Mandated meal requirements taking a toll on cafeteria food waste
Abbey Marshall | Staff Writer
Students are biting off more than they can chew.
According to a study conducted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, around 24 percent of the total trash in schools comes from food waste. It’s the number one contributor.
Food waste has always been a problem in lunch rooms, but some of the blame can be placed upon the regulations mandated by national nutrition programs, according to junior Carrie Lipps.
“Most of what people throw away, as much as I hate to say it, is the healthy stuff because that’s what we have to get,” Lipps said. “(Not all) kids like carrots. I’m not saying that they should give us Pop-Tarts and make that a requirement, but kids would rather have Pop-Tarts than carrots.”
Child Nutrition Supervisor Tamara Earl pointed out that students can’t blame the manufacturers or those who cook cafeteria food; these changes are nationwide.
“The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act contained a lot more advancement, criteria, and standards largely resulting from the increase of obesity among children in this country,” Earl said. “The statistics (in 2010, when the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act was put into place), were saying that one in three children were obese and that there had been an increase in diseases such as diabetes and high-blood pressure.”
Since these changes have gone into place, there has been a four and a half percent decrease in school lunch sales. This can most likely be attributed to the dislike of the fruits and vegetables that students must put on their tray in order to make their lunch a meal, according to Earl.
“We’ve had some good conversations with students and many are challenged to like fruits and vegetables,” Earl said. “Research does show that if you can provide incentives or education, you can often help that challenge of students eating fruits and vegetables and I think our goal has been to get in front of the students to help them understand what it’s about.”
According to junior Cassidee Cavazos, there are many factors to students wasting their food, including the time restraint within the lunch period.
“I don’t feel like we have enough time at lunch to fully eat all our food,” Cavazos said. “I don’t like eating fast.”
For the student who has to take a fruit or vegetable but doesn’t want to, they’ll most likely end up tossing it. The student has a responsibility to not do this in order to reduce food waste, according to Earl.
“Food waste is one of the most challenging topics of what we do,” Earl said. “I do feel the individual selecting the food has the responsibility to not waste. I also feel that some of the waste we see is a reflection of people’s habits.”
Nonetheless, the school district must do their part as well to educate and put out the very best product they can. According to Earl, it must be a collaboration between students and the nutrition department.
“What can I do on my end about it?” Earl said. “That’s one reason why we try to do a lot with the nutrition education hoping that people can understand the value of a fruit or a vegetable with a meal and that it has a payoff with our health. I would assume that’s probably the item people target the most when they think of waste. Students are offered two fruits and two vegetables and we ask that you take one to make your lunch a meal. We try very hard to offer a lot of fresh choices and a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables in the sincere hope that everybody can find one that they can eat at least half of. It’s quite the challenge.”
In order for this union of students and the nutrition department to take place, Earl proposed that a committee is formed.
“Basically (we want) a committee of students that (would) meet regularly,” Earl said. “I need to have students give me feedback on what is currently happening in the lunchroom and where their challenges are, likes and dislikes, but I also need support in sampling new products. I would say to you in this district I do have some great relationships with our manufacturers…and so it’d be a great opportunity for me to bring some of those things to students and find out new directions we could go in.”
With the district and the students working together, Earl said she is hopeful to decrease the amount of food waste in the cafeteria.
“In my opinion, the food waste has two aspects,” Earl said. “It has my responsibility to make sure I’m putting out the very best I can and it’s also the responsibility of the individual taking it to do everything they can to eat it.”