How to reduce food waste in all lunchrooms

Hundreds of plates are served to students during lunchtime at just one school alone. Many students might have an appetite to clean their plates, but there will be many who won’t finish all their food. The food that gets disposed adds up from all the schools in a district, in the state and even in the country. That leaves heaps of food waste that can result in harmful effects on resources and the environment. It starts with the students and changing behaviors in the lunchroom to reduce waste.

When the bell sounds for lunchtime, many eager students get in line at the cafeteria to eat. Plates are lined up and served with the selection of food listed on the menu for the day. That’s a typical cafeteria operation, but practicing an offer-style of service can reduce the amount of waste and let students pick what they want to eat. As opposed to providing the complete ala carte for them to grab, offering each part of the meal allows them to choose or decline what goes on their plate. With this option to opt out, students won’t be tossing any untouched food they may have ignored or only took a small bite out of.

Stations can be set up if a student doesn’t want something in their meal or if a student wants an extra serving of something. These are share tables in the cafeteria where whole food or beverage items can be returned. These stations will be monitored by cafeteria staff to identify if the returned food has not been tampered with and follow health and food safety codes. Implementing a system like this prevents unopened food from ending up in the trash. It’s also valuable in teaching students what to do with their extra food.

At the end of the school day, there will be plenty of food leftover from the kitchen. Food in good condition can be given to food pantries or donation centers. These leftovers can include food found at the share tables in the lunchroom too. This can encourage students to contribute food they don’t want so it can end up in the hands of others. This builds behaviors for reducing food waste and donating to those in need.

These food programs focused on waste are the right step to look after the environment and preserve resources. Introducing students to the bright ways to consider their food waste will set us up for a more sustainable future. These actions will lead to a happier planet and ways to make the most of food to its full potential.