School Vegetarian Tuckshop on Fresh Environmental Journey

One of Brisbane’s only fully-vegetarian school tuckshops is on a journey towards minimal food waste and a paddock-to-plate experience for students.

Brisbane Adventist College’s tuckshop manager Debora Coorey is a lunch-making machine. Always on the move, she runs from oven to chopping board, fridge to pie warmer. In the process, she questions packaging suppliers about eco-friendly containers, colleagues about whether the lettuce is ready for today’s ‘haystacks’ (vegetarian nachos) and points out a spare corner for a delivery driver to stack boxes of fresh produce.

“It’s always like this,” she says, as she does a quick double-check of the Primary lunch orders before they're sent across campus in insulated bags and adds some micro-herbs to the morning tea she’s preparing for a teacher symposium in the Learning Resource Centre. She’ll be flooded with orders from Secondary students when recess starts in a few minutes. While her brain is in overdrive, her fingers know exactly what to do. Surely it’s impossible to go any faster, but then she says: “I need to speed up. We’re five minutes behind.”

While the College tuckshop has always provided a vegetarian-only menu, Debora (pictured right) and tuckshop assistants Coreena (pictured left) and Alice have a vision for a more sustainable paddock-to-plate menu. The inspiration comes from their commitment to health—which, in part at least, comes from their families’ medical issues. 

Debora herself wasn’t always capable of this frenetic pace. In fact, if she paused to inventory all of her aching body parts today, it would be a lengthy list. In 1999, Debora was very ill with Lyme Disease, a poorly-understood condition that originates with a tick bite. It became a chronic autoimmune condition for Debora. 

“Because of my illness, I had to learn a lot about food; how it affected my health, what’s in food, what to take out or keep in my diet to control my symptoms.”

Debora and her husband own Capalaba cafe The Vintage Apron. She grew up with good, nutritious home cooked meals made by Nonna and her father, a chef and owner of several restaurants. Her food is influenced by Italian, Greek and Middle Eastern cuisines. 

“I love food and my passion after being so sick for so long was to open a boutique organic farm-to-plate cafe on my own property. I wanted to teach people why we eat the foods we do and even invite school groups to come to the farm and learn.

“But then I saw the opportunity to run the BAC school tuckshop. Working here allows me to incorporate my plans directly into a school.”

Closing the gap in a micro 'circular economy' 

Debora’s vision incorporates more eco-friendly practices. The single-serve containers and utensils she now stocks are kinder to the environment. She coordinates efforts with members of the Garden Club, who place compost and container bins in the playground each lunch time for the students. Refunds from Queensland's Container Deposit Scheme contribute to new garden tools and materials. Food produced by all the people who garden at the school—those who attend the popular Wednesday afternoon Garden Club, students who have gardening as part of their individual adjustment programs, and classes that have 'growing' incorporated into their curriculum—is often donated back to the school tuckshop for a real-life paddock to plate experience. As the program matures, the College will get closer to closing the gap on their very own micro 'circular economy', minimising waste and shifting the paradigm from waste as 'disposable' to waste as 'resource'. 

“We put the food scraps from lunch times in a big tub, which turns around on an axis," says Year 4 student Gabriella with her fellow eco-warrior Chloe, who have recently visited each Primary classroom (and soon, Secondary classrooms) to educate students about how to properly sort their recycling for each bin.

"Once the food scraps break up, we put them into the garden and all the veggies enjoy it! Some of these veggies then go to the tuckshop." 

Freshness comes first

Debora’s food vision for the Brisbane Adventist College tuckshop is ‘freshness first’. Knowing that kids can be picky with their food, she plans to push them gently towards cleaner food choices. For instance, convenience foods which were once available in a bain marie ‘hot cupboard’ will be replaced with fresher alternatives. 

“We know we need to take it slowly, but it will be all about expanding their interest in food and their taste buds in international directions,” she says.

“This also means that students will need to get used to ordering and not relying on convenience foods like they may have in the past. We would never turn a hungry child away; we’d just make them a fresh or toasted sandwich. The good news is that we won’t be wasting as much food and it will be fresh.” 

Phase One: Trial Menu

The tuckshop ladies plan to use the initial menu to ease students into the idea, with some of the old favourites along with the new dishes.

1. Bakery Mondays: vegetarian pies and sausage rolls and other Aussie/American-themed food

2. Mexican Tuesdays: haystacks, quesadillas, burrito bowls, chilli non carne, Mexican salad

3. Burger Wednesdays: cheese burgers, not-bacon & egg burger, not-chicken burgers, pesto not-chicken burger, smokey BBQ veef (vegetarian beef) burger, vegan burger, stuffed mushroom burger

4. Italian Thursdays: pizza, pasta, salads and other Italian dishes

5. International Fridays: spanakopita, dhal, curries and other dishes from around the world.

Debora’s ultimate goal is to set up a Food Club at the school, leveraging off the existing gardening program and showing students how to make fresh meals from garden produce. But first things first!

Order your child's healthy, fresh, vegetarian lunch at, using school registration ID 25247963. 

PHOTOS: College veggie gardens, compost and container bins, Debora and Coreena in the tuckshop, and Josie, keen Garden Club member who asked her grandmother (who lives in a retirement village) to get all her neighbours to collect bottles to raise money for the club. In the photo, you see the result of their collection. "There's more. I couldn’t fit it all in the photo, lol," says Josie's mum.