Our small school: canteen

Our girls both go to our local Public School in the village, it’s known as a small school which are a feature of rural or remote communities. These “small schools” usually have just one or two teachers, a Principal (who usually teaches as well) and while I don’t know what the usual number are, ours has just 29 students from Kindergarten to year 6.

At our school we have 2 classes: K,1 & 2 and then 3,4,5 & 6 with a teacher in both and I can wholeheartedly say that both girls have received amazing educations from our school. We have lots of resources, an amazing playground and for me, the most beautiful sense of “family” and community as all the kids regardless of their age or class all play up or down within the years, there’s no shame in a year 5 kid playing with someone in Kinder for example.

Of course with a small school come their own challenges. We have a very small pool of people to pull from for help like fundraising or doing jobs on committees etc and if you are someone whose hand goes up to help, it’s likely that you will find yourself busy. All the time.

Small schools are a huge part of smaller and rural towns. They are vital life force for people moving into the area and they make up an important part of the community: kids and youth and all they bring to make up a town.

This term I have found myself with the task of canteen co-ordinator. But of course! Rob is the P&C preso and so I have found myself taking a (happy) back seat but this job came up and needed filling. I put up a few Instagram stories about it and had SO many quetsions from people about how it all worked so I thought I’d explain it all a bit better in a blog post.

Because we have such a small group of kids, we can’t have a tuckshop or canteen running all the time. Instead, once a fortnight on a Friday we have canteen. This is a parent volunteer who has agreed to suck it up and choose something for the kids. But that something is usually just one thing. And something homemade. So it could be pumpkin soup and a bread roll, spaghetti bolognese or lasagne, tacos or hot dogs. The menu (ha! one item) is placed in school bags on a Wednesday with last orders on a Thursday and on Friday that parent cooks and serves up to all the kids who have ordered.

I love doing canteen. Well, kind of. I usually stretch the boat out (NOT) and do something like hot dogs or pasta, I’ve tried the rice paper rolls and the like and they never get eaten. It has to be something bulk and cheap (it’s usually just a few bucks) with a juice and some fruit on the side, and if I can I will just cover the cost of it all myself and either donate the proceeds to the P&C or just make it free for everyone.

I love the little faces lining up on a cold winter’s day to get a hot bowl of something. I love having a joke with the kids, hassling them for their manners and embarrassing my own kids.

Last Friday though with all the cooking I was doing for the event, I decided to just put in an order from the local bakery for pies and sauso rolls. I took great joy in writing the orders out onto a brown paper bag just like we did back in the 80’s with a few coins and into the basket to be taken down to the tuckshop.

Great memories!

So that’s how it rolls in our little school. I do hope that these little jewels are protected in communities for a little while longer…if they take away Principal’s and funding and teachers we lose kids and when we lose kids we lose enrolments and so on. And for all those that asked, I hope this explains things a little better!

How does canteen work at your school?
What’s your best canteen memory?
Carob buds? Me too!


  1. I love this!! Our kids go to a small Catholic school- though it’s double the size- we have about 50 kids at the moment, with 4 teachers and a principal- I love than my kids know everyone, and they are part of such a tight knit community! We do tuck shop 2x a term (thank goodness it’s not more!).
    Just wanted to send a virtual pat on the back, well done you for giving your time to help at your kids’ school, people like you that quietly get on and give their time are what makes living in small towns truly special, but they rarely get the thank you they deserve, so this is yours- you rock 🙂

  2. I went to school in M’sia and canteen was a diverse offering of yummy food then! My favourite thing was 20c for a fried tofu stuffed with cucumber! haha. When we moved to Sydney for high school, my favourite canteen items was a hot potato pie or a box of drinking custard (yum!)

    Your school community sounds so lovely.

  3. I spent years 1-3 at a small school in country NSW. We had similar numbers of kids and a teacher and a teaching principal. Our ‘tuck shop’ was the village corner store. We could order from a small selection of sandwiches (cheese and vegemite on white bread anyone?) and pies and sausage rolls. The BEST thing though was when Chiko Rolls went on the menu… now that was the best lunch ever!!! Sadly we only got to buy from the canteen once a fortnight (or if mum had ru out of bread that morning). Thanks for the trip down memory lane Beth. I love the sound of your school ❤️

  4. In Dubai our school had 1200 students and they had a fully professionally catered cafeteria offering breakfast, lunch and snack. I would often arrive early for pick up and buy my own amazing lunch.
    In Brisbane we have 400 students and we have Tuckshop twice a week, most of the food is made by scratch by volunteer parents (generally mums), as a volunteer I get a “free” lunch when I work.

