Cape Town - 120515 - Tuckshop ladies at Wescott Primary Marion Schmid (L) and Pam Blanpied serve up some healthy chow. Wescott Primary in Diep River was named the healthiest school in South Africa in a competition last year. Children are offered a healthy alternative to the junk food typically sold at tuckshops like macaroni and cheese and salads. REPORTER: ESTHER LEWIS. PICTURE: THOMAS HOLDER

Cape Town - Several primary schools are overhauling their tuckshops, ditching the junk food and providing healthier eating options.

Parent Amanda Kellerman has run the Bergvliet Primary School tuckshop for more than five years and her menu includes cooked meals. In summer, she makes chicken wraps with salad, brown or wholewheat sandwiches or pizza with mozzarella cheese.

In winter the children can buy soup or homemade chicken pie, filled with vegetables.

She says she has seen to it that the children have the best of both worlds. She does sell boerewors rolls and hamburgers, but these are made with wholewheat rolls.

She also sells popcorn and a limited amount of chips and chocolates, and while these are available, she says most of the children prefer cooked meals.

Fizzy drinks are not sold during the school day and instead bottled water and iced tea are available. Kellerman only sells fizzy drinks after school, but says that even then, the children are not that interested.

She estimates that she sells about five cans a day.

Azailia de Vries has been running the Wynberg Boys’ Junior School tuckshop for more than five years and before the start of school each day, she sells healthy muffins, cereal bars, crunchies and hot chocolate without any sugar added.

During first break, she sells plenty of iced tea and flavoured water and at lunchtime, the boys have the option of hot dogs, toasted sandwiches, pies with lots of meat and thin pastry, or chilled chicken and salads. All the meat is grilled and no fat or oil is used in preparing food.

On Fridays, she prepares boerewors rolls and oven-baked hot chips.

“Boys are very consistent. They will find something they like, and order the same thing every day, all year,” she says.

De Vries is able to sell anything after school, including fizzy drinks, but these, she said, are bought almost exclusively by the adults who come to fetch pupils.

Over the years she’s noted that the boys don’t want fruit and yoghurt, and after intervals, often sees the fruit packed by parents untouched in flower boxes.

For many who run school tuckshops, getting pupils to buy into healthier options is not always simple.

David Lambrick, appointed by the Kirstenhof Primary School governing body to oversee the tuckshop, says: “Healthier doesn’t always sell.”

The school tried to introduce fruit, crunchies, bran muffins and other healthy snacks, but the children simply refused to buy, and more often than not, the healthy goods had to be thrown away.

Lambrick said getting children on board about better eating habits remained a challenge and input from other schools that had been successful was welcome.

The principal of Westcott Primary School, the winner of last year’s Vitality Healthy Schools competition, says they’ve managed to sustain their habits.

John Robertson suggests that when making the change, schools have to do it gradually, or run the risk of it not working at all.

Westcott has introduced healthier eating habits over the past three years and discusses them as part of Life Orientation. The focus is not only on food, but also physical education. Most of the school’s children are involved in sports and at least one hour of physical activity a week.

The school also has a counsellor to help the pupils deal with emotional issues. Robertson says with all these measures in place, the gradual introduction of healthy eating has been easy.

“It won’t work if you do it cold turkey,” he warns.

Today the queues at the school’s tuckshop are long as the children line up to buy pasta, salads, pies, sandwiches and soup, as well as fruit and yoghurt.

Robertson says from time to time, the tuckshop sells a few chocolates as a treat.

But the healthier goods are still placed in a more prominent position and sell well.

Nutritionist Katherine Megaw says counting calories is not very helpful, as many people don’t think about calories when they eat.

Instead, it is better to talk about food portions.

She says the average portion a day for a primary school child includes five servings of fruit and vegetables and four to 12 portions of wholegrain unrefined starches like rice, brown bread, Provitas, pasta or oatmeal.

The range depends on how active the child is, and whether the child is a boy or girl.

Tuckshop Programme for zest

The Heart and Stroke Foundation SA runs a Tuckshop Programme which it offers free of charge to schools. It aims to provide:

* The schools with assistance, advice and guidance on how to make the tuckshop healthier.

* Training for tuckshop staff (if school is based in Cape Town).

* A quarterly seasonal newsletter via e-mail (called Break Time) which contains useful information on how to adapt to a healthier lifestyle.

* A presentation by a dietitian to the school governing body or parent-teacher association detailing the programme (if the school is based in Cape Town).

This is done in the belief that there is a connection between a healthy diet and:

* Healthy growth and development.

* A pupil’s capacity to learn and perform effectively.

* The development of diseases of lifestyle at a young age.

* The decrease or prevention of the development of obesity.

* Better sports performance.

* Minimised hyperactive behaviour.

For more information on the Tuckshop Programme call 021 403 6450.