By Jill Weisenberger,
MS, RDN, CDE, FAND
Food waste — when edible items go uneaten, including “plate
waste” in retail establishments such as restaurants and cafeterias — is an
increasingly important issue in food security. According to a 2014 report by
the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, “In the United
States, 31 percent — or 133 billion pounds — of the 430 billion pounds of the
available food supply at the retail and consumer levels in 2010 went uneaten.”
As structures and systems evolve to reduce this percentage, so do discussions
about what we can do to reduce food waste at schools, in retail locations such
as restaurants and supermarkets and at home.
Get your family involved — and include your children, who
can make a great impact at reducing food waste at school!
For example, a child is more likely to eat apple wedges
than a whole apple during a school lunch period, according to Wesley Delbridge,
RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. As director of
food and nutrition in the Chandler Unified School District in Arizona, Delbridge
and his colleagues develop techniques to encourage children to eat all of their
lunch and thus minimize plate waste, or the food put on a plate (or tray) but never
eaten and ultimately thrown away.
There are many reasons for plate waste. If kids don't
like the taste of a food, they won't eat it. Food also is thrown away if lunch
is served when students aren't hungry, if lunch periods are too short or if students
rush through their meals in order to start recess. Peer pressure also may
discourage some kids from trying new foods or admitting that they like foods
their friends may not like, Delbridge adds. Some schools measure plate waste
and use this information to adjust their menus, recipes and the lunchroom
environment, improving their ability to provide tasty and nutritious meals to
Parents: Get Involved
Reducing plate waste at school can lower the school district’s
costs and boost your child’s nutrition. "Parents should put the same importance
on nutrition as they do on homework," Delbridge urges.
- Take a look
at your school's menus. Many schools post menus online or distribute in
parent newsletters. Review food options and discuss them with your child, asking
which items your child likes.
your child to try not only new foods, but old foods in new ways. Maybe your
child has never tasted mango or sweet potato, or perhaps your child doesn't enjoy
steamed broccoli. Describe the taste and texture of new foods to reduce your
child’s anxiety. Suggest that he or she crunch on raw broccoli after dipping it
into low-fat ranch dressing, for example.
- Find out
what they ate. After school, ask your children what they ate, what they
liked and what they didn't like. Ask if they had enough time to eat. When
appropriate, share this feedback with your school's nutrition team or
trying new foods a family activity. Exposing your children to new foods at
home will help them accept unfamiliar foods elsewhere.
Reduce Plate Waste at Home
Reducing plate waste at home is a good way to save money
and boost kids’ nutrition as well. Serve meals family-style — allowing your
children to select foods they want in appropriate portions, suggests Angela
Lemond, RDN, CSP, LD, spokesperson for the Academy.
"Teach your children that good nutrition can help them
grow and do well at school and in sports. Kids will copy their parents, so show
them that you enjoy good nutrition and new foods," Lemond says.
Some of the same questions that pertain to your kid's school
lunchroom experience can be applied to eating out. Offering kids the
opportunity to try foods while dining out is a great time to try foods you don’t
usually make at home.
Using the same strategies registered dietitian
nutritionists suggest for weight loss, such as splitting meals or having the
server box up half the meal before it's served, can help reduce food waste and
maintain a healthy weight.
Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, FAND, is a nutrition writer based in Virginia.