Remote school launches tiny canteen

Monday, February 6, 2023

Kurtuk-Kurtuk, meaning sisters, is the traditional place name for Branxholme, home to the Nillan Gunditij and Direk Gunditj clans of the Gunditjmara Nation.

Nestled in this beautiful landscape is Branxholme-Wallacedale Community School (BWCS). Comprised of just 12 students from Prep to Grade 6, students are taught to rise to every challenge. Principal Natalie Bennett encourages children to be resilient and try their best, which also applies to their health and nutrition.

From time to time, Natalie — a teaching Principal — would cook with the students to allow them to experience homemade, nourishing meals. They learned to care for three cheeky chickens and collect eggs to share with their families. When time allowed, the school would grow produce in their vegetable patch. The arrival of the Healthy Kids Advisors initiative in the Southern Grampians gave Natalie a chance to reboot some of these existing efforts and plan for some bigger dreams.

Wanting to invigorate her regional school with a fresh approach to healthy food, Natalie connected with her locally-based Healthy Kids Advisor, Monique Sobey. A resident of nearby Hamilton, Monique was already familiar with the school’s history and its importance to the surrounding farming community. 

“Our school is very small — we have 12 students. Being small and regional is sometimes a tough gig. It can feel very isolating. In the last term, working with Monique has allowed me to stop and think about what we can do. It's given me that chance to have proper conversations about what we can put in place. What can we do to encourage the kids to have healthy food? Monique is someone who has already thought about the ideas before they become problems. She’s able to say to me, ‘This is something simple you can do’.”

Natalie Bennett, Principal

A fundraising canteen for the community

Initially, Monique visited the school and worked with the children to replant and rejuvenate the vegetable garden. Afterwards, she ran a workshop to discuss the superpower benefits of fruits and vegetables. From these initial discussions with the Principal and children, an idea was born to have a student-operated canteen to raise money for their end-of-year camp. 

Students were keen to be involved in all the decisions, from surveying food choices, naming the canteen, harvesting from the vegetable garden and running the canteen like a small business. Thinking ahead, they planted pumpkin seedlings in time for a bumper season of nourishing Winter soup.

The school staff happily gave up their staffroom as a canteen preparation space. It was decided that the canteen would operate every Friday, with senior students preparing the food and serving it to the school community through a small window into the playground.

To help them prepare, Monique demonstrated fresh, healthy recipes that the students could easily recreate and sourced wholesome, long-life snacks to help them earn a profit. “The students were excited and engaged, all wanting to jump in and help,” said Monique. 

With a date set for the grand opening, Monique supported the children in preparing and sharing colourful fruit salad cups, chicken salad wraps, zucchini muffins, and handmade sausage rolls brimming with vegetables. Families and community members were invited to see the big project unveiling. An old-fashioned sports carnival with egg and spoon relays and wheelbarrow racing made the day extra special.

“I enjoyed making the fruit kebabs and learning all the different superpowers of coloured fruits and vegetables. The tastiest things in the canteen are the hummus and the crackers.”

Ruby, Grade 5 

A unique approach for small schools

“Monique has been a blessing,” said Natalie. “She’s been getting the kids excited, brainstorming healthy choices, arranging donations and keeping me moving forward. Being a small school, sometimes things get dropped because it becomes another add-on. She has kept me on track.”

Along the way, Monique has been guided by the state-wide Vic Kids Eat Well program to assist and fit BWCS’s unique needs. The school has earned two bronze certificates, and two nominations for the Vic Kids Eat Well awards by switching to a healthier array of food and drink and embracing creative fundraising.  

“My advice to other schools?” says Natalie, “I would really say sign up. Being a small or regional school, sometimes it’s a tough gig. You just feel like there's too much to do. But having Monique say, ‘What about this?’ or ‘We could try this’, has been so invaluable to me. I’ve spoken about doing this with the canteen for about six years — seriously — and she's got me doing it within a term. And it hasn't been a big deal; it really hasn’t.”

“No matter how far away or how small your school is, a Healthy Kids Advisor provides the extra help you need to excite young people about healthy and delicious food. And it’s free. We’re here to assist other schools in any way we can. This initiative is running through to June 2024, so we have plenty of time to work together.”

Monique Sobey, Healthy Kids Advisor 

About the Healthy Kids Advisors initiative 

The Healthy Kids Advisors initiative is delivered by the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation and supported by the Victorian Government and Australian Government. 

This community engagement initiative is active in 13 priority communities to spread pleasurable food education and encourage participation in the state-wide Vic Kids Eat Well movement. 

In collaboration with local health promoters, Council and community, our Advisors offer free support and simple ideas to boost healthy and delicious food and drink in schools, sports clubs, after-hours care and council-run facilities. 

Want more information?
visit the Healthy Kids Advisors news page or contact us at

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