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Meet the Canberra clubs embracing healthier choices

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When we say, ‘dinner at your local club’ what do you think of?

You’d be forgiven if schnitzels, chips and gravy come to mind. This is, after all, what our local clubs are known for—classic meals created to be eaten while watching a game of sport or catching up with mates.

You’d also be forgiven for assuming that clubs might not have many tasty, healthier options for families.

But across Canberra, that’s changing. Healthier Choices Canberra is an ACT Government city-wide initiative that encourages a diverse range of Canberra organisations and businesses—from supermarkets to sports organisations—to create a healthier future for Canberra.

As Hellenic Club Operations Manager Mick Douros explains, his establishment was the very first club to trial Healthier Choices Canberra.

“We were the pilot venue and we started a few years ago,” he says. “We do thousands of meals a week and the majority are for families—we just wanted to make sure we had a really easy, sensible offering so when people came out and chose us as a destination, they could feel confident that their children were getting a healthy meal.”

While one of the main aims of Healthier Choices Canberra Is to make healthier options as obvious to customers as possible, in clubs this also meant creating new menu items, which Mick says have been incredibly popular.

“We reviewed our Children’s Menu in the Bistro and made sure that there were healthier options for kids. We wanted to have a traditional [Greek] feel so we had Souvlaki Sticks with chicken breast and lean beef—even the lasagne, we made sure we used a different style of mince. Just small changes with tasty food.”

“The feedback has been really positive. Sales have increased. Our members love it. It’s great for guests that haven’t been in the club before. There’s healthier options to steer their children in the right direction.”

But aside from popularity with guests, Mick says Healthier Choices has also been a proud addition to the club’s offerings.

“Even our staff feel proud that we have that next level of education,” he says. “It’s pushed us to take [healthier options] to the next level—we’ve had our entire menu in our city venue graded by a nutritionist and dietician, so we now show the full range of kilojoules.”

“We have a Gold Leaf system so people can see—not only for kids but adults too—that there are some healthier options out there. This is something we’ll end up doing throughout all of our restaurants because it’s been really well accepted by our community.”

Across town, the Canberra Southern Cross Club (CSCC) has also been an early adopter of Healthier Choices Canberra, having worked with local nutritionist Kate Freeman to develop healthier options for kids.

“In late 2016 the CSCC collaborated on a study with Kate from the Healthy Eating Hub, and the University of Canberra, to discover what ACT parents were looking for in a healthier kids’ menu,” explains Clare Williams, General Marketing Manager for Canberra Southern Cross Club.

“We launched the resulting healthier kids’ menu into our venues in Woden, Tuggeranong and Jamison in early 2017.”

As many parents know, finding menu items that are both ‘healthier choices’ and ‘appealing to kids’ can sometimes be difficult, but Clare says they were able to keep both little ones and parents happy with options like chicken kebabs, spaghetti bolognaise, rice paper rolls, a whole food tasting plate and, for a sweet option, yoghurt crunch.

For the CSCC it was a win/win situation.

“The Healthier Choices Canberra program fits well with what we’ve already been doing with our kids’ meals,” explains Clare. “We all want to see happier, healthier and more active kids and our kids’ menu is a great way to help promote this goal.”

“The dishes are bright, colourful, interactive and most importantly, tasty. Experts and researchers agree that the earlier healthier eating habits can be established in children the better, and the more likely they are to keep these standards later in life.”

Henry’s restaurant at the CSCC recently hosted the Healthier Choices Canberra Great Canberra Cook Off — a competition to find the city’s Little Chef, Teen Chef and Stripped Chef. They were so Impressed with the San Choy Bau created by Lola, the Little Chef winner, the CSCC will feature It on their kids’ specials menu.

For Josh McCulloch, Head Chef at Vikings Town Centre in Tuggeranong, it’s been a no-brainer, especially with Vikings’ role in Canberra’s sporting community.

“There’s nothing better than seeing a healthy bunch of kids,” says Josh, who adds clubs are the perfect place to implement such a program, as they’re a natural choice for many families. He feels that healthier meals mean that parents can step around decision fatigue when it comes to choosing options for their kids when they eat out.

“They’ve been making the decisions about meals all week, it means they can just relax,” says Josh. “And the kids are loving it.”

Having joined Healthier Choices Canberra two years ago, Josh says the program has inspired Vikings to implement changes across both their kids and adults’ menus, with dishes like grilled chicken tenders with hummus and a build-your-own Greek Salad becoming an instant hit with little ones.

Another sports-focused club, Ainslie Football Club, has also been involved in Healthier Choices Canberra from the beginning. Venue Manager Andrew Hunter says that being involved had obvious benefits for the club and its members, but also the broader community.

“It’s a great initiative,” he says. “The community itself is becoming more health-conscious, people are more conscious of allergies and restrictions, so the more that we can help and have people come to the club and not feel they’re excluded because they want to eat a healthy meal, we’re all for it.”

At Ainslie, a healthier choice for members included making changes across the board.

“There are healthier salads, we promote vegetables more than chips on the kids’ menus and we’ve changed everything on the menu to have vegetables, not just chips, and instead of chicken nuggets we now have chicken strips. It’s a lot healthier for kids.”

As for the success of the program, Andrew says it’s exceeded expectations regarding uptake from their members.

“We thought it would take a little longer for the kids’ meals to [become popular], but they’ve been the most popular ones.”

To find out which businesses are part of Healthier Choices Canberra, visit www.act.gov.au/healthierchoices

This editorial was created in partnership with Healthier Choices Canberra. For more information on sponsored partnerships, click here

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