The Canteen Queen. How a personal struggle is now transforming our kid’s lives…
If you know me well, you know how I have an unusual (obsessive? nutty?) nuance with school canteens. I just can’t help it! It just seems so simple! It still blows my mind how there can still be resistance to stop selling so much junk and create more fresh healthy tasty fun choices. But the issue goes further than the canteen and more about the attitude to food and our kids. And let me repeat. I still think there should be a couple of “treats” but have a majority of the menu about fresh healthy tasty food. Let me introduce you to Brooke Flanagan. Brooke is currently managing 4 canteens in Sydney’s western suburbs. Brooke is a bloody legend.Before becoming a Canteen Queen Brooke was a preschool teacher but stopped working to have her own children. Her mum used to get her as a young girl in the kitchen cooking and teaching her different dishes and techniques.
“My mum passed away a few weeks before I found out I was pregnant with my first daughter so being in the kitchen cooking brings back a lot of fond memories. My daughter starting kindergarten was what made me explore the idea of opening my own school canteen and start private catering because it pushed me to do some research into what other canteens were selling because I wasn’t happy with my daughter’s canteen and I found that approx. 90% of the schools sell so much junk and microwaved frozen meals.”
I’m hearing you Brooke.However Brookes passion for healthy food for kids stems from her own personal relationship with food growing up. “My passion for children eating healthy comes from my own weight issues. I was very thin as a child but in my teens was when I started gaining weight. My mum cooked healthy foods for my brother and I growing up but portion control didn’t exist we could literally ‘snack’ whenever we wanted which was mainly when we were bored so I know how easy it is to gain weight. Also working in childcare I saw so many children with rotten teeth from all the sugar they consumed at home, they were coming to school with meat pies, sausage rolls, cakes from the bakery for breakfast so it was clear to me how bad some kids eat at home as well as their older siblings that attended the before and after school program at the centre then would go to school and pig out at their school canteen at lunch and recess.” Yes Brooke! This is one of my favourite reasons why in our educational system we need for all our canteens to strictly commit to providing healthy food and education for all children as not all kids come from a background where this information and lifestyle is available. Brooke goes on to say “It is important to have healthy choices at primary school canteens because food preferences start at a young age so if they can grow to liking healthy and nutritional food its highly likely they will follow through with healthy eating as adults. Also, if children see their peers trying healthy food they will be more inclined to follow suit.” Realising that it takes a village to raise kids Brooke explains why it is important within communities for Canteen’s to play nutritional role in children’s lives as “Being a working mum I know how easy it would be to buy fast food for dinner so I do understand parents do that which is why it’s important for me to provide healthy food for students to make it easier for the parents so they can have that treat night because they know their children have eaten healthy all week from my school canteens and I’m educating the children on what’s good for them at the same time by showing them that healthy food doesn’t always have to be bland.” One of the biggest problems with the new canteen guidelines is implementing the new policies and restrictions. It is confusing and overwhelming and daunting as you don’t want to be hated by the students. Finding a happy medium between parents, school and Government regulations is the key. But who can argue against kids eating healthy at school? seriously?? Brooke says you can still have “fun food” by swapping not stopping as she states “I still have to sell iceblocks and flavoured spring water as the principals and p&c at my canteens requested it. However they understood that I wont sell biscuits, slushies, lollies and hotdogs so we compromised on a few items. Parents weren’t happy at first that I don’t sell hot dogs but after explaining to them just how bad they are for children they soon understood. So by not selling hot dogs I introduced pizzas on my menu made from bread rolls with cheese and healthy toppings which have become very popular.” Brooke says “If you know what your doing and are a confident and a capable cook then the new guidelines shouldn’t be a problem you just need to use your imagination… I get my inspiration from foods my mum used to make us growing up, healthy kids association, donna hay and Jamie oliver.” Brooke is super proud of her canteen too. She has her own FB page and let me tell you…it is canteen food porn!! Her posts get shared around the world, she has done numerous media interviews and is backed by ‘NSW public schools’. Brooke’s recipes are not only suitable for canteens but for kids parties and in the home. Her passion and care for her students is a shining example and one can only hope will be incredibly infectious.
If you would like to learn more about brooke’s canteen and how she nails it check out her website http://www.brookescanteen .com.au.
Clickkatie wants to thank Brooke for taking time out from being a damn awesome human to do this interview.