In this week’s episode of The Whole Circle Podcast we talk to Nikki Cassar about how to create an additive-free school canteen.
In our eyes, Nikki is a superstar! She saw that the canteen at her children’s school wasn’t additive-free which meant that she just couldn’t allow her kids to eat food from there.
Fast forward to when a position became available to work in the school canteen and she was all in! In her interview, she stipulated that she would only take on the role if the school allowed her to make the canteen completely additive-free! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻
Needless to say, she got the position and she has gone onto overhaul the whole school canteen to be fully additive-free!
Seriously… how AWESOME is she?!
In addition to this, the canteen is not just additive-free, they also use organic or chemical-free produce wherever possible which they source from a farm 15 minutes away from the school as well as they use their own school garden for produce or source locally where they can. They use very little plastic. The cleaners of the school have even commented on how little rubbish there now is in the playground!
They have plenty of variety and have different foods to serve every day, which means the kids are trying different foods all the time.
Change like this doesn’t happen overnight.
How did the change come about?
The canteen at Grahamstown Public School was a P&C run canteen. This changed to then being a school run canteen which opened up a position to work in the canteen, which is the position that Nikki applied for.
When the canteen was P&C run it was a ‘heat and serve’ canteen which meant that the food choices were mostly additive and preservative-laden.
When it changed over to school run and Nikki took over the running of it, she changed the food to homemade food that is made from scratch every single day.
What started Nikki’s journey of living additive-free?
She had always been health conscious in relation to what she was feeding her kids, but it wasn’t until her son developed eczema with constant flare-ups that she researched additives and preservatives and decided to remove them all from their diets.
They had always shopped in the health food aisle at the supermarket as they thought they were good food choices, not knowing that in actual fact a lot of the foods in that aisle are full of additives.
Through this research Nikki then completed our Additive-Free Made Easy e-course and dived deep into it all and how additive and preservative-laden foods can contribute to all sorts of health and behavioural issues.
Now that they have been additive-free for some time, if her kids go somewhere and eat additive filled foods, even if she is not with them, she can tell within an hour because their behaviour changes. They become irritable, cranky and behaviourally they are quite challenging. So now she makes everything from scratch and avoids additives and preservatives wherever she can.
It was a big transition for their family, but they have seen the benefits and she is now excited to educate other families on how to live additive-free and the massive benefits for living this way.
What was the school’s reaction to Nikki wanting to overhaul the canteen?
The school was excited but nervous. They were unsure how the parents or teachers would react. A massive change like this can spark fear of the unknown.
Thankfully it has been embraced and they are seeing so many benefits.
Waste is down a fact of which the cleaners absolutely love because it makes their job easier and is great for the environment too.
Kids are also now eating fruits and vegetables when they normally wouldn’t have and adding extra nutrition and variety into their diets.
When Jo was still living in Queensland and her school canteen was P&C run, they did some fundraising to get a Thermomix into the canteen. There was so much negative feedback around this, people were saying it was a waste of money. But the reason was so that they could cook a lot more from scratch and create an additive-free canteen too.
Was the school supportive of the change?
The school principal was incredibly supportive. For her it was not about creating a profitable canteen it was about providing a service to the kids whereby they were getting good nutritious food that was going to fuel their bodies to learn.
Having that support from the top made the transition so much easier for Nikki.
Now they’re maintaining a canteen that is either breaking even or making a profit which they then use to put back into the canteen with extra staff.
They also have parent helpers who come in and volunteer their time. They have found that these parent helpers have been so keen for the change to happen that they are more than willing to volunteer their time because they know their kids are getting good additive-free meals.
The school canteen has become so popular, parents are even asking if they can do takeaway boxes so the kids can take that food to their after-school activities and continue to have a nutritious snack.
Did Nikki encounter any objections from parents?
For the most part, everyone was really good and embraced it. She had the odd parent here and there that would come up to the canteen and demand to know why they wouldn’t serve strawberry milk to their child. To which Nikki would reply that it is an additive-free canteen and that during school hours those types of food will not be served to their child at all. They are free to feed those foods to their child out of school hours but being additive-free is how the canteen is now run.
She received an email in their second week running the new style canteen from a mum who was in tears of joy as she was writing the email because her son could finally have a lunch order from school, and he was in Year 6!
When Nikki took over the canteen there was a picture on the wall of one of the Year 1 students with a note that said something along the lines of ‘do not serve food to this child’. She had no idea why that was or what the purpose for him being on the wall was until the child’s mother came to see them in the canteen saying that she had noticed all the changes in the menu. It turns out this mum had completed our e-course, Additive-Free Made Easy and she refused to let her son eat the food from the canteen that they once served. This mum stated to Nikki that she had seen the canteen was purporting to be additive-free so she quizzed her about what her son could actually eat. Nikki’s response was simple…. Everything, it’s all additive-free!
It was one of the most joyous occasions for Nikki to be able to rip that boy’s picture down from the wall and be able to serve him food.
Kids in the kitchen
The Year 6 kids come into the kitchen at recess and lunchtime to help prepare or cook the food because they are fairly confident at using a Thermomix which is great.
The kids love being in their as much as the staff do. They find that if they don’t actually have anything for the kids to do in the canteen, the kids will ask if they can simply do the dishes. Seriously… how good is that?!
What difference have the teachers noticed in the children?
Mainly the teachers have noticed a difference in behaviour given the food doesn’t have additives.
It has also brought the school together as a community because they all sit together to eat.
They try and have their hand in everything when it comes to food at the school, whether it’s the canteen or other activities that have a food component.
The teachers also eat at the canteen now, especially those teachers who refused to order from the canteen before the overhaul. They now regularly order food from the canteen as well as they also buy the food to take home to their own families.
Because they have a school garden, the kids are also learning about plant to plate. The kids plant the produce, nurture it, watch it grow, harvest it and then assist in using the produce to cook in food.
⬆️ Here is their additive-free school canteen menu.
⬆️ Here is what a typical lunchbox would look like.
⬆️ Here is their school canteen kitchen (we love all the Thermomix’s. Would make their life so much easier).
They don’t hide the recipes of the foods they are serving in the canteen. The school canteen has a Facebook page which Nikki regularly posts to and will often post links for the recipes of the food they serve so that parents can try cooking it at home to see if their kids will eat it at home too.
If you want to check out what they have to offer, head on over to their Facebook page at Black Swan Café Canteen.
NSW Healthy School Canteen Strategy
This is the system Nikki’s school has to comply with. Foods are classified as ‘everyday’ or ‘occasional’.
There is an essential shopping list which you can buy from as these are classed as ‘everyday’ foods. But if you take those foods and then turn them into something else, ie. organic raw sugar, flour, milk and eggs and turn that into banana bread then it automatically becomes an ‘occasional’ food.
They’ve had to push back against this policy at times to change this so that nutritious foods they are cooking can be reclassified as everyday foods and not occasional foods.
Their menu is categorised as 88% everyday items and 12% occasional items.
For more information about this, you can check it out >>> here.
Additive-Free Lifestyle Chat Group
Nikki is also a member of our chat group and puts up posts now and then about what food she is serving in the canteen so if you want to also check that out, then join our Additive-Free Lifestyle Chat Group.
Additive-Free Made Easy
If you want to register your interest to participate in the next round of our 4-week 3-course, Additive-Free Made Easy then register >>> here.
We are totally inspired by Nikki and the amazing work she is doing shaping our future generation of children to eat additive-free.
We totally take our hats off to her!
Nikki you’re amazing!
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