Eliminating “plate waste” requires market strategies

Eliminating “plate waste” requires market strategies

(Calif.) Even before the Trump White House rolled back some of the healthy choice mandates on school meals put into place by the Obama administration, “plate waste” among school children was an ongoing problem.

An estimated $1.2 billion in school meal food is thrown away each year, according to a 2013 federal study, even as the percentage of poorly nourished students continues to climb.

New guidance from the California Department of Education suggests school food managers should consider market-based strategies aimed at getting kids to eat more of what is best for them.

Among the best practices proposed:

  • Consider holding taste tests and recipe competitions, or creating a student advisory committee to provide feedback on food acceptability and recipe names;
  • Offer a grab-and-go line for kids who want to get through the line faster so they have more time to eat;
  • Use student surveys to measure how students feel about the way food is served and whether they think the foods are fresh and appealing; and
  • Partner with your local health department to implement safe practices that encourage kids to leave unwanted food on share tables.

A new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last fall now authorizes schools to donate leftover food from school cafeterias to local food banks or other nonprofits. It also provides that schools can establish sharing tables where staff and pupils can offer food items either to other students or to local charities.

The bill comes in response to disclosure earlier this year that the Los Angeles School District routinely throws out about $100,000 in meals per day. According to a state task force, there are about 2.3 million children statewide that suffer from food insecurity.

The United States Department of Agriculture, which oversees the National School Lunch Program, sponsored a study in 2013 that looked at students attending middle schools in Boston over a two-year period and found that 26 percent of the prepared food was thrown away, uneaten.

In addition to giving students more time for lunch and more control over what they eat and the portions, the USDA also suggests school managers consider some back of the house ideas:

  • Order fresh product deliveries at shorter intervals;
  • Serve batch-cooked meals at the last possible minute and in small quantities;
  • Repurpose leftovers or unsold food that is still safe to eat;
  • Maintain First In, First Out system of inventory rotation; and
  • Utilize a Just in Time system of inventory and ordering.