- An estimated five billion school lunches are wasted each year, costing about $1.2 billion, but schools are finding ways to reduce waste and redistribute and recycle cafeteria food, District Administration reports.
- Programs such as the Smarter Lunchroom movement look at ways to encourage students to consume more food served at school lunches through strategic recess times, relaxed cafeteria rules, and offering “grab-and-go meals” at schools with open-campus policies.
- Lunchroom waste issues can also be reduced through composting efforts in conjunction with school-to-farm programs and through school and community food recovery programs that help unwanted menu items go to food pantries or to students facing food insecurity.
There seems to be an injustice in the fact that so much food goes wasted in schools while so many students face food insecurity issues at home. Food insecurity is an important issue for educators because it affects school performance. As the American Youth Policy Forum reports, “Children who grow up in food insecure households often lag behind their food-secure peers in terms of cognitive, emotional, and physical development.” Programs such as the National Gleaning Project and the Food Donation Connection may offer more ideas on how to get unwanted school lunches into the hands of people that truly need it.
However, just because food is placed before a child does not mean they will eat it. The School Nutrition Association noted this in a statement before Congress about the strict guidelines imposed under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 when they discussed lower participation rates and more waste under the program.
Some of these issues can be addressed through fairly simple means. School gardens are one solution as are farm-to-school programs that benefit both the students and the community. Another approach is the strategic scheduling of recess. A 2014 study published in Preventive Medicine noted that “in schools with recess before lunch, the number of students who selected at least one serving of fruits or vegetables increased by 45% and students ate more of the fruits and vegetables on their trays. They measured a 54% increase in consumption of fruits and vegetables.”