Roasted pumpkin & cumin 5
Working out your winter menu

Planning your canteen menu for the winter months can be a challenging task. Without the time or resources to make all your hot meals from scratch, you’re reliant upon commercially available hot food products, but many of these don’t meet the relevant traffic light criteria.

Of course there are some commercial products which are ideal for the canteen to serve in winter – our Spotlight story on page xx highlights how easy it is to serve warming soup, for example. And with a little ingenuity, you can prepare and serve similarly nutritious hot meals which contain plenty of vegies and will satisfy your students’ hunger pains.

For example, by taking Amber rated commercial hot food products and serving them with salads, you can ‘green up’ your menu offerings and make them a better choice for students.

By keeping a careful eye on nutritional panel information, you can also make sure you’re choosing lower fat and lower sodium products over other options. The various canteen buyers’ guides available can provide a useful source of information here to help you choose.

Remember that you don’t need to offer a huge range of hot foods – limit your choices to food that is easy to prepare and serve as well as economical to produce.

You’ll often find that hot meals that students already enjoy at home will be the most popular choices on the canteen menu – for this reason, vegetable lasagne, pasta dishes and hearty stews are available at many canteens during the winter months.

By limiting the range of hot food available, you can then rotate your menu on a weekly or fortnightly basis, highlighting the food that is the most nutritional choice. Remember that by limiting availability, you can increase demand, as students perceive the food as special. Recipes which use only one cooking utensil, like stir fries or soups, are a good choice as they are usually quicker and easier to prepare and serve than meals which require more complicated cooking procedures.

The humble hamburger is always a popular winter choice, and by preparing these yourself you can ensure they contain lean beef or chicken mince along with plenty of healthy salad filling. You can also choose wholemeal buns to add extra fibre to the meal.

Another relatively easy choice is warm salads – for example, you can create a salad with roast or grilled chicken, topped with mayonnaise or dressing and with some fruit added for extra flavour and interest.

Hot rolls or wraps can be made using hot cheese, and you can also prepare your own fried rice, again with plenty of vegies to keep students satiated.

In fact you can experiment with a range of hot fillings in toasted sandwiches and jaffles as well as rolls and wraps. Look at ingredients which are easy to heat, like ham and cheese, baked beans, kidney beans and mince.

Jacket potatoes are another terrific choice – top them with a mild chilli con carne sauce or some fresh-made guacamole for a tasty snack that will fill the kids up. Similarly, warmed corn on the cob is a popular choice at many school canteens.

You can make your own lean mince sauce using tomatoes, tomato paste, grated carrot and other vegies, and use this as a base for a range of pasta dishes.

With the simple addition of some kidney beans and salsa, your sauce becomes a base for Tex-Mex style nachos – all you need are some corn chips and low-fat cheese to complete the recipe. By sourcing some commercially available

flatbreads, tortilla wrap, taco shells and so on you can also make and serve tortillas, burritos, tacos and other Tex-Mex style foods.

You can also make your own pizzas relatively easily – choose one of the commercially available pizza bases, or for a smaller pizza use an English muffin or pita bread. Add a tomato paste base and your own toppings like tomatoes, pineapple, ham, low fat cheese and the vegies of your choice – artichokes, onion, eggplant and capsicum are just a few of the ones you can feature.