Canteen Duty: What to wear, and what NOT to do

By Andrea Michelle

It’s one of those things I could never imagine doing: spending the better half of a day confined to a small room making sandwiches and putting pies in a warmer, while little people crowd around a counter clutching silver coins in their sweaty palms. Yet once you’ve got a school age child, volunteering to help in the school canteen or ‘tuckshop’ is just one of a raft of new primary school obligations to be navigated.


After my son pleaded with me for the gazillionth time to help in the Canteen (more so because the kids get a free Paddle Pop when their mum is on duty than a deep-seated desire to see me during the day I’m sure), I locked in a date with my buddy, and we dutifully rocked up at 9.30am one Tuesday morning, ready to wear disposable gloves and be tested on our mental arithmetic.


That day I learnt a bunch of things. I learnt that a School Canteen is a finely oiled machine built upon a tight timetable to create fresh, healthy food for hundreds of hungry mouths. I learnt what happens when you mess up a lunch order for one of those hungry mouths (tears, hiccups, and little cross faces – and that was just from the Canteen Manager…). And I found out what a Chicken Goujong* is.


But this is what I discovered that day about what to wear when you’re on Canteen Duty:


1. Tie your hair up and out of your eyes.

You don’t want to be flinging your hair around and having a lock fall in little Jack’s ham sandwich. Plus, some canteen managers will make you wear your hair in a hair net if you’re not careful (shudder!), so it’s worth going so far as to slick it back, or secure it with a side clip.


2. Cover up the cleavage.

The only thing worse than leaning over the counter to hand over change to a pack of six-year olds and having them squeal ‘boobies!’ is leaning over the counter to hand over change to a ten-year old boy and having them stare. A fitted top or tank that sits simply and flatly against your upper chest will do the job, or wear a shirt or blouse buttoned up high.


3. Cover up the toe cleavage.

While Beryl who runs the canteen is probably not that fussed about your toe cleavage, she’s quite likely to be concerned about the School’s Occupational Health and Safety Guidelines once you step foot on her turf. And she’s a stickler for rules. Avoid her disapproving raised eyebrow, and the chance of a piping hot Sausage Roll landing on your tootsies, and wear closed-toe shoes like a brogue, loafer or your favourite Converse.


4. BYO apron.

It’s messy business in the bowels of the school canteen, so cover up your Sass & Bide denims with an apron. Just don’t accidentally grab the Wild Turkey apron your husband was given as a gift with purchase when he bought a six-pack or you’ll end up wearing a well-worn and deeply stained spare one from Beryl’s cupboard instead.


5. Avoid the ‘arm party’.

A crowd of your favourite bracelets and bangles jingling away on your wrist is a fun way to add some sparkle to the average day, but by the time you’ve spread margarine on your 30th sandwich, the sound will be like fingernails on an old school chalkboard. Leave noisy and fiddly accessories at home where they can party like crazy while you’re out.



Yet despite the mysterious stain I left with on the sleeve of my shirt, despite being chastised by the Canteen Manager for being 5 minutes late, and despite feeling humiliated at my lack of swift simple mental arithmetic skills ($2.40 minus 70 cents is whaaaat?!), the day spent working in the Canteen was worth it when I saw my little guy’s smiling eyes peeping over the top of that high serving counter, and when he proudly nudged his friend saying “that’s my mum!”.


What are your fail-safe tips for surviving Canteen Duty?


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 *Fancy name for a chicken nugget 


Sharing is Foxy!


  • Norlin Mustapha

    LOL! You had me at “boobies”! But yes, so true…cover up, because no point trying to do that whilst serving little boys I say. I haven’t done canteen duty yet. Too much of a chicken sh*t but I know…before my eldest leave the school next year, I’m going to have to do it. Just for fun. :) Great tips btw!

    • FoxInFlats

      ANy chance to say “boobies” I reckon! Honestly Norlin, it was really fun. Great to do with a friend so you can have a giggle while you’re at it. x A

  • Lou

    This is gold Mrs Fox. Can’t wait for the next installment “what to wear whilst on a school excursion”.

