How to Prevent Food Waste in Schools

Food waste has been a longstanding issue in Canada, and unfortunately it persists into 2019. Global News recently reported on a study which found that over half of the food produced in our country is wasted. Can you imagine what food insecure nations would have to say about this?

Our Foundation has been proactive in our mission to eradicate food waste and we use our blog and social networks to provide advice on how together we can take steps to mitigate this epidemic. In one article, we offered 6 useful tips to achieving zero food waste in the home, but given that kids (and faculty) spend about seven hours a day at school it would be great to see these new habits carry over into the cafeteria, class, and hallways too. Today, we will take a look at how schools can eliminate food waste so that collectively our communities can come together to ensure not a single scrap is squandered.

5 Ways Schools Can Help Put an End to Food Waste in Canada

1. Begin by Educating Students About Food Waste

Where better to educate kids about such an important topic? Food waste as a subject presents educators with the opportunity to touch on socioeconomic and environmental concepts while also diving into individual responsibilities that begin at an early age. When young students better understand the grand implications of an uneaten sandwich, a tossed aside celery stick, or abandoned 250 ml carton of milk they will think twice about not only their own actions, but those of their fellow classmates and the folks back at home. Be sure to include reference to this article about the true meaning of expiry dates in Canada, information that your entire faculty can benefit from knowing, too.

In your information sessions, incorporate current news events, video, and graphics on the matter to encourage interest and engagement. Also add an outdoor learning element (more on this below) and as always lead by example. Teachers, you can start by not letting that apple on your desk go to waste ;)

2. Establish a Quality (and Palatable) School Breakfast/Lunch Menu

It is very important for schools to take stock of the current waste that follows breakfast (where applicable) and lunch served at school. Studies show that if additional focus is given to the quality and palatability of school meals students will be more likely to eat more or all of their serving, and less likely to dispose of it. It’s also important to consider serving size and presentation. For example, another study found that by simply serving sliced apples (versus whole) students were 60% more likely to eat the entire thing.

This initiative comes down to finding a healthier (literally and proverbially) balance of nutrition, taste, and serving size. Institutions must resist the urge to draw their own conclusions, and instead seek additional surveyed input from both parents and students so that they can gauge varying nutritional requirements, allergy concerns, tastes, and even cultural differences. After all, a lunch menu that works for one community school may not work for another.

Decision makers have some serious homework to do, but in the end it will pay off.

3. Leave More Time to Eat

Every parent knows about this valid excuse as to why a packed lunch wasn’t fully eaten. There simply wasn’t enough time. But the ticking clock is also an impediment in the school cafeteria too.

Sure, in theory an hour is plenty of time to eat a healthy lunch. However, there are numerous social distractions between class and cafeteria and by the time kids sit down to eat and talk amongst friends the bell is ready to toll once again. If there is any delay in getting food from the serving counter and on to their tray the issue is compounded further. Administrators can nip this issue in the bud by speeding up the cafeteria line, which may mean hiring additional staff or seeking volunteer assistance while making improvements to cafeteria logistics. A few test runs of new food serving systems will quickly unveil what works best during a busy lunch hour. 

However, administrators must also consider increasing the duration of both recess and lunch so that kids have time to eat, especially young children who are easily distracted during snack and meal time. Critics may cite that this borrows from valuable class time but when you consider the fact that cognitive performance is greatly reduced on an empty stomach having kids leave their lunch so that they can jump back into studies can backfire. A full stomach creates an appetite for learning, so please let them eat.

4. Establish Clearly Defined Waste Bins Throughout the School

Regardless the initiatives you institute moving forward, there will always be leftovers. Waste can be minimized by introducing and/or increasing the number of waste bins for recycle, food donations, compost, and trash throughout the school. Every hallway, gymnasium, class, and common area should have them in close proximity. Most students won’t walk down a long hall to find a compost bin, especially when they are under constant time pressure to make it to class. Make sure they have quick and easy access to dispose of scraps, the right way.

5. Create a Compost Program for a School (or Community) Garden

What should you do with all of that new compost? Use it in your school garden! Don’t have a school garden? Follow these helpful tips to starting one. Until this invaluable outdoor learning (as per item #1 above) ambition becomes a reality, we can all but guarantee that there is a local community garden or urban farm near your school that would love to accept your compost. 

If you would like to know more about the work of the Foundation, please sign-up to become a Friend of the Foundation. For inquiries about how to support the Foundation’s work in school gardens and post-secondary education bursaries, please contact us.