Eating for Success: A low additive eating plan for schools


Why schools should minimise food additives

After a review of numerous scientific studies, independent scientists from the Centre for Science in the Public Interest recommended that schools and other institutions dealing with children should minimise the use of food additives, especially food colours, that may contribute to behavioural disorders. "The obvious public health response would be to remove the irritants, if possible, from the foods that children eat," the scientists concluded. The report is available from

When schools reduce additives in various ways, they always see positive results.

In the most publicised program, UK celebrity chef Jamie Oliver introduced fresh, natural, additive-free food to 160,000 London schoolchildren. After one month of Jamie’s dinners at Wingfield Primary School, teachers reported an improvement in concentration, reading, writing, the children were calmer and none of the asthmatic children had needed their medication at school since the trial began, as seen in the Jamie’s School Dinners DVD,

In another UK school, an entire class of 6-year-olds was asked to avoid additive-free food (39 additives) at home and at school for two weeks. The trial was monitored by Professor Jim Stevenson from Southampton University and filmed by ITV in 2003. At the end of the trial nearly 60 per cent of parents reported an improvement in their child's behaviour, sleep patterns and cooperation.

A number of Australian schools have joined the growing trend. When Rosemeadow Public School in NSW removed preservatives, coloured cordials and fizzy soft drinks and encouraged children to drink water or milk, within six weeks, there was a ‘40 to 60% drop in certain types of behaviour that children were exhibiting in the classroom, and an increase of 30 to 40% in the length of time they could concentrate on a task’ – See Undernourished, Catalyst, 25/3/2004,


In Canberra, Teeball coach Sheryl Sibley asked her Under-10 Girls Teeball team to go additive free two weeks before the 2004 competition. Sheryl's team went on to win all 9 matches in 3 days to become undefeated ACT champions. 'These were all normal kids who had never been diagnosed with anything”, said Sheryl, “yet the parents could see a difference. The girls showed exceptionally sustained skill, focus and teamwork, beyond what you would expect for their age'. See Eating to Win! 


The Palmers Island trial: In 2005, a small school in northern NSW asked us to help them with a two-week additive free trial, so we took a professional camera crew with us. Before the trial, we spent a day at Palmers Island Primary School talking to 120 students, staff and parents about the effects of nasty food additives and teaching them how to read labels. During the trial the students were offered additive free breakfasts at no cost, encouraged to have bottles of water on their desks, and asked to eat additive free foods at school and at home. Since children who have been diagnosed with behavioural disorders such as attention deficit need to do a more comprehensive dietitian-supervised elimination diet for best results - avoiding natural food chemicals called salicylates and amines as well as additives - some families took this opportunity to do the full diet, and felt much more supported than usually happens.


About 70-80 per cent of children joined the trial, and everyone noticed a difference – students were quieter, calmer, there was less yelling in class, they were concentrating better, nicer to each other, less annoying and more cooperative. After the trial, the children were allowed to buy a treat, and the cameras caught what some experts claim never happens – the children became loud, cheeky, annoying and fought with each other again. You can see the results for yourself in the DVD Fed Up with Children’s Behaviour.


View the Palmers Island segment of the DVD “Fed Up with Children’s Behaviour”.

View the Nana Glen trial (the French subtitled version has been viewed by 371,000 people)

View an Adelaide school trial from 2011


The Eating for Success Program


Many schools have asked for further details on how to organise a program like the one at Palmer’s Island school. For this program, it is vital to have the full support of the staff and particularly the active involvement of the School Principal. Unless all staff are prepared to model the required eating habits, this program is unlikely to have lasting effects. For alternative ways of reducing additives, see Other Options below for some methods that other schools have used.


Plan ahead


You’ll need to start planning at least four weeks in advance.

· Organise resources – photocopied and laminated card of nasty additives for each child, What can we eat booklet of suitable foods for parents

· Request donations of food for the free breakfasts from local businesses

· Organise roster of staff and parents to help with the free breakfasts


Before the trial


· Inform parents of the trial and ask for signed permission forms for those intending to take part (and get the free breakfasts), e.g.

