Making memories at a shared table

St Joseph’s Primary School in Gloucester has come up with a rather unusual twist to the traditional school lunch. On Mondays you won’t see any hot chips or lollies on the menu in the school’s canteen. Instead, students and staff pay five dollars to have a three course meal, made from fresh, wholesome and seasonal local produce, prepared with love in the school kitchen. 

The brainchild of parent, Shayne Gardiner, the Monday lunch, known as ‘The Shared Table’, sees students, staff and parents sitting down together at a table laid with gingham tablecloths and proper plates, knives and forks. The day starts with a serving of fresh fruits for the students’ fruit break. For lunch they enjoy a hot meal such as creamy spinach pasta, roast lamb or homemade pizza. At recess the children partake in a freshly baked muffin.

Shayne Gardiner says the response to this initiative has exceeded all expectations. “The kids’ enthusiasm is infectious. They are so excited to sit together every Monday and love trying new things at lunch. Sitting together and sharing their meal at a table brings an extraordinary calmness,” explains Shayne. It is important to note that all children sit at the table regardless of if they are buying the lunch or not. “The concept has really united the children and they very much look forward to Mondays,” Shayne said.

Every week a menu is emailed and circulated amongst the students and their families. On Mondays six rostered volunteers help prepare the meal in the school’s kitchen, attached to the hall. Shayne says these parents have built a great friendship and have a lot of fun preparing the meal. “We talk and laugh while we cook and then enjoy the delight on the children’s faces as they enjoy things they may not eat at home and sometimes come back for seconds,” laughs Shayne. One parent said her child who never ate pumpkin at home is now enjoying it after trying it at The Shared Table.

Since gaining the support of the principal, Bronwyn Underwood, and the school’s P & F Association in Term 1, the concept has gained momentum. Shayne now finds that each Monday most families in the school are ordering the lunch for their children. The meal is great value for money and a time saver for families on Mondays.

All profits from the meal are used to support families from the school when and if they need assistance, so it’s a wonderful community initiative as well.

“I was inspired by Stephanie Alexander and Jamie Oliver, both great advocates of the importance of a healthy diet for children’s optimum health. We can’t expect children to be at their best and concentrate in class if they fill up on lollies and flavoured water during their breaks,” said Shayne.

Shayne says the enthusiasm the children express about what’s on the menu each week is infectious and their manners are impeccable. “When they bring their plates back to the kitchen after the meal they always say thank you and something like, ‘That was the best one yet’”, laughs Shayne.

The Shared Table has brought the school community together. Sam in Year 4 sums it up, “I really love the way they cook pumpkin. It tastes way better than at home. I like to sit at the table and talk with my mates.” Or as kindergartener Arianna puts it, “I love it because they cook food like pizza and it tastes yummy.”

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Lee Sullivan

Lee Sullivan is the Religious Education Co-ordinator at St Joseph’s Primary School, Gloucester.

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