Schools across the nation serve an average of 30.5 million lunches a day and a huge portion of these lunches end up in the trash can. Food waste has cost the nation’s schools billions of dollars over the past few decades. How can there be so many hungry students but so much waste? As leaders in school nutrition, we all must implement a solution to this growing problem. Despite the grim prognosis of how much food is wasted in schools daily, there are several methods for reducing this problem.
- Teach students how to separate waste. You can give your students options for disposing of their trash. Options such as food to be shared and donated, trash, recycling, and compostable are all great choices for your students to make. Young students will have values created by not only being less wasteful but considering others that may be hungry in their schools. At many schools, a team of students have banded together to weigh recyclables and encourage students to be aware of their waste. This gets them more involved and the students can feel accomplished in working together for a greater good. Local organizations can even come to your schools to pick up leftover food to take to local charities and organizations. Allowing students to make conscious choices on how they use their waste can improve, not only your schools but also your student’s attitudes.
- Create a compost bin. Did you know that almost half of your food waste from your lunchrooms is compostable? When composted, waste can not only reduce trash coming from your schools, but it can give back to your programs in creating fresh produce! The creation of a compost bin and a school garden can reduce your waste immensely, get students involved in activities such as gardening, and teach your students the values found in sustainability. Compost bins are a low-cost and low-maintenance option to efficiently transforming your lunchroom waste. Your students can work together as a team to grow their own food that they can enjoy in your cafeterias. Your schools are saving money by producing their own fresh fruits and vegetables while also producing less waste. Everyone wins! Your science classes can also join in the fun of composting while improving your nutrition and science programs at the same time.
- Have recess before lunch. A change as simple as recess before lunch can transform your student’s behaviors and habits in huge ways. Schools that have put recess before lunch have seen improvements in students’ moods in the cafeteria, less waste from hungrier students, and improved alertness in the classroom. With recess after lunch, kids come into the cafeteria with high-energy and this leads to disciplinary issues in the lunchroom. Children are also more likely to get a belly-ache from playing after eating and taking more visits to the school nurse. Recess before lunch allows students to get out their pent-up energy and come into the lunchroom ready to do more eating and less playing. With hungrier students, comes less waste after lunch, and more students running to your lunch-line!
- Create “share tables” for food. Many schools around the nation are beginning to create “share tables” where students can drop off any uneaten food for other hungry students to grab. Of course, only unopened pre-packaged foods can be shared according to health guidelines such as milk, fruit cups, chips, and many more. The share tables reduce waste from students who did not want to eat certain items and allow hungry students to receive more food! In elementary schools, kindergarteners and fifth-graders are served the same portion sizes. The younger children can drop off what was too much for them to eat for the big kids to grab and be full! Good food can go in much better places than the trash with these share tables.
There are many solutions for the food waste problem in cafeterias and these are just a few. How is your school helping to reduce excess food waste in the lunchroom?