Theme days help encourage healthy eating

Creating an exciting theme day for the canteen is a great way to encourage your students to make healthy eating choices, and many canteens have at least one per term.

Not only can a theme day raise awareness within the school environment, it can also tie in with broader community initiatives initiated by the National Heart Foundation, Diabetes Australia, Coeliac Australia and other organisations.

You can work with other departments within the school, such as Physical Education, Health and Community Awareness teachers to ensure the kids are getting a consistent message about the importance of diet to overall health and fitness – and even get parents involved through the P&C Association and fundraising activities.

As there is a fair amount of work involved in organising a theme day, it’s important to start planning well in advance. So start thinking about next year now and look at what initiatives or events you can tie in with, and how that will work on your school’s calendar.

Here are some other important points to bear in mind:


It’s important to choose a date for your theme day that won’t clash with other school events or even come too close on the heels of sports carnivals or excursions. Mid-week is probably best – that way you’ll have a day or two after the event to decide how best to make use of any leftover food.

Organising your theme day well in advance will also ensure you’ve got plenty of time to get staff and volunteers involved and let everyone know about it. With that in mind, it’s also a good idea to bring extra canteen workers on board for the day as you’ll doubtlessly have more over the counter business than usual!


You can build a theme day around almost anything – from a special calendar date like Valentine’s Day or St Patrick’s Day, to the anniversary of an event that’s special to the school. Of course the most effective choices are likely to be those that are easiest for the kids to remember – so think of events that everyone knows, like Anzac Day or Easter!

Next comes the choice of food or food groups to be promoted. Many events don’t have any intrinsic link with food, so you’re free to choose whatever food you want – just try to find or invent a link between the food and the event (eg green foods for St Patrick’s Day).

If you’re planning a special menu for the day, it’s wise to make it a smaller one than the normal range of choices. Too many offerings can make it harder for the kids to choose what they want, which will slow down serving at the counter. Also, if you’re ordering in too many special foods, you’ll likely increase your costs.

That said, a range of different options including pre-prepared and packed foods as well as freshly made meals, will help reduce the preparation workload.

The most important thing is to choose foods which will appeal across the full range of students – so try to offer “something for everyone” i.e. sweet and savoury, drinks as well as food.

Recipes for any special meals should be carefully costed in advance and portion sizes worked out to ensure these are appropriate.

And of course you also need to make sure that your choices fit within your school and state guidelines for canteen foods.

Finally, make sure you make up a full list of required ingredients and order everything well in advance.


These include extra staff, hire of special equipment and any special packaging needed. Then determine how much of a profit margin you need to make and set the sale prices accordingly.

Many canteen managers prefer to encourage pre-ordering from a special menu – that way you know in advance how many orders you have and can purchase the right amount of ingredients, as well as manage your labour requirements more effectively. It also means no students miss out on their menu choice.

And naturally you’ll want to keep records of all costs plus a tally of the theme day sales – so you can evaluate the success of the event and thereby plan more effectively for future theme days.