As a seven year old I clearly remember the excitement of lining up on canteen days and waiting and waiting (it would feel like forever) to buy two pieces of delicious raisin toast for 5 cents! Even now that golden butter smell wafting off the toast still brings back happy memories…memories of when I was a little girl at primary school. Diamanto Pantazis Continue reading
This week, Alex St Claire shares some thoughts on the school canteen (and how lucky Kew Primary is to have one).
Despite many Australian schools shutting down canteens – and even outsourcing to local fast food outlets – due to a lack of volunteers, Kew Primary’s canteen is a thriving hub of parent helpers.
Current government policy sets nutritional standards for school canteens, which have proven too expensive for many schools to maintain without parent support. At KPS, we are lucky enough to have the parent support to offer a range of healthy and wholesome food Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Continue reading
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!
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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
When you do a selfless deed or an act of good your body releases endorphins. This is why volunteering makes us happy! *
You can smell them half way across the playground, the homemade ANZAC biscuits, or is it the apple muffins, or the sausage rolls? Whichever, I always like to linger a moment at the canteen to check out what the kids will be enjoying at lunch and recess.
Last Friday when I dropped by, the seemingly unflappable Sally was in a bit of tizz; all three of her volunteers for that day were at the doctors with sick kids. She had close to 120 lunch orders to prepare, as well as half a dozen different homemade snacks for recess, and was a little concerned about how she was going to manage.
Fortunately, two volunteering stalwarts, Nikki and Emma, stepped in at no notice and saved the day, and the lamb moneybags, tacos and cheese toasties were all duly delivered.
Now, this got me thinking: what percentage of the population do you reckon volunteer on a regular basis? 10 per cent? 15? 20 even? Well, according the Australian Bureau of Statistics it’s around 36% and, interestingly, the biggest cohort of volunteers – around 55% – is couples with dependent children aged 5 – 17. That’s us. The most commonly cited reason for why people volunteer is because it increases their sense of community belonging. So how does this all relate to Kew Primary School I wondered? Do half of us volunteer? And what is our motivation if we do?
‘I like to know what’s going on around school,’ Nikki tells me, ‘and I like to keep my finger on the pulse. I volunteered to help with the athletics carnival and I got to talk to lots of staff – Barry and Robin and Xavier and Michelle – and it was very enlightening! Plus, I’m a control freak. You see things that need improvement and often there aren’t the resources to fix it and you can’t always expect people who are really busy to pick it up.’
‘Volunteering in class means I get to know my kid’s teacher really well,’ she says, ‘and my children love seeing me there. You get to know the other kids too which means they feel more comfortable about approaching you, or asking you for help outside the classroom.’
Emma likes to know what her kids are doing during the day, too, especially, she says, as it’s really hard to get any information out of them. ‘But I came from overseas,’ she adds, ‘and I didn’t know anyone. I needed to meet as many people as I could and if I hadn’t volunteered I think I would have stayed at home and got lonely and depressed. I don’t have to work and I’ve got the time and means to volunteer and a lot of people don’t have that luxury. Plus…well…I’m just really nosy.’
The head honcho of volunteers in any school is generally the president of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), in our case the indefatigable George. The PTA organises a range of events throughout the year aimed at raising money or fostering a sense of community and, in most cases, both.
‘I’m a very impatient person,’ George tells me. ‘I see a problem and I want to fix it. I feel obligated to help. But there are many, many people in our school who volunteer regularly and quietly – whether it’s reading in class, going on excursions, walking the kids to swimming – and, to be honest, the place would fall in a heap without them. These people make a really big difference.’
I asked George why some people who are interested in volunteering might be reluctant to put their hand up; I know, for example, people sometimes feel they don’t have the particular skills, or that they can’t make a whole-term commitment.
‘Not everyone wants to be on school council,’ George says, ‘or is suitable for it, but there are dozens of ways that people can help for say, 45 minutes a week, or with a one-off contribution to an event. Sometimes parents can be a bit nervous about volunteering, but they don’t need to be; it’s a good way to become involved in your school and I think it’s a fantastic example to our kids.’
So who knows whether 55% of us volunteer – it doesn’t actually matter – and people clearly get involved for all sorts of reasons. We do know that many people regularly give up their time to help support our school community in many different ways, and that the day to day experience of our kids is all the better because of it. As George says: ‘If there are no volunteers, it doesn’t happen.’
So, a big thank-you to everyone who has volunteered this year; to the quiet contributors and the nosy, impatient, control freaks!
Thanks for listening,
Volunteers are involved with all of the following at KPS:
Canteen, excursions and incursions, classroom reading, swimming, class reps., book club, uniform shop, school banking, fruit duty, working bees, school council, mothers’ day, fathers’ day, peppercorn barbeque, chess club, bush dance, concerts and performances, sporting activities, and more…
If you would like to volunteer please contact:
Your class teacher
George (PTA) firstname.lastname@example.org
Sally (Canteen) 0431 213289
School office 9853 8325
*One million acts of kindness: www.1millionacts.com.au