‘This program is not only for children who “have problems”, it is for every child enrolled at the school. We are attempting to establish if there is a link between diet and achievement at school, positive personal relationships, well-being and behaviour. In a study in England, the majority of parents found their children benefited’ (from Palmer’s Island trial)


· Teach children how to read labels, see Notes for teachers below.

· Offer an information evening or afternoon for parents, with screening of the DVD and free brochures, see Resources below.

· Provide a list of off-limit and suitable foods; suggestions for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and drinks; and useful recipes, see What can we Eat? below.


During the trial


· Provide additive-free breakfasts at no cost for two weeks for those enrolled in the program, see next point.

· Provide cheerful, supportive encouragement and model the required behaviour.

· Discuss results with parents and children


What’s for breakfast? – the free breakfast program


Cereal (Weetbix, Rice Bubbles)

Fresh Fruit - red delicious apples or bananas

Toast (additive free) – with additive-free margarine or pure butter, golden syrup or a home-made additive-free rissole on the barbecue

Toad-in-the-Hole on the barbecue (this was a great favourite), see recipe below

     What CAN we eat? from Eating to Win by Sheryl Sibley (with permission)


Basic, plain, healthy staple-diet kind of foods. YOU be in charge of what’s added, not surprised by what’s hidden!




Fresh meat

Plain rice

Plain pasta

Plain or vanilla yoghurt

Plain milk/soy milk

Mild cheeses

Plain breads and rolls


Sugar is OK (in moderation!)

Plain, unflavoured, additive-free: rice cakes, corn cakes, corn chips, popcorn, pretzels, ‘jatz’ type crackers, ‘ryvita’ type crackers, *sakata rice crackers (*other plain varieties have added MSG), Arnotts plain biscuits , (eg arrowroot, not cream)

Peters lemonade icypoles

Plain ice cream

Plain Kettle chips

Pascalls marshmallows (white only)

Milky Bar white chocolate

Werthers Originals butter candy and chewy toffees

Bottled Schweppes lemonade, not cans (no colour, no preservatives)


Home made foods - YOU control the ingredients, added fats and sugars!


Home Made ‘Takeaway’: -burgers, -chips, -pizza, -chicken, -sausage rolls, -pies, -stir fries (see recipes in the Failsafe Booklet, see Resources)

Home made Magic Cordial, see recipe below

Home made or Werthers butter candy, chewy toffees

Home made plain cake with white icing (not coloured unless using Queen natural colours)

Home made shortbreads

Home made Anzac Biscuits (no coconut) or Muesli Bars, see recipes below


* The best drink is WATER. It should be sipped frequently throughout the day.*




Cereal (additive free), e.g. Weetbix, Rice Bubbles, Porridge with milk


Vanilla yoghurt (no annatto natural colour 160b)

Toast made from preservative-free bread

Toppings: additive-free margarine or pure butter

Jam or honey (small amounts)

For pancakes: Pure butter and pure Maple Syrup, or fruit and yoghurt

Don’t forget WATER all day – keep juice as a one off.

See also What’s for Breakfast? above – the free breakfast program.


Sandwiches or rolls, with fillings like mashed banana, cheese and salad, egg and salad, home made rissole (cooked the night before) with salad on a roll.

Fruit such as pears, bananas, red apples


Carrot and celery sticks, cheese and a boiled egg

Three bean mix



Simple meals such as a plain BBQ with salad, bread, plain pasta or rice.

Forget about using special seasonings: plain and simple is a good rule of thumb when avoiding additives.\

For sample recipes, see the Failsafe booklet.

Desserts could include rice pudding or bread and butter pudding (omit the dried fruit due to preservatives) or

A simple homemade apple crumble with some vanilla yoghurt or

A little plain vanilla ice cream (colour free such as Peter's Original Vanilla, or Sarah Lee French Vanilla).


