How to create a great canteen menu

When's the last time you looked closely at the quality of your school canteen menu? It's an important question because how you present this menu will have some influence on items kids are likely to order.

Healthy canteen food in display cabinet.

Planning – the recipe for success

Serving healthy food to students makes a big difference to their ability to learn in the classroom, and their ability to form long-lasting healthy eating habits. 

Benefits of using a planned menu:

  • Many school canteens work to tight budgets, with small margins. Planning a menu can help you stick to budget by scheduling ‘specials’ and ordering ingredients nice and early, which saves you making costly and unexpected top-up purchases throughout the week.
  • Planning can also help you make best use of your staff. Food preparation and serving time in school canteens is often tight and, by knowing what meals are being served and when, you can book staff in accordingly.
  • It is easier to evaluate and improve your menu according to feedback from students and staff. It’s also a great way to provide a record of the meals you’ve served up over time.

Let's get started

The aim is to form a menu that offers some core items that rarely change, while providing variety through tasty seasonal and daily specials. We want to meet students’ nutritional needs but also keep them happy and satisfied. Not an easy task, but it is possible!

Here are some things to think about when planning your menu.

What do your students want?

Consider special diets (vegetarian), preferences, cultural and religious backgrounds. Consider variety and taste, appearance, seasonal variations, ease of serving at peak times and cost.

Resources

What do you have available in terms of finance, staffing, preparation and cooking facilities, and storage capacity.

Decide on your menu structure

  • How long is your menu cycle (a menu for a set number of days that is planned and then repeated) 
  • Will your canteen be open for breakfast, morning tea and lunch?
  • What kinds of foods will you offer at these times - hot and/or cold items?
  • Are there any special events or school theme days you need to factor in?

How to create a menu

1. Download a template

Try using one of our sample menus, or if your menu is small and you need to plan only sandwiches and rolls, try developing your own template. Refer to old menus and customer feedback, browse healthy recipe ideas to get inspired.

2. Get creative with menu item names

Stuck for ideas? Classroom involvement can be a great way to encourage children to come up with their own attractive names.

Here are some creative ideas to encourage healthier eating:

  • Naming grapes as 'alien heads'
  • Call smoothies 'monster juice'
  • Naming broccoli  'baby trees'
  • Refering to plain milk as 'delicious'
  • Renaming banana toasties 'Monkey bread'

3. Plan your layout

  • Fill in standard items that are the same every day
  • Plan the main hot dish/es
  • Plan hot snack items for morning and afternoon tea
  • Plan sandwiches and/or rolls for lunch time
  • Plan other items such as salads, sushi and cold snacks

3. Review

Look at the menu and make sure you don't have repetitions of major ingredients and that you have provided a wide range of flavours and colours (variety will keep your students from getting bored!).

4. Revise

Consider gaining customer feedback through a questionnaire, or student and staff forums. Revise the menu periodically based on the feedback.

Promote your menu

Promotion aims to make your students aware of what you have to sell and to persuade them to buy it. 

Menu promotion tips:

  • Have a daily specials board and circulate canteen specials via the school notices/newsletter.
  • When introducing a new product, reduce the cost of the product for the first week and advertise that the special is for a 'limited time'.
  • Introduce combo meals that include a sandwich/wrap, fruit or yoghurt and drink.
  • Rename new products with names that make the foods more appealing and exciting e.g. 'Wicked Chicken Wrap'.
  • Run a competition to name a new canteen food or re-design the canteen menu.
  • Use 2-for-1 deals, prizes, incentives and implement canteen loyaly cards to promote the sale of food in the canteen.
Browse our sample menus