Hearty, healthy and homemade!

If I had a dollar for every lunch box that has come home untouched – or barely touched – I could fund the school’s cooling solution. The lunch box – fished out of the bottom of the bag in its pristine condition and thrown onto the kitchen counter at the end of the day – drives me demented.

Ensuring the contents are healthy and varied and ‘nude’ in the first place – and catering to three different tastes (for ten weeks at a time) – is beyond me. So it will come as no surprise if I tell that I love Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays: Canteen Days! Hallelujah kids! Take your pick! Lunch made by somebody else!

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And the large numbers of orders received by Sally, our Canteen Manager, suggests I’m not the only one who looks forward to Canteen Days. So, I thought it was time to find out a little bit more about the life-saving Sally and her fabulous canteen.

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Jacqui: Sally, how did you come to be running the KPS canteen?

Sally: I have always loved cooking – even before having my two kids – and have always been involved with my kids’ schools. I helped out at Liv’s school and gravitated towards their canteen. The manager there retired and, after years of volunteering, I was offered the job. After Liv left Camberwell, I decided to make a move. I wanted to get a job where I could really make a difference by offering healthier and varied options. I applied to Kew Primary and was very happy to been chosen as the Canteen Manager. I’ve loved the journey we have all taken so far and there’s more to come, I hope.

Jacqui: From the outside it all seems to run pretty smoothly. How does it work?

Sally: There is a lot involved with running the canteen, far more than people realise, and a lot of paper work for Boroondara Council. There’s a lot of ordering to do behind the scenes and I am at the supermarket at 7.00 am each morning. As soon as I finish the shopping, I’m straight back here and I start the baking and preparations for the day. By the time my volunteers arrive I am ready for them to really get working on the day’s menu. I have a group of fantastic volunteers and I couldn’t run the canteen without them. (Thank goodness for the volunteers xx.)IMG_6628

Jacqui: How do you decide what to cook?

Sally: Having fed a lot of children over the years, I’ve got a good idea of what they like and what they don’t; it’s experience, I suppose. I try new things and if they don’t work, I try something else. I only put out two menus a year as we all know children are creatures of habit. It also is quite a big job to produce a new menu – I have to cost the new items, work out the amounts, think about packaging and keeping it hot or cold. The aim, of course, is to produce a menu that is healthy and homemade. That’s what I do.IMG_36781

Jacqui: How many meals and snacks are you making each day? And how do you get that balance right between not wasting too much food, and having enough to go around?

Sally: This is also down to experience and I pride myself on having very little wastage. Morning tea is huge at the moment; I’m producing approximately 180 items of food – ANZAC biscuits, crumpets, cheese toasties etc. Providing I get enough volunteers each day, I can provide enough food so the children don’t miss out.

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It’s a little easier for lunch because of the paper bag ordering system, but I’ve had a significant increase in orders at lunch too. I was making about 35 pasta bakes, for example, and now that’s closer to 55. (So keep brining your orders in before school as that helps me to be organised so no one misses out.)

Jacqui: What’s your most popular dish and are you happy to divulge your recipes?

Sally: I am more than happy to share recipes and have already given out dozens. My most popular dish this season would have to be the pasta bake (the hardest to produce) which is kind of funny as last year it was the least favourite. I decided to keep it on as it has always been a favourite in our family and now it’s taken off.

Jacqui: What do you enjoy cooking?

Sally: At the moment I am a big fan of Thai cooking (I have phases). I am slowly going through the Spirit House cook books after spending a very pleasant day doing a cooking class with them last holidays.

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Jacqui: After a day running the canteen, I hope you don’t have to go home and make dinner. Does your husband cook?!

Sally: Kevin is a good cook (not as good as me, ha ha!) but does not have a lot of time. He will often cook on a Sunday night. I try to do easy meals on the days I am working or pull something out of the freezer. Other than that I really like trying new recipes.

Jacqui: Thanks Sally. Your pasta bake is my kids’ favourite too. (They wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole if I’d made it, but because it’s from the canteen…)

Sally Brown’s Famous Pasta Bake

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
300g button mushrooms
500g minced beef
440g can tomato soup
2 tablespoons tomato paste
¼ cup tomato sauce
½ teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon marjoram
Dash of Tabasco
150g spiral pasta
1 cup grated cheddar

• Heat oil in pan, add onion and garlic, cook until onion is soft
• Add celery, carrot and mushroom, cook for further three minutes
• Add mince, cook, stirring until well browned
• Add undiluted soup, paste, sauce, herbs and tobacco
• Simmer covered for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally
• Cook pasta and combine with mince mixture
• Transfer to 2 litre dish , top with cheese
• Bake in moderate oven for about 15 minutes
• Serve and enjoy!

Jacqui Tomlins and Sally Brown

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