Plain rolls and bread, (if you don’t like them plain, then you could add a bit of jam or honey)

Home-made pikelets

Home-made plain cakes


Rice cakes and corn cakes

Plain Salada type crackers, home made oat bars or Anzac biscuits (recipes below)

Fruit to accompany the above suggestions

A handful of cashews

Plain rice pudding snacks such as ‘Delico Rice Pudding’ snacks

Plain biscuits such as Arnott’s milk arrowroots

Some additive free brands

Try using the following brands to avoid unnecessary colourings and preservatives:

Nestle Naturals Yoghurts, Delico Ryzogalo/Rice Pudding, some Arnotts Plain Sweet Biscuits, Bakers Delight Plain Breads, Brumby’s Plain Breads, SunRice plain Rice cakes, Sakata Plain Rice Crackers, preservative-free sausages


What foods are OFF LIMITS?


Anything with added colouring, flavouring, preservatives, flavour enhancers. Check the ingredient label! If you can tell it was developed in a laboratory or processed to within an inch of its life, then DON’T EAT IT!


Take Away Foods: McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, Hungry Jacks, Pizza, Chinese, Etc., etc… includes ‘Fish & Chip Shop’ foods – all are too high in fat and additives!

TV dinners and packet meals

School lunch treats: pies, sausage rolls, hot dogs, mini pizza, nuggets, ‘yummy drummies’ etc, doughnuts, fairy bread, instant noodle meals, flavoured chips, flavoured corn chips, twisties, cheetos, burger rings etc, noodles with flavour sachets and other packet snack foods.

All snack biscuits: for example - Pizza & BBQ shapes, ‘…in-a-biscuit’, dippers, savoury tiny teddy snacks etc, etc, etc.

Coloured, flavoured lollies

Coloured, flavoured ice cream

Coloured, flavoured icypoles

Sports drinks eg Powerade, Gatorade etc

Soft drink


Caffeine enhanced drinks/ energy drinks

Commercial BBQ chicken (loaded with flavour enhancers you can’t see!)

Commercial muesli nars (coconut, fruit and oil in these bars have preservatives, and the bars have fat added)

Bread with 282 or whey powder

Cup-a-soups, stock cubes (added flavour enhancers)


Some useful recipes (from the Failsafe Cookbook by Sue Dengate)


Aussie toad in the hole

As used in the Palmer’s Island school breakfasts.


1 egg

1 slice preservative-free bread (no nasty additives or whey powder, e.g. Brumbys or Bakers Delight)

oil for frying (e.g. pure canola or sunflower oil, no antioxidants)


Place a cookie cutter or a small glass over the middle of your bread and press hard to make a round hole. Place the bread flat on the surface of a well oiled preheated barbecue plate or frying pan and crack the egg into the centre hole. Cook for about two minutes while the bread browns and the egg hardens, then flip and repeat on the other side.


Rolled oat bars

1 cup wholemeal self raising flour

½ cup sugar

1 tbsp golden syrup

2 cups rolled oats

150 g pure butter (eg. Butter Soft)


Combine flour, oats and sugar in a bowl. Melt butter, add golden syrup and mix into dry ingredients. Press into slice tray and bake for 15-20 minutes until brown. Cut into bars while still hot, leave to cool before removing from tray. Makes about 20.


Quick processor scones

3 cups self raising flour

¼ tsp sea salt

1-2 tbsp pure butter or Nuttelex margarine

about 1 cup of milk


Put flour, salt and butter in food processor and process until blended. Add liquid slowly until dough sticks together in a soft, wet clump. Knead on a lightly floured board, roll out, cut into squares or with scone cutters, place on a lightly greased oven tray and bake in a hot oven 230°C for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm wrapped in a clean cloth in a basket or freeze and freshen up in the microwave. Good with butter, golden syrup or jam. These are popular for afternoon tea and suitable for lunchboxes.



1 egg

¼ cup sugar

about ¾ cup milk

1 cup self raising flour

¼ salt

pure butter, Nuttelex margarine or vegetable oil (eg antioxidant-free sunflower oil) for cooking


Beat egg and sugar until thick, stir in milk, add flour and beat until smooth. Cook in spoonfuls in a hot lightly greased frypan. Serve with sweet or savoury toppings.


