EMERGING track and field athlete Mackayla Culvenor says knowing there is quality, nutritious food at school that meets her dietary requirements alleviates pressure.
Her school Ballarat Grammar has been among a band of schools across the region working closely with Ballarat Community Health to revamp canteens and lunch options to promote healthier eating and better support students with special dietary needs.
Mackayla, who is in year 10, must also eat gluten free.
"Having access to really nutritious food that I know hasn't been contaminated with gluten is really important and I don't have to worry if I'm running a bit late to school I know there's food in the canteen," Mackayla said.
Similarly, year 11 student Winnie Tayler has a dairy-free diet and appreciated feeling included in having plenty of food and drink options in the school canteen. She said having nutritious options, such as juices and chips, were important.
Grammar has been working on the long-term achievement program to overhaul the school's approach to well-being since 2017. The Vic Kids Eat Well program, delivered via Cancer Council Victoria and Nutrition Australia, helped to boost this approach in reassessing the canteen in consultation with students and staff.
About 90 per cent of Grammar's canteen meals now contain vegetables, up from 50 per cent, since taking up Vic Kids Eat Well.
Grammar assistant head of senior school Sandra Warwick, who leads the school's student care and well-being, said there had been a huge uptake in students and staff accessing the canteen, especially in winter where there were now healthier hot options.
Ms Warwick said it was important students had access to good nutritious energy through the day, in meals and snacks, and also for students like Mackayla, who often had early morning sports training before arriving at school.
"The students have voiced their concerns about the options they had in the canteen previously," Ms Warwick said.
"We've worked with the students to find out what their needs are and there's a diverse range of dietary requirements from coeliac, gluten free to dairy free. We found that if we didn't provide those options, the students were either going without lunch or they were going over the road up to Stockland Wendouree to source the food.
"In consultation with the students, we've been able to provide options for them that are healthy and meet their dietary requirements."
As part of Vic Kids Eat Well, Grammar students now enjoy new menu items such as: breakfast frittata with roasted pumpkin, fetta, and eggs; vegetarian salads; rolls with roasted vegetables and chickpeas: fresh sushi; frozen yoghurt; and, fresh Greek yoghurt.
The school's drink range has also expanded to include zero sugar options and sparkling mineral water.
Ballarat Community Health's Alexandra Bell is a health promotion officer who works with schools, out of school hours care and community sports organisations across the region that participate in the free Vic Kids Eat Well program.
Ms Bell said even starting with "bite-sized actions", such as food swaps or baking instead of deep-frying, were good starting points.
"[For] schools, it's a big day and we need to make sure our young people have got the energy that you need to get through the day at the end and having delicious and nutritious food is one way to achieve that young people," Ms Bell said.
"If they start these habits early, they're more likely to follow them into the future."
Schools and community groups can learn more by emailing email@example.com or call 1300 185 725.
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