Getting Schooled on Food Waste

Chances are when I mention school lunch, the first thoughts that pop into your mind are the greasy rectangles of pizza and ice cold chocolate milk of your youth. Since the good old days, there have been many changes to school lunch including more regulations on meal time offerings and far less time to eat. With all the hustle and bustle of making sure to get a good spot at the table, remembering to pack lunch on mystery meat day, and getting out of there in time for recess, actually eating lunch can get lost in the shuffle. Whether students eat hot lunch or pack their own, a good portion of it ends up in the trash. How much? WLSSD recently did a little digging at an area school to find out.

Here’s what we learned:

  • An elementary school with 1200 students threw away 1242 pounds of wasted food in one week. That’s over half a ton of food!
  • After sorting food and recyclables out of the trash bin only plastic bags and cups were left. The school’s regular biweekly dumpster load of garbage could almost all be put to better use!
  • Students really didn’t like seeing all the food go to waste. The option to share unwanted lunch items with other students exploded with popularity throughout the week of separating. Kids placed things like fruit and yogurt on the table instead of throwing them out.

So how do we avoid all this extra trash? If you’re packing lunches for your kiddos, check in with them to see what they are willing to eat. Once you’ve let them know that a lunch bag chock full of oreos and potato chips is not going to be an option, see if you can settle on something that you can both live with. If you’re normally a hot lunch family, check out the menu for the month and see if you can send a packed lunch on the days your kids are just not crazy about the offerings- tuna casserole anyone? On hot lunch days, make sure that your little eaters are only taking the optional items that they will actually munch on. Also encourage them to finish all the items that they are required to take. Chances are your picky eaters are going to ditch their peas no matter what you say, but it’s worth a shot.

Another option is to try to get a food waste separation program up and running in your school. It can save on tons of food heading to the landfill. Instead, delightful piles of compost will be made with all those uneaten pb&j’s. WLSSD can help walk your school through the process and train your little munchkins to do all the sorting themselves. Contact us for more information.

Next time you’re packing lunches or chatting with the kids about their school day, think about all those forgotten fruit cups and crinkle cut carrots. Talk about waste and ways to avoid it. Before you know it, your whole crew will be part of the clean plate club!