Big Anzacs

1 cup plain flour

2 cups rolled oats

¾ cup sugar

125 g pure butter or Nuttelex margarine

2 tbsp golden syrup

2 tsp soda bicarb

2 tbsp boiling water


Mix together flour, oats and sugar. Melt butter and golden syrup together. Mix bicarbonate with boiling water and add to butter mixture. Pour into blended dry ingredients and stir to combine. Place large spoonfuls of mixture onto greased oven tray, leaving room to spread. Bake at 160°C for 20 mins.


Wade's sausage rolls

500 g low-fat mince

3 chopped shallots

1 clove garlic, crushed (optional)

1 tbsp chopped parsley

Pampas Butter Puff pastry ready-cut sheets

sea salt to taste


Preheat over to 180°C. Mix mince with shallots, garlic, parsley and salt. Cut pastry sheets in half. Place a sausage shape of mince in the middle of the sheet. Roll over, prick top. Cut to required lengths. Bake 20 minutes or until cooked.


Margie's lunchbox muffins

1½ cups self-raising flour

½ cup white or brown sugar

1 egg, lightly beaten

2/3 cup milk

¼ cup vegetable oil (eg. pure sunflower or canola)

½ cup chopped fresh or canned pears


Sift flour into a bowl and add remaining ingredients, stirring with a fork until mixed. Spray a 12 cup muffin pan with canola oil and three quarter fill cups with mixture. Bake at 180°C for 15-20 minutes.


Magic cordial

Looks like water, tastes like lemon cordial. The best drink is water, keep cordial for a one off treat.

2 cups white sugar

2 cups boiling water

1-2 ts citric acid


Combine sugar and water in a 4 cup heatproof jug or saucepan and stir until sugar is dissolved. Add citric acid to taste and allow to cool. Dilute to taste with water or soda water, approximately 1 part cordial to 5 parts water. Store in the fridge.





     Other options


Reducing additives – other options

It can be very difficult to change eating patterns. Here are some alternatives:


The litter ban program

One school (for obvious reasons, they prefer to remain anonymous) achieved positive results by announcing a ban on litter. This meant that children were not allowed out into the playground with any kind of litter. Additives were never mentioned. Students found they could carry home made food such as sandwiches and apples into the playground but not packets of chips and other processed foods. “It’s pretty hard to carry the contents of a packet of chips in your hands”, said one teacher. The result is a clean playground, healthier, lower-additive foods and quieter, more cooperative students.

Water on demand

Some schools have seen an improvement in behaviour simply by encouraging children to have a bottle of water on their desks at all times. When they are drinking water they are not filling up on additive-laden drinks. This is a good start when reducing additives.


A sporting event

When Teeball coach Sheryl Sibley asked her Under-10 Girls Teeball team to go additive free for two weeks up to and including the 3 day competition, her additive-free team won all 9 matches in 3 days to become undefeated ACT champions. 'These were all normal kids who had never been diagnosed with anything”, said Sheryl, “yet the parents could see a difference.” See Eating to Win



You can see some other methods that schools have used – such as banning junk from the school canteen and selling only fruit at recess (Wolney), or selling only muesli bars (Whitehorse Manor) - in Schools go low additive




     Notes for Teachers


1. Show the Palmers Island Trial and the Jamie Oliver clip How Junk food is Made to students (from the DVD Fed Up with Children’s Behaviour, see below in Resources).


2. Discuss the advantages of additive free eating, see box below.


Advantages of additive-free eating




Students nicer to each other

Less annoying

Not calling out in class so much

More cooperative

Can concentrate for much longer

Improved coordination

More focused


Less fighting between siblings

Improved sleeping

No headaches, stomach aches, asthma, skin rashes

- as reported by students, parents and teachers in additive-free school trials listed above



3. Issue each child with a laminated card Nasty Additives card like this (you can print them from Resources below.


Avoid these additives ss



natural colour 160b (annatto)


Sorbates 200, 201, 202, 203
Benzoates 210, 211, 212, 213
Sulphites 220, 221, 222, 223, 224, 225, 226, 227, 228
Nitrates, nitrites 249, 250, 251, 252
Propionates 280, 281, 282, 283, cultured dextrose, cultured or fermented anything


Gallates 310, 311, 312,
TBHQ, BHA, BHT 319, 320, 321


Glutamates incl MSG 620, 621, 622, 623, 624, 625
Ribonucleotides 627, 631, 635
Yeast extract, Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein (HVP), 129 other names used by food manufacturers


4. Encourage children to bring their lunchboxes and other food wrappers to the session. (You might want to have some extras handy.) Have them work in small groups to do “additive-spotting”.


