Simple Solutions to Reduce Food Waste in Schools

Posted by Aaron Thein on Nov 18, 2016 9:00:00 AM


With over 30 million students participating in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) everyday, you might not be surprised to hear that those same students generate over $600 million in food waste each year.  Making an effort to reduce food waste can save your operation money, increase meal consumption in the lunchroom, and help minimize your school's impact on the environment.

Here are some simple solutions to reduce food waste before it happens, recover foods that are on their way to the trash, and recycle food waste that might otherwise end up in a landfill:


Back of House

  • Review sales report in your point of sale system to see which items are less popular.  Consider replacing or reformulating them for broader appeal.
  • Engage with your students to find out what could be improved and recruit them to sample new food items you'd like to offer.
  • Take pride in the work you and your staff are doing in the kitchen. Promote menu items on Facebook or your district's website to get parents and students excited about what you're offering.
  • When purchasing fresh produce, order in shorter intervals and use the Food Buying Guide to help determine how much to order.
  • Use Cycle Menus for greater predictability when ordering.
  • Expand Offer versus Served at lower grade levels.
  • Store, cook, hold, and cool foods to their proper temperature using food code guidelines.
  • Store produce in air tight containers to extend the life of the product and date/label it so oldest items are used first.
  • Determine if precut produce or scratch cooking can cut down on waste.
  • See if ingredient by-products can be incorporated into other planned recipes.

Front of House

  • Set expectations with staff for proper food handling, preparation, and storage techniques using training opportunities offered through NSFMI.
  • Hold recess before lunch and give students at least 25 minutes to eat.
  • Follow Smarter Lunchroom strategies such as:
    • Place fruit in two different spots on the lunch line. Try featuring whole fruit in a nice bowl by the register.
    • Give fruits and veggies creative names like x-ray vision carrots.
    • Make white milk 1/3 of milk available and place it in front of flavored milk.
    • Use colorful, attractive signs to draw attention to “fresh fruit/subs/salads today!”

See these Smarter Lunchroom strategies in action



  • Set up a "share table" that allows kids to place packaged or pre-portioned items they are not going to consume for donation to eligible food banks or charitable organizations.  Although the USDA permits food donations, it's important to consult with your local health department for further guidance.
  • Reach out to non-profit organizations such as Food Bus, which can help schools navigate through the logistics of donating left over food items.


  • Compost food waste for school gardens.
  • Work with local farmers on composting or food scrap projects.
  • Use separate waste bins for recycle, food donations, compost and trash.

Implementing just a handful of these solutions can go a long way towards reducing food waste in your schools and getting students excited about the positive impact their making on the environment.  Sign up for the U.S. Food Waste Challenge to share your story on how you are reducing, recovering, or recycling food waste in your schools.

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Topics: School Lunch