• These Schools Serve Healthy Meals in their Cafeteria

    We look at what’s cooking in school canteens to find out if it’s all junk or all healthful picks
    by Bubbles Salvador .
  • These Schools Serve Healthy Meals in their Cafeteria
    IMAGE XiXinXing/iStock
  • There was a time when eating at the school canteen meant having endless options for snacks or lunch. Remember the slushie drinks, cheese pie slices, bottled soda drinks, dried beef, and salty potato chips? We can go on and on.

    But times have changed, and with more and more studies coming out linking junk food to cancer and unhealthy eating habits to obesity, parents are now more concerned. Should your child really be eating anything other than what you pack in their lunchboxes? 

    In March 2017, the Department of Education (DepEd) issued a department order (DO) containing the guidelines on healthy food and beverage choices in schools. DO 13, s. 2017 – Policy and Guidelines on Healthy Food and Beverage Choices in Schools and in DepEd Offices was issued to promote and develop “healthy eating habits among the youth and DepEd employees by making available healthy, nutritious, and affordable menu choices, and for setting food standards.”

    Among the objectives of the DO is to “provide guidance in evaluating and categorizing food and drinks.” Read about the color-coded categories here

    With this policy in place, parents can now worry less about sending kids to school without baon, whether for convenience or economical reasons. In fact, some schools have gone the extra mile to make canteen choices more interesting by following certain themes, and by involving the parents as well. Three schools, two of them in Metro Manila, share with us their challenges and the creative ways with which they try to address these. 

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    A balancing act
    The biggest challenge, says Rowie Matti, director of Sacred Heart School in Malabon, is “creating a menu that will cater to the preference of students, and at the same time, ensuring that it is healthy and balanced.” 

    “Students, being the kids that they are, are normally picky eaters and would prefer junk foods, fried foods, and salty or sweet foods over vegetables, fruits and healthy food,” adds Rowie.

    Aleli Rodriguez, school head of The Abba’s Orchard School (AOS) in Davao City, agrees. “There are still children who need to be reminded to eat vegetables. They set these aside, untouched, on their plates.” This is why teachers are also tasked to check if the children have consumed everything on their plates. 

    According to Teacher Ana Kamila Niguidula, school head and owner of Holistic Education and Development Center or HEDCen in Taytay, Rizal, the key is to “focus on being mindful about our choices for the canteen and what it stands for: health.”

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    At HEDCen, the students have always been used to freshly made, home-cooked food. New students often need time to adjust to the menu, but they eventually enjoy what is served at the canteen. 

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    Out with the junk
    In compliance with the DepEd order, softdrinks and chips are not allowed at the SHS canteen. “In lieu of those, we have biscuits, sandwich, fruit juices, and fresh buko (coconut) juice available,” says Rowie. 

    Vegetable viands have also become a must, says Rowie. Fruits from the school owner’s farm are sometimes used, such as bananas, coconuts, and pineapples. 

    “The viands and snacks are mostly home-cooked meals or lutong bahay, ensuring the health of students,” Rowie adds.  

    At HEDCen, there is also a no-candy policy. Food deliveries are not allowed unless students are staying late and the school canteen is closed. As a rule, their canteen only serves freshly made food and drinks, meaning no concentrated or powdered juice drinks, and no preserved meats like tocino and longganisa. That is, unless these are made by the canteen staff using their preservative-free recipe.  

    In the case of AOS, the school office made it a point to hand their canteen operators a copy of the DepEd guidelines before the start of the school year to ensure compliance.

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    With these measures in place, how is the students’ reception so far? “Students sometimes feel that the menu is repetitive. However, they still have their favorites in the menu, and food in the canteen is almost always sold out,” Rowie relates.

    Engaging the school community
    As with any initiative, this move to offer healthful choices at school canteens needs the commitment and engagement of the entire school community in order to succeed. Here are some of the schools’ best practices:

    SHS holds parenting talks on why healthy food is important at an early age, and how to prepare healthy meals for children’s baon.

    The canteen staff at SHS plans the weekly menu in advance, consisting of two snack options (i.e., pansit, sopas, lugaw, banana fritters, and egg or chicken sandwich) and three to four lunch viands.

    AOS considers suggestions made by parents on what is best to serve at the school canteen. The canteen operator also conducts a survey with the students, and work on the menu based on these suggestions, following the guidelines set by the school. They come up with two to three choices per day for variety.

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    SHS does its own research on yummy and healthy snacks that would appeal to children.

    At HEDCen, canteen staff takes into consideration the school’s calendar when planning their menu on a trimestral basis. For example, they serve Filipino food during Linggo ng Wika. During examination week, they offer easy-to-pack food.

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    July is Nutrition Month, so SHS heightens awareness for the importance of eating fruits and vegetables. Students also practice “Meatless Mondays” for the entire month.

    AOS has swapped non-carbonated, sugary drinks such as iced tea for healthier drinks like calamansi juice and cucumber lemon juice.

    Going green, staying safe
    Healthier food choices go hand in hand with environment-friendly and food safety rules, such as these shared by the schools:
    HEDCen practices segregation of wastes and utensils. Students are asked to bring home trash such as baon wrappers in order to promote mindful buying based on packaging.

    HEDCen students are asked to bring their own utensils. Hand washing with soap is a must before eating. Use of plastic plates cups is discouraged to avoid exposure to the chemical bisphenol A or BPA.

    Reservations for snacks and lunch are necessary at SHS in order to manage food wastage.

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    The canteen at SHS operates with the necessary permits. The canteen area and the materials used are sanitized regularly. Proper refrigeration and storage of perishables is practiced.

    HEDCen requires that cooking ingredients be carefully chosen based on quality and freshness. At AOS, marketing for produce is done daily at 6 a.m. to ensure that food is safe.

    Teacher Ana says that by adhering to these guidelines, what remains for schools is the challenge to “maintain the practice that we strive for every time, because the right priorities in health and the canteen food are already in place.” 

    Here's a sample menu at Sacred Heart School (Priced at P50 to P60 for rice and viand)
    Fried Chicken with rice 
    Chicken Tinola with rice 
    Pork Adobo with rice
    Daing na Bangus with rice 
    Tapa and egg with rice
    Tortang Talong with rice

    Sample menu at HEDCen (Priced at P50 for students; P60 for adult portions)
    Pork pochero and lumpiang togue with rice
    Homemade oatmeal cookies
    Kamote-calamansi juice 

    Sample menu at AOS Davao (All served with vegetables and fruits on the side)
    Monday: Pork
    Tuesday: Beef
    Wednesday: Chicken
    Thursday: Pasta
    Friday: Fish

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