First they have to find the ingredients list.


How many nasty additives they can find? (ask for hands up, which foods contain sulphites, benzoates etc)

Some questions for discussion


Question: Did anyone find the ingredients list hidden under the seam of the wrapper? Or written in such small letters you couldn’t read it? Or written in a colour (e.g. pale pink on a pale yellow background) that made it hard to read? Why would food manufacturers do that?


Question: did you find names or numbers on the labels?

Answer: by law, manufacturers can use either. They tend to use numbers on food that is thought of as “junk” and names on products that are promoted as healthy – did anyone find an example (eg ‘annatto extracts’ in yoghurt, ‘sodium benzoate’ in colour-free cordials). Why would they do that?


Question: which foods are most likely to contain flavour enhancers?

Answer: foods that are tasty/savoury – not sweets, desserts etc


Question: which foods are most likely to contain artificial colours?

Answer: lollies – but you’ll probably find artificial colours in a wide range of products from sweets and drinks to cereals and ready meals


Question: Why can Maggi noodles say “simple goodness – no artificial colours and flavours” on the label when they contain MSG?

Answer: Because MSG is not an “artificial flavour”, it is a “flavour enhancer”. Does anyone think this is a bit misleading? Why do you think manufacturers do it?


Question: can a product that claims to be “preservative free” contain antioxidants such as BHA (320)?

Answer: Yes – can anyone find an example? (It’s likely to happen in packets of chips or other fried snack foods.) Note that many brands of biscuits except Arnotts may contain BHA.


Question: did anyone notice that sulphites are sometimes written in bold on a packet (e.g. some muesli bars). Why is this?

Answer: sulphites are the additives most likely to be associated with asthma so they are one of a small group of ingredients (about 10) that must be obviously listed in Europe. Others include eggs, wheat, dairy, nuts and other foods that can be associated with life-threatening allergic reactions.


Question: did you know – HVP (hydrolysed vegetable protein) is a natural form of MSG. Did anyone find HVP in a product labelled “No MSG”?


Question: did you find any colour-free, preservative-free lollies?

Discussion point: Contrary to public opinion, sugar doesn't affect children's behaviour; it's the colours, preservatives or flavours (especially high salicylate flavours such as mint or fruit for kids who are sensitive to salicylates). Caramels, toffees or butterscotch - such as Werthers - or vanilla flavoured milk-based sweets are the safest, if you can find them without colours and preservatives. Home-made toffees and fudge are easy and safe as treats.



Eating for Success booklet for avoiding additives in schools (You are welcome to reproduce any of the recipes in the booklet with the acknowledgement (from

View the Palmers Island segment of the DVD "Fed Up with Children's Behaviour.

View the Nana Glen trial (viewed by 371,000 people in the French subtitled version) or 22Mb version

View an Adelaide school trial from 2011

Laminated Additives to Avoid card

Brochures for parents

Eating to Win

Schools go low additive

Fed Up with Children's Behaviour DVD - also now free to view in entirety (1hr 12min)

Acknowledgements this booklet is adapted with thanks from Eating to Win by Sheryl Sibley, see Eating to Win! and some of the resources developed by Palmers Island Primary School with kind permission from Principal Andrew Bennett and school counsellor Leonie Daley. Thanks to Jamie Oliver for permission to include the ‘Wingfield School’ and ‘Chicken Nuggets’ clips in the DVD Fed Up with Children’s Behaviour.

The information given is not intended as medical advice. Always consult with your doctor for underlying illness. Before beginning dietary investigation, consult a dietician with an interest in food intolerance. You can see our list of experienced and supportive dietitians 

© Sue Dengate update December 2023