Further information on action plans can be obtained from the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) website. Details are in the Guidelines for healthy foods and drinks supplied in school canteens on page 42.

Food intolerance, on the other hand, is sensitivity to the chemicals found in food. These chemicals can be naturally occurring or be added by manufacturers. The one you might be most familiar with is MSG (monosodium glutamate), also represented by the number 621 on food packaging labels. This chemical occurs naturally in certain foods such as aged cheese and mushrooms or it can be added during processing to enhance flavour in savoury snack foods, such as flavoured crisps and two-minute noodles. Unlike food allergy, the reaction may take several days to appear. Not all chemicals are a problem for sensitive people.

Small amounts may be tolerated without inducing symptoms. Only a small percentage of the population is sensitive to food chemicals.

Some schools choose to stock foods that do not contain artificial colours and flavours.

A table detailing the additives most likely to cause a problem in sensitive individuals has been included in the Guidelines for healthy foods and drinks supplied in school canteens on page 43.

Brainstorming and Group Discussion Symbol

Group discussion: Role of the school canteen with regards to special dietary needs

(Slide 81/Participant’s Workbook p.17)

What do you think the role of the school canteen is in regards to special dietary needs?
Many canteen managers feel pressure to accommodate all the special dietary needs of children in their school. This discussion is to clarify the role of the canteen manager regarding special dietary requirements. At the end of the discussion it should be made clear that it is not the role of the canteen manager, or the school canteen, to accommodate all special dietary needs beyond adhering to any relevant school policies. For example, where there is a ‘nut free’ policy in place, products containing nuts would not be available for sale. Some schools may decide to stock products, such as soy milk, if practical and there is sufficient demand.

Preparing foods to satisfy specific cultural or religious needs

(Slides 83–85)
During the 200 years of Western settlement in Australia, many nations have contributed to our evergrowing population. With each nationality comes a variety of traditions, cultural and religious influences. The Australian diet today is very different to that of our parents and grand- parents and reflects many ethnic influences.

Knowing how to cater for a range of specific cultural religious requirements is important when catering for multicultural school populations.

Brainstorming and Group Discussion Symbol

Group discussion: Acknowledging cultural differences

(Slide 83/Participant’s Workbook p.17)

The purpose of this discussion is to acknowledge diverse cultural groups and cuisines within the school community.
How many different cultures are represented at your school?
Does your canteen menu cater for different cultures and cuisines?
  • Halal meats, vegetarian options, ethnic dishes (for example, sushi, stir-fry, pastas, curry)
Why should you do this?
  • Address the cultural needs of specific groups in the school community
  • Expose other students to a variety of cuisines
Direct participants to the extended reading (websites) listed in the References section at the end of Topic 3 regarding food trends, general nutrition information and special diets (for example, vegetarian) when considering planning canteen menus.

Brainstorming and Group Discussion Symbol

Group discussion: Ethnic food days

(Slide 85/Participant’s Workbook p.17)
What foods could you cook on these days?
Note: Trainers will need to provide participants with a list of contacts (dietitians/nutritionists, medical specialists or other relevant people), who are able to assist participants to confirm and/ or identify, where appropriate, the dietary and cultural requirements of different target groups.

Looking after the planet

(Slide 86)
This session finishes with a brief overview of some things that can be done to make the school canteen more eco-friendly.

School canteens can make their own contribution to tackling the problems of global warming and climate change.
  • Wherever possible, buying local is best practice because the food will be fresher, the nutrition more intact and there are benefits in supporting the local community.
  • Buying vegetables and fruit seasonally means you get the product before it has been stored for months, or shipped from far away, and at a lower price because the product is in abundance.
  • Kitchen gardens are used successfully in some schools. Utilising produce from the garden can help to reduce food costs and it encourages the children to eat what they have grown.
  • Frozen and canned vegetables and fruit are often a viable option. They are nutritious, easy to store, available year round and often cheaper than fresh.

Web Resources Symbol

Web resources

Children Nutrition Topics (Victorian Government Health Information)
This website provides fact sheets and information about nutrition for infants, toddlers, preschoolers and children at school.

Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) – Smart Eating For You: Nutrition A–Z
This guide covers nutrition information presented in an A-Z format and includes information on vegetarian diets. All material available on this website has been written and regularly reviewed by Accredited Practising Dietitians. (This website link was valid at the time of submission)

Food Standards Australia New Zealand Government Website
The Food Matters section of this website contains information on food allergies, additives and other information in relation to standards set in Australia and New Zealand for food. The News Room link provides fact sheets, media releases, speeches and presentations.

Fresh for Kids
This website provided by the Sydney Markets includes information on seasonal produce as well as fun things for kids to do relating to healthy eating.

Go for 2&5
This website promotes the benefits of eating fruit and vegetables and gives loads of tips and recipes on how to reach the recommended targets.

National Training Information Services
This Website provides information about the unit of competency SITHCCC0.35A Develop menus to meet special dietary and cultural needs. Please note - National Training Information Services will be soon replaced by Training Website.

Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation
This website provides inspiration and ideas for starting a kitchen garden in your school.

The Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy
This is the peak professional body of Clinical Immunologists and Allergists in Australia and New Zealand. This website gives up to date information on allergy and immune diseases, including asthma.

State and Territory Canteen Associations

These websites provide tips on how to successfully run a school canteen.

Healthy Kids Association

QLD Association of School Tuckshops

TAS School Canteen Association

VIC School Canteen Association

WA School Canteen Association