Each one of us believes we waste less than other households yet in each household, 20% of the food purchased never gets eaten. Individually, we throw out 300 pounds of perfectly good food every year, making wasted food the largest contributor to landfills and producing harmful amounts of methane gas – gas which is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Did you know that upwards of 40% of the food in the U.S. is wasted? Estimates are food costs can be reduced by 2-6% by implementing changes in foodservice establishments such as schools.

--excerpts from Reduce Food Waste presentation by Jean Ronnei, SNS

Food wasted at home, at restaurants and at schools had been fodder for many recent news articles and discussions. The reasons for the waste are multi-factorial, but the result is the same. Wasted food = wasted nutrition and wasted money. As school nutrition leaders, we can help reduce food waste in our facilities with these three R’s:

Reduce: Reducing waste begins with smart menu planning and purchasing, and then continues with proper storage and preparation techniques.

Recover: There are numerous options for recovering what would be wasted food. Their effectiveness varies depending on location and regulatory barriers.

Recycle: Composting and live-stock feed is a hot topic in preventing food waste prevention.

Source: USDA https://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/cnd/Infographic-food-waste.pdf

Source: USDA https://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/cnd/Infographic-food-waste.pdf


First, we can help reduce the amount of food wasted by encouraging consumption. No, this is not the “clean plate club” revisited. Rather, try incorporating techniques such as Smarter Lunchrooms to “nudge” students to eat more fruits and vegetables. These ideas are also part of the U.S. food waste challenge ideas; other ideas for elementary schools include:

Secondly, there are some best practices to help with menu planning, purchasing, storage and food preparation to reduce food waste.

  • Review production records for the right menu mix. Consider replacing or reworking less popular menu items to balance menu choices. Check out how  Pro•Team’s services can help you!
  • Revamp your ordering and delivery schedules to optimize staff and storage. Use the USDA Food Buying Guide for ordering assistance.
  • Use and monitor cycle menus for better meal forecasting.
  • Work with staff on proper food storage, preparation and holding techniques. Take a look at training opportunities offered through NSFMI.
  • Know your options - determine if precut produce or scratch cooking can cut down on waste, and if ingredient by-products can be incorporated into other planned recipes.

Food Recovery

What about food that students take but don’t eat? USDA encourages both sharing tables and food donations. Unopened packaged items can be placed on a "share table" that allows students to leave on the table what they don’t want or they can take an item to eat if they are still hungry. Leftovers from the cafeteria that have not been served to children and other excess food can be donated to charitable organizations such as food banks, pantries, or other food recovery organizations. For additional guidance, this USDA summer meals toolkit memo and your local health department can help you get started.

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Use separate waste bins for recycle, food donations, compost and trash

Recycling Food

What about half-eaten items or foods past their prime? Many of these foods can be easily composted and used in school gardens (edible and decorative) or donated to local farms for animal feeding or other food scrap projects.

Final Tips

  • Use separate waste bins for recycle, food donations, compost and trash.
  • 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.
  • If you are going to Atlanta for the School Nutrition Association 2017 ANC, plan to learn more at this session: Food Waste: The Latest Movement on Monday July 10 3:30-4:30 pm. Join SNA Past President Jean Ronnei, SNS, to learn about the latest movement to stem food waste. Take home the practical ideas and links to educational videos, and hear about innovations from schools and restaurants to help you reduce, reuse and recycle!
  • Log in and listen in to the School Nutrition Association archived webinar on Food Waste featuring Pro•Team’s Jean Ronnei, SNS. (Free for SNA members.)

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. 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.  

If you are looking for advice to help your food service program, Pro•Team’s foodservice experts are here to help. For more information, contact Kymm Mutch at (414) 331-4412 or Kymm@proteamdvisors.com. Visit our website at www.proteamadvisors.com.