Health Policy, Nutrition

Curbing Food Waste in Schools

Perhaps one of the best-known pieces of legislation that the Obama administration passed was the Health Hunger-Free Kids Act [1]. This set of laws which increased the number of children who were eligible for free and reduced lunch also modified the nutrition standards for meals served by schools that receive federal reimbursement for school lunches. The food requirements include providing whole grains, fruit, vegetable, protein, and dairy at every meal. There are also restrictions on trans fat, sugar and calorie content.

While this act has reduced the risk of hunger among vulnerable children and provided children with healthier options, it is not without scrutiny. In recent years, both this legislation and the National School Lunch Program have been criticized for their association with food waste. Many say that when children are forced to take standard food items, they may simply throw the foods they don’t like away. Some believe that the required fruits and vegetables that school meals must now include could end up in the trash. This issue could highlight challenges in our efforts to make school lunches healthier, but they could also highlight a larger issue in this country surrounding food waste.

In the US, it is estimated that 31% of all food is wasted. This applies to school lunches, grocery stores, etc. Food items are found in the trash due to spoilage before consumption, dislike for the products among many other reasons. According to new research from Ohio State University, the secret to reducing food waste could be eating at home and choosing your own food items.

Researchers from Ohio State University found that individuals waste less food when they eat at home. This could be due to increased control over food choices and the amount of food that makes it to their plates. This is not the case in restaurants and school environments where many foods and amounts served come standardized for everyone regardless of age, need, or personal preference.

Perhaps the key to reducing food waste and helping children eat healthier at school involves allowing them more interaction with food production processes at an early age. Children might be more likely to select fruits and vegetables if they have opportunities to see where their foods come from and see the adults they look up to eating them. While serving healthier lunch might be part of the solution to increasing obesity rates in our country, we must also teach children to make healthy choices. Only then will they have learned the necessary tools that will last into adulthood.