Healthy choice canteens/tuckshops

Many teachers and parents are disappointed by 'healthy' foods in sold in canteens under the anti-obesity guidelines for Australian schools.

As one mother commented: 'Low salt, low sugar, low fat and let's give them every other bit of sh*t we can find to give it taste. Missed the point I'd say'.

From our point of view, canteens can't call themselves 'healthy' until they adopt 'low additive' guidelines as well. Trials have shown that students do better when they eat low additive food and the Federal Government lists additives most likely to be a problem in school lunches on page 43 of its National Healthy School Canteens Guidelines 2014 (oh, and by the way, it's a mistake that artificial colour 133 brilliant blue doesn't appear on this list, this additive is just as bad as the other artificial colours).

How to avoid artificial colours

FIN members tell us that artificial colours still appear in 'healthy' canteens in products such as ice tubes, slushies, icypoles, Zooper Doopers, strawberry milk, yoghurt-based snacks, licorice twists, jellies, sprinkles, pickles, sausage rolls, pies and hot dogs.

In one school, artificial colours were found in the following products

    • Hotdog 110
    • Zooper Doopers 102, 110, 122, 123, 133
    • Slushi tropical 110
    • Slushi raspberry 122
    • Slushi Blue 133
    • Quench 110, 133
    • Portello 122, 102
    • Lemon Lime 102, 110
    • Lemon Crush 102
    • Strawberry Milk 124
    • Juice Cruncher 102
    • Wonka twist 129
    • Aussie Glucose 102, 104, 110, 122, 124, 133
    • Yoghurt Vita Bite 102, 110, 133
    • Zooper Doopers 123, 133

Alternative: insist on finding alternative products - they are available!

Chicken nuggets

Remember what Jamie Oliver said about chicken nuggets in Jamie's School Dinners? Well, here's what one failsafer found in her new, 'healthy' school canteen - chicken nuggets with the following ingredients:

chicken (51%), flours (wheat, rice, maize), potato flakes (potato, emulsifier (471)), isolate soy protein, acidity regulator (330,450), preservative (220), salt, water, acidity regulator (450,500,451), stabiliser (481,1404,471,412,415), Vegetable oil, gluten, maltodextin, egg albumen, dextrose, firming agent (509), cereal starches (tapioca, potato, wheat), hydrolysed vegetable protein, colour (100, 160c), dehydrated vegetables, herbs & spices, flavour (wheat, lactose) antioxidant (320) emulsifier (900).

In amongst all those numbers are two nasty additives (sulphur dioxide 220 'the asthma additive' and antioxidant 320) as well as glutamate-containing ingredient Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein (this is the same as MSG). Most chicken nugget type products will contain some kind of glutamate containing ingredients, perhaps yeast extract or hydrolysed vegetable/wheat/plant/maize/rice protein, and some food activitsts suspect that MSG-type flavour enhancers can be hidden in 'spices' or 'spice extracts' or 'flavours'

Alternative: See our recipe below for homemade additive-free chicken nuggets. To meet low fat, low salt guidelines if needed you can reduce the portion size, which is what the manufacturers have done.

Additives linked to children's behaviour and attention problems

102 tartrazine, 104 quinoline yellow, 110 sunset yellow
122 carmoisine, 123 amaranth, 124 ponceau
127 erythrosine, 129 allura red, 132 indigotine
133 brilliant blue, 142 green S, 143 fast Green FCF
151 brilliant black, 155 brown HT, 160b annatto (natural)

200-203 sorbates
210-213 benzoates
220-228 sulphites
280-283 propionates, often hidden as 'cultured' or 'fermented' wheatflour, flour, etc
249-252 nitrates, nitrites

310-312 gallates
319-320 TBHQ, BHA, BHT

621 MSG, often hidden under 129 other names
627 disodium inosinate
631 disodium guanylate
635 ribonucleotides
HVP hydrolysed vegetable protein
yeast extract

Avoid strong added flavours, vanilla flavour is safest

How to reduce additives in your school - suggestion from 4 schools

1. Hills CC school in Adelaide. Our Adelaide contact Bronwyn Pollnitz recently organised a highly successful additive free trial in this school and several others.

Bronwyn says:

Kids in schools don't mind cutting our colours - who cares what colour it is - or preservatives. They don't care if the food lasts one day or a one year - they just want to eat it NOW! Flavour is harder - the canteen manager is likely to say 'but this is the brand the kids chose!'

When I talk to classes I always bring in dips and fresh vegies for them to try, to really make a point that proper fresh real food doesn't need extra flavour added to make it taste good. They particularly like the green dip. It really is about providing very palatable alternatives to things like flavoured chips, biscuits, noodles etc.

Bronwyn's Green Dip Recipe

1 small crushed clove of garlic
4 spring onions (or 2 + small amount of parsley)
250g cream cheese
2-4 teaspoons water

Place garlic and spring onions (+ parsley if using) in food processer and mince. Add cream cheese and water and mix until the desired consistency is achieved. Add more water if needed. Ensure no lumps of cheese are left.

Contact Bronwyn for further information: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

2. Wolney Junior School: A junior school in the UK which has leapt up the league tables attributes some of its success to a ban on crisps and fizzy drinks at the tuck shop. Pupils at Wolney Junior school in New Addington, South London, now consume two boxes of apples, two of bananas and two crates of satsumas every week. The success rate for 11 year olds has almost trebled since the ban on unhealthy snacks two years ago. The ban was brought in because of fears that artificial additives including flavourings, sweeteners and preservatives, made children hyperactive and more difficult to teach. Wolney Junior which won praise as one of the most improved schools in Greater London, claims that concentration levels shot up and behaviour improved when tuck shop "junk" was axed from morning break.

