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A tuck shop is a small, food-selling retailer. It is a term principally used in the UK, Ireland, Grenada, South Africa, New Zealand, the Australian states of Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales, and occasionally in other parts of the former British Empire. In New South Wales, the term is interchangeable with the word canteen.
When the tuck shop is in a school, it is frequently the only place (other than the school canteen) where monetary transactions can be made. As such, particularly in the UK, they often sell items of stationery too, although food is still their primary source of income and customers. In Australia at both youth clubs and schools the tuck shop is mainly staffed by volunteers from the community, which may include students, parents and, in the case of clubs, members. The term is also used in Indian boarding schools. In Canada, summer camps often have tuck shops for the same reason, to allow campers to buy small items while away from home.
Tuck shops in a long-term care facility typically sell personal hygiene items such as razors, soap, and shampoo. The availability of these items makes it easier for the residents to obtain these items.
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The term "tuck", meaning food, is slang and probably originates from such phrases as "to tuck into a meal". It is also closely related to the Australian English word "tucker", also meaning food. A tuck shop typically sells confectionery finger-food, such as sweets, crisps, soft drinks and so on. In recent years, there have been moves to change to a wider variety of "healthier" foods. In Australia, where the tuck shop will typically be the only source of bought food at the school/club, the menu is more substantial and is more similar to the school dinners provided by the British government.
"Tucker" may originate with the lacework at the top of nineteenth century women's dresses, but the origin of its use in regard to food probably arises from the popular shops run in England by various members of the Tuck family between at least 1780 and 1850. The earliest reference found is to one Thomas Tuck whose famous "Tuck's Coffee House" in Norwich, United Kingdom which was popular among the city's literary circles in the late 18th century. There was a library for the use of customers and it was located on Gentleman’s Walk in the heart of the city. It is mentioned as a place of legal negotiation in public notices published in the Norfolk Chronicle on Feb 9th 1782 and April 12 and 19th 1783. In 1820, William Joseph Tuck was a confectioner at Duncan Place, Hackney, just outside London, Hackney and nearby London Fields being fashionable for picnic outings and holidays at the time. The London Directory of 1846 records his son Thomas James Tuck as baker at "The Bun House" in Duncan Place. Edward Walford in his Old and New London: Volume 5 of 1879 states: "In the short thoroughfare connecting the London Fields with Goldsmiths' Row there is a shop which in bygone times was almost as much noted for its "Hackney Buns" as the well-known Bun-house at Chelsea was for that particular kind of pastry...". Another store had also opened by 1842 in Church Street, now Mare Street, as shown in a painting in which "TUCK" is clearly displayed over the door. Thomas and his brother William Frederick Tuck arrived in Victoria, Australia aboard Ayrshire on 24 April 1852, and both opened similar stores, William as a confectioner in Melbourne and Thomas at the gold fields. "T J Tuck & Sons" is shown over the door of his store in the painting by Augustus Baker Peirce: "The Myers Creek Rush — near Sandhurst (Bendigo) Victoria" (located in the National Library of Australia).
Advertisers and retailers have used the name and image of a tuck shop many times to promote products or to promote a nostalgic sense of familiarity. Some shops have simply called themselves "The Tuck Shop". For example, on Holywell Street in Oxford, there is "The Tuck Shop," and, further down the road, there is "The Alternative Tuck Shop" (see photo).
As part of the UK government's recent promotion of healthy eating as part of healthy lifestyle, the role of tuck shops in schools has come under increasing scrutiny. As such, national, regional and local government has been strongly promoting the idea of "healthy" tuck shops. There has also been charity and voluntary sector involvement. To some, this means providing healthier types of the same goods (for example using brown bread instead of white, selling milk and fruit juice instead of fizzy drinks and rice cakes and crackers instead of crisps). This model has become very popular with the authorities in many schools in the UK. Some groups have advocated going even further and creating a "fruit tuck shop". These have been less successful, primarily due to a perceived drop in revenue and the generally tight state of funding in the UK education system at present, although the funding situation may change in the future. Such projects may well not be popular with their customers (i.e. the schoolchildren themselves) who do not like the food on offer and prefer to buy tastier food from local stores, despite attempts by the teachers to prevent this, and the school's food supply operation may risk becoming unviable as a result.
In Queensland, Australia, the State Government introduced in 2007 a basic "traffic-light system" across all school canteens, public and private. Green-category foods (such as fruit, vegetables, water, grains and nuts, etc.) are unrestricted. Yellow foods (some sweets, fruit juice) are meant to be had only about 3-4 times per month. Red foods (lollies, processed meals, soft drinks) are limited to only twice per semester (20 weeks).