K-12 School Food Waste – How To Stop It

Food waste is a big problem in our society.  In the US the statistics tell us we waste anywhere from 25%-50% of our available food supply.  A good portion of this food waste comes from commercial operators – hospitals, universities, grade schools.

How much food is wasted in grade schools?  We know that about 25% of household waste is food.  Compare that to 45% of waste in schools K-6.  Middle and High schools are a little less at 31%, but still significant.

An interesting study taking place in the UK by WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) – focuses on primary school waste:

“We want to find out if the waste is coming from preparation in the canteen, whether it is being cooked but not served, or served but not eaten, or whether it is from packed lunches,” she says. “We need to understand more about the problem to know what to do about it.”

At LeanPath we have been tracking and analyzing food waste for the past six years.  We know that simply acknowledging that there is some amount of food waste is the best first step.  The next steps are to track-reduce-monitor.

What are some of the ways that we can reduce food waste in our school system?

  • We’ve all heard the expression “you can lead a horse to water, but can’t make it drink”.  The same holds true for school kids.  You can give them delicious whole fruit – but they probably won’t eat it.  The solution?  Cut fruit into small pieces.  Kids would rather eat several small chunks than take a bite out of a whole apple.
  • Are you over ordering raw supplies.  Can you produce less waste with pre-cut or pre-portioned items?
  • Reducing portion size.  Little bellies, little portions.
  • Serving foods that appeal to children.   Be careful with this one!  If given the opportunity most kids will only ‘like’ chocolate or candy; or only ‘want’ to eat mac and cheese.
  • Give children choices – but not too many.  We all eat with our eyes first, kids too.  They might get excited by different foods, take them on their tray – but then can’t eat all of it.  So they throw it away.  Colleges and universities have tried to reduce this by going ‘trayless’ in their food areas.  A student can take whatever they can carry, and go back for seconds if they want more.  This has dramatically reduced the amount of post-consumer waste in schools that started this program.

What have you done to reduce food waste at your school?  Feel free to share your ideas with others.  We all need to work together.


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