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Tawhiti School


We wouldn’t make changes without seeing what our kids wanted or didn’t want


Assistant Principal

The school ethos and organisation

Health and nutrition is very important to the staff and students at Tawhiti School. The principal emphasises the importance of teamwork


and teachers modelling good health behaviours, and is actively involved in the health promotion work of the school.

Curriculum programmes

The school staff are planning to work closely with a dietician, who they hope will come to the school to talk about nutrition and offer some ideas for further changes. One possibility is offering demonstrations of healthier lunchbox ideas for parents.

Co-curricular health promotion opportunities

The students have a 10:00am Brainfood Break when they eat fresh vegetables and fruit to "stimulate their brains" and help with their learning. Students can eat fruit and vegetables any time during the school day, which has been restructured so that lunch is later and the afternoon lesson is shorter. This means both children and teachers are fresh in the morning and make the most of that valuable learning time. The school has also found that as children have less time to play at lunchtime, playground incidents have decreased.

Tawhiti is a "water-only" school, with no soft drinks. Students bring their own drink bottle and are encouraged to have them on their desks during the day and fill them whenever they like. There are plans to raise funding to install water coolers for the children to use. Children are also encouraged to bring healthy food from home, while unhealthy foods (such as hot chips), while not totally banned, are discouraged as everyday foods. Students may have them once a term as a treat.

The school and community environment

The new canteen is a big success story for this school. It is the result of hard work by the assistant principal who, after attending a workshop on nutrition, realised the food on offer through the order-in system was mainly unhealthy and not supporting what was taught in the curriculum. A survey of the lunch order system confirmed that:

  • there were 27 options on the menu, and only 5 were healthy foods
  • on average, every week they sold 56 pies, 8 savouries, 19 doughnuts, 14 custard squares, and 10 lamingtons, compared with only 3 sandwiches and 1 ham roll – and both healthier options were bought by staff
  • they made only $14 a week on average from the supplier, so profit was not a reason to continue with it.

These findings encouraged the assistant principal to make some important changes. A student competition was run to name the canteen, and won by a six-year-old who offered "Tawhiti Tucka". Students and parents have a voice in deciding on the foods sold in the canteen.

The menu is focused on offering simple, but tasty food. Mains such as toasties cost $2 and sides such as fruit kebabs are $1. There are also lunch packs offering one main and three sides for $5. The aim is to have appealing and affordable food that the students want to buy. The $500 profit from one term has gone back into Tawhiti Tucka to buy equipment.

A few changes are made to the menu each term to provide variety, and all new foods are taken around each classroom so that children know what they are and what they taste like. A big mistake was made when changes were made without consulting students and parents – the new foods proved unpopular. So now the students are always consulted with and listened to! “If they’re not going to eat it, there’s not much point in putting it on there,” the assistant principal said. The great news is that most suggestions are healthy, reflecting a shift in attitudes towards the food. Tawhiti Tucka is thinking about "going back to basics" with some foods, by introducing foods such as Marmite and lettuce, and peanut butter sandwiches. The assistant principal said, “The more it’s evolved, the more I have learnt to make it simple and quite plain.”

Making the food attractive is very important, and the canteen cook is brilliant in this regard. The children order the boiled eggs to see what crazy face the cook has put on them that day. The school has also ordered an apple peeler that peels apples into long ribbons, to make them more appealing to children.

The money made from Tawhiti Tucka also covers the cost of employing a staff member to prepare the food, but they are not doing this to make a profit. The assistant principal is very clear that parent help would not work –“It is not a volunteer job,” she says, and, “It’s really important to have the right person in there so the food is of a high standard … so you really need to pay someone for that responsibility.” In the future, the school wants to hire a second person to help out with Tawhiti Tucka.

School and community partnerships

Tawhiti Tucka has had a lot of support from senior management, other teachers, parents, and students. The principal said it has been an easy and successful process because everyone has been consulted and informed about the changes. The principal expected some negative feedback from parents, and says she “was surprised at how easily it went”. She says she has a fantastic team and they work together as a team – things are discussed. “I believe in ownership. I believe that for things to happen, everyone needs to be on board.”

Student input is key. “We try to use our kids as much as we can … We wouldn’t make changes without seeing what our kids wanted or didn’t want.”

Parents are regularly informed about what is happening in the school, through weekly newsletters and the school website. The school has plans to give parents lunchbox ideas in future newsletters.

Tawhiti now wants to achieve the Gold award in the National Heart Foundation’s School Food Programme. Senior staff said participating is a useful way of ensuring they are on the right track with their health promotion work, and it gives them "a big pat on the back" for making positive changes.