    Either way I did/do call it “canteen” and get told off by my kids that it’s “cafteria” or “tuckshop”.

  5. When I was a kindy kid my dad worked in my canteen. UNHEARD of in the early 80’s! I thought it was the best thing ever!
    Primary school canteen was the best, especially if Mrs Sullivan was working because she ALWAYS gave you extra pikelets ( 5 cents each ) or carob buds ( 1 cent each ). She was a big, jolly woman who was always kind. And seriously, who could go passed a yummy drummy!! My fave!!

  6. My kids go to a small school too. Our village primary school has just 13 kids this year. We do canteen on Wednesdays during the winter term, and they have iceblocks for sale during the summer. On Mondays and Fridays they are allowed to bring in food to heat up in the pie warmer or microwave – mine often take leftovers.

    Small schools are just the best. My eldest has gone off to the “big” high school this year – there are 16 kids in her year group. Huge!

  7. I love this! My school makes you order the tuckshop by use of an ap. I tried this once it cost $14 and he ate nothing so I’ve never gone back. Which is ok because I had to get another mum to show me how to do it and I’ve forgotten now. Netaporter it isn’t xxx

  8. at my own school and at my kids schools, both canteens are closed. Every now and then they run a special lunch or treat day like donuts etc.

    I did one of my pracs at a small school, same K-2 and 3-6. One of my best pracs. Just lovely. I cam imagine though that if you didn’t get along with the other teacher, it would be very difficult!!! At least in a larger school you can hide!

  9. I went to a small rural school, where the teacher/principal lived 100 metres away and we used to sit in his lounge to watch David Attenborough docos! The most we had was about 15 and at one stage at 9 they threatened to shut us down. Some tough lessons learned I must say. But in hindsight it was a fabulous start in life, tuckshop or not!

  10. Lauren @fairview_farmhouse says

    Our school has around 200 kids. Half are bused in from neighbouring “boroughs” and half are town kids. We are only about 25 mins from Geelong on the surf coast but are classified as rural.
    We don’t have canteen but the general store is basically the canteen. We do the brown paper bag with coins and off it goes in the washing basket to the general store. Kids can have a lunch order any day. Hotdogs, party pies and sandwiches. Prima juices too!
    I collect my mail from the general store too. Having grown up in Melbourne and making the tree change about 6 years ago, that still puzzles all our relo’s that I collect the mail from the general store ?? Love it. So old school – collect the mail, have a chat, off you go.

  11. Our school is very small and we live in Perth! The canteen only opens 1 or 2 days a week as there are not many students. The thing I find the hardest about a small school is the social side of things for my daughter. If she is having some issues with some girls there are not many options of other people to play with.

    • So true! Next year Daisy is in year 6 and in her year are just 2 kids (her and another boy). She has always played up with the bigger kids, but next year they will be gone. It’s going to be tough.

  12. At our school of about 55 kids, we have ‘munchies’! We have an awesome mum that plans the menu and organises the whole thing every fortnight, with helpers. Like your community, in our little farming town, lots of the same people do stuff, cos there is just no one else! I am the kinder president and fundraising lady ( kinder is seperate to school here in Vic ), my husband is the school council president. I do reading 2 x a week, get the preps dressed for swimming, help with spelling tests, bake for the munchies… you know what I mean hey hahaha! But I love it! All the school kids know me, and they come to me when they need to. It feels safe and honest and good.

  13. My daughter’s inner city primary school has about 250 kids and canteen four days per week. You can still order with a brown paper bag in the office but they prefer you to do it via a website, which has slowly won me over too as I don’t have to have cash! A local lady runs the canteen as a small business and in addition to the usual sandwiches, salads and sausage rolls has a home made option or two each day eg fried rice or pasta. I say small business but I’m astounded she makes a profit as it’s pretty cheap. I fondly remember canteen in the 1980s featuring apricot and coconut balls (alongside the carob balls), icy poles shaped like native animals and those pyramid shaped icypoles.

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