    • FoxInFlats

      Man alive I don’t know if I’m game for THAT yet. Have you done one? Wanna do a guest post for us Lou? x

      • Lou

        I have been on a few. Most challenging was 75 Year 5 boys at the Zoo! Not sure I have the talents for a post but can certainly pass on some tips if you want them. xx.

  • mary_j_j

    Oh, our little school is too small for a canteen – so I suppose I will have to wait til little Miss moves along to the big school on the hill!! Thanks for the hints!

    • FoxInFlats

      Make the most of not having to do it while you can Mary 😉 xA

  • Questing Jess

    My eldest is still only just 3, so I’m a way off navigating the canteen yet – thank goodness 😉

    • FoxInFlats

      Your time will come 😉 It’s kind a fun though. One of those mum things that kind of jump out from behind a bush and scare you, but not so bad. x

  • Lisa Barton-Collins

    My best advise is to avoid school politics! Listen to others dissing various teachers and the new principal, but say NOTHING. Also, wear layers, because it can be freezing or super hot, depending on the canteen. Finally, find out where the price list is before the bell goes so you are not caught off guard asking ‘how much is a zooper dooper?’ x100.
    Also – $1.70

  • Al

    Love it! In time for ‘our’ (mine and Master 5) adventure into all things ‘school’ next year!

    • FoxInFlats

      Al, how exciting! It’s a whole new world, for sure x

  • Sandra Gale

    Not a style tip, but don’t forget to tell the littlies to wait for their change. The receptions quite often take off as soon as they have their food in their hands

    • FoxInFlats

      oh, good point. The little ones are so cute, when you can hardly see them over the counter. Awwww. x

  • Melinda @ Shop Me Chic

    I might be crazy but I can’t wait to do the canteen duty thing! My mum never did it (despite my begging) so I look forward to being able to do it for my kids. xx

    • FoxInFlats

      Am hearing you. The kids are sooooo stoked to see you there. My son hung out near the canteen through all of recess and lunch. Although that may also be because I was shouting him and his friends Paddle Pops 😉 x

  • Linda – Mums on the Go

    Classic! my eldest starts school next year so these are fab tips :) However, I am planning to rope my Dad in to do Grandpa Duty in the canteen … wonder if I can convince him? Wonder what the “man tips” for canteen duty should be?

    • FoxInFlats

      LOL. I reckon the tips are pretty much the same for guys. But swap the breast/toe cleavage parts for bum cleavage 😉

  • Al

    Ah, see, what you really want to get into is the school band. You get to set up the hall with 40odd chairs and stands at 7.45 in the morning, and no one gives two hoots about what you wear at that time of day, they’re just do darn grateful that you’re there and they’re not. My boys know that I struggle with year 1 maths, so I’m off the hook for canteen. But you’re going straight to good-mother heaven for your efforts, Mrs Fox.

    Only one word on school excursions – Converse, Converse, Converse.

    • FoxInFlats

      Al, that’s motivation enough to make my little guy persist with piano lessons!
      Ah, Converse, how we love thee! x

  • Sonia // She’s Sonic

    Love this! You would have been the hottest mum that canteen has ever seen.

    • FoxInFlats

      oh no, hardly! Although my red lipstick did give me a few strange looks from the year 2’s and the Canteen Lady. But I really wore that just for sport. he he he 😉

  • Sara-May Monaghan

    Oh I am so pleased my little one has no school canteen! I really don’t like food services, and this means it’s a non-issue!

    • FoxInFlats

      I’m with you on not having the obligation to help. That said, it IS kinda fun. :)

  • Megan

    Love this, and have SO shared with the school as a comment under their request for help :)

    • FoxInFlats

      Thanks Megan. I’ll admit I was a little sad when my son changed schools and they don’t ask for helpers. The look on their face when they see you there is well worth a couple of hours of time.

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