Peter Winder, the head teacher, said "we were very concerned that the crisps and fizzy drinks had all the E-additives. One of our teachers asked if it was possible to trial the sale of fruit in just one year group". The trial in 1996, had immediate results. "All the teachers in the year group noticed a difference in behaviour and concentration."

The old tuck shop was scrapped in 1997. Two years on, the school was the 34th most improved school in the country. Its Key Stage Two test results in English, which were less than half the national average in 1996 with 23 per cent of pupils achieving expected levels, leapt to a 64% rate last year.

See a report of low additive schools around the world

3. Palmers Island Primary School: In 2005 a small school in Northern NSW asked us to help them with a two week additive free trial so we took a professional camera crew with us. Before the trial, we spent a day at the school talking to 120 students, staff and parents about the effects of nasty food additives and teaching them how to read labels. During the trial the students were offered additive free breakfasts at no cost, encouraged to have bottles of water on their desks, and asked to eat additive free foods at school and at home. A few families who had been thinking about doing the full elimination diet took the opportunity to do it and felt much more supported than usually happens.

About 70-80 per cent of children joined the trial, and everyone noticed a difference – quieter, calmer, less yelling in class, concentrating better, nicer to each other, less annoying, naughty children less naughty – and no headaches, stomach aches or skin rashes. After the trial, the children were allowed to buy a treat, and the camera caught what some experts claim doesn't happen – the children became loud, cheeky, annoying, fought with each other again. We've already shown the Palmers Island clip to schoolteachers and 2000 schoolchildren from over 25 schools. It's part of our DVD launched in 2006. Based on Sue Dengate's 'Fed Up with Children's Behaviour' presentation and filmed in various locations over six months, the DVD includes revealing interviews with parents and children from Cairns to Gippsland illustrating the many aspects of food intolerance. See viewers' feedback under Order Books.

See Palmers Island video

More information: See the program used at Palmers Island Schools: Eating for success!

4. Federal State School in the Noosa hinterland of Queensland (110 students)

Their 'Well Fed Kids' policy features:
  • a Healthy Choice Menu including an additive free range
  • healthy snack time mid morning
  • 'water within reach'
  • cordial and soft drinks banned in lunchboxes
  • provision of physical activity each day
  • no sweets to be used as rewards within the classroom

Some suggestions from the Federal School additive free range

Pikelets (home-made) 2 per serve, with honey, jam or butter
Popcorn plain unflavoured, freshly popped
Jatz stacks (4 crackers with cheese)
Finger bun. Can be buttered (see below)
Muffins (homemade)
28 gram Red Rock plain chips

Cool treats and drinks
Juicies Frozen Fruit tube (additive free)
Dried fruit (no additives, see below)
Fresh ripe local fruit in season

Healthy choice sandwiches - these are completely additive free:
Cheese (additive free sliced cheese)
Chicken (additive free)
Tuna in springwater
All available with lettuce or salad (lettuce, tomato, carrot, cucumber, beetroot)

Hot Food
Sandwiches can be toasted
Lasagne (additive free)

Lunchtime Cool treats and drinks
As above plus
Peters Dixie Cup ice cream
Occasional mystery treat (varies but often homemade pure fruit juice icecups, can be additive-free sweets)

Special thanks to Tina Standish of Federal School for additive-free ideas and suggestions


Halliwell Chicken Nuggets - these nuggets are additive-free and kids love them.

500 g chicken breasts or thighs, cut into nugget shapes (easier to do when chicken is half frozen)
1 clove garlic, crushed
sea salt to taste
plain flour
or gluten-free mix of cornflour and brown rice flour for coating
failsafe oil

Mix chicken with garlic and salt and let stand for about 30 minutes. Roll chicken pieces in flour until all are coated then freeze for 15 minutes to make flour stick better. Shallow fry in failsafe oil until crisp and golden brown. Or for a low fat alternative: place chicken pieces in a bowl and stir with stir with salt and flour until well coated. Then stir with enough oil to make sure all pieces are coated. Bake in a preheated 180°C oven for 1 hour. Serve with Healthy Choice oven fry chips and green beans, or in a failsafe burger roll with salad – Deborah Halliwell

Home-made additive free sausage rolls

Pastry - 2 packets Pampas Butter Puff Pastry frozen sheets (not rolls)

Filling - 1 kg mince
1 leek finely chopped in food processor then sautéed
4 cloves garlic crushed and sautéed
4 tsp sea salt
2 cups brown rice flour
2 eggs or 2 tbsp water.

Mix all ingredients except meat in food processor for smooth mix and add to mince. Mix to a paste. Add extra water if necessary, up to a cup of water, to make the mixture moist like sausage mince. Cut frozen pastry sheet in half. Put mixture on the edge of the pastry, roll the pastry over. Seal with milk. Each pastry sheet makes 4 sausages rolls. Brush tops with milk. Place on baking tray. Bake at 220°C for 15 mins. Makes 26 rolls using 7 pastry sheets. – Deborah Halliwell

Further information

Schools factsheets
Introduction to food intolerance
Share your ideas with other parents at the Failsafe Lunchbox Menu group

The information given is not intended as medical advice. Always consult with your doctor for underlying illness. Before beginning dietary investigation, consult a dietician with an interest in food intolerance. You can see our list of experienced and supportive dietitians 

© Sue Dengate update January 2024