Going greener may be easier than you think!

We all know that school principals and parents alike want to see more green rated foods on the school canteen menu. But as all canteen staff are also aware, amber rated commercial products are popular with schoolkids and very few schools are able to rely solely on green food. Just like adults, kids look for food which is attractively presented and flavoursome, rather than making its nutritional content the sole consideration.

The good news is that it may be easier than you think to ‘green up’ the menu while still retaining some of those tasty amber rated products that kids love to eat.

One simple method is to make the amber food as an ingredient in a larger meal, which also incorporates three pieces of fruit or vegetables. In this way, it’s often possible to effectively create a green meal using an amber ingredient.

Amber rated commercial products such as burgers (meat, chicken or fish) can often be used to create a green rated meal by including them in a bun with salad ingredients like lettuce, tomato, beetroot and pickles.

Similarly, if you serve chicken nuggets with noodles or rice that includes three lots of vegies and fruit, such as carrots, onion, snowpeas and pineapple, again you’ll end up with a green meal which features one amber ingredient.

Obviously this simple solution doesn’t work for every amber rated product – it won’t do for those which work best as standalone treats like meat pies or sausage rolls – but you’d be surprised just how many amber foods are deliberately designed by their suppliers to be versatile enough to use as an ingredient in a larger meal.

For example, many of the chicken smallgoods products developed by Inghams, including gluten free chicken nuggets and gluten free chicken breast schnitzel, can be sliced up and used as a flavoursome salad ingredient or as part of a wrap or roll. Not only does this allow them to feature as an ingredient in a healthy meal, it’s also a cost-effective way to add extra flavour.

Here are some other useful suggestions as to how you can make the menu a little greener:


More fibre, less fat

Fat is a popular ingredient not just because people like the ‘mouthfeel’ it imparts to food – it’s also because it fills you up, although usefully not for long. But so does fibre, and it’s considered a healthier choice, as well as keeping you feeling satisfied for longer.

So when you’re developing or refining your canteen menu items, look at reducing the fat where possible, and upping the fibre content.

One simple way to do that is to choose wholemeal, wholegrain or multigrain bread wherever possible, as these are higher in fibre than standard white bread. Of course, always check the nutritional panel on the packaging and compare – many bread manufacturers now supply high-fibre white bread with fibre content equal to that of wholemeal, and this may be a more popular choice with the kids.

While you’re increasing fibre content, reduce fat at the same time by looking at products like cheese and other full-cream dairy items. These along with animal products are the primary source of fat in our western diet, so switch to reduced fat or low-fat cheese, yoghurt and milk.

One of the ‘hidden’ fats we often don’t consider is that of margarine or similar sandwich spreads – check the fat content of your spread against what else is available. It’s often easy to make this change as the presence of other ingredients minimises noticeability of a different flavour.


Replace added sugar with natural sources

Too much sugar in the diet has been linked to obesity, but again it’s often quite easy to reduce this in your ingredients list without adverse affect on taste. For example, when preparing foods like cakes or muffins, simply replace some of the sugar with fruit like berries or pieces of apple or banana. The natural fibre in the fruit will also help slow the absorption of the sugar when the food is eaten, leading to a more gradual blood sugar rise which is better for overall health rather than the ‘spikes’ caused by too much sugar intake.


Add flavour with stocks, herbs and spices

Fat has traditionally been used as an ingredient to add flavour to soups, casseroles, stews and other hot dishes. But you can easily replace it with vegetable stock or meat stocks and herbs and spices, which add flavour to the food without bumping up either the fat or salt content. When using a readymade stock or sauce, be sure to check the salt content – it’s worth choosing a reduced salt variety when available – as well as that of fat. You’ll be surprised at how many healthier choices are available in this category, making it easy to add more flavour to your food while keeping it firmly in the green category.