Now that schools in the UK have reopened amidst the pandemic, is it vital for them to not only ensure discipline, especially around social distance and enhanced cleaning regimes, but also take decisions so that students can benefit from good, nutritious school food.
Data from WRAP illustrates the extent to which food is wasted in schools, and the results are shocking. Primary schools are estimated to waste around 55,408 tons of food over the school year, while secondary schools waste 24,974 tons.
About half of the food waste at primary schools and more than a third at secondary schools consists of fruits and vegetables, with assorted non-sandwich goods coming in second as a proportion of food waste (17% at primary schools and 19% at secondary schools respectively).
The reasons for the amount of food waste in schools are manifold:
- Quite often, poor-tasting food and the menu doesn’t appeal to students.
- School food is usually prepared in bulk owing to time constraints, which means that portion sizes are overlooked, and meals are too heavy for students, especially the younger students, to finish.
- Rushed meal timings and noisy, messy eating environments also contribute to meals being left incomplete.
Rigid catering policies are another hurdle, with many schools unwilling to adapt menus to student palates. While finding a solution to the food waste problem that accounts for young people and their unpredictable wants might seem daunting, schools can respond to the problem with a variety of innovative action plans.
In this article, we take a look at how schools can combat food waste effectively and efficiently:
1. Educate students that food waste is happening and how
One way to work out appropriate solutions for reducing food waste is by alerting the students’ attention to the extent of the problem, as Loughborough High did.
Their eco-committee measured a week’s worth of food waste at the school, filled an equivalent number of black bags with cards and paper and placed them in the centre of the hall where students could see them during assembly time.
The shock that they felt about the amount of waste prompted them to come up with their solutions, including a poster campaign and regular discussions with the food committee to plan menus based on what and how much the students want to eat.
Solutions they have implemented include a half-portion option and healthier choices such as more vegetarian dishes.
2. Ensure food is in line with what students want to eat
What is the point of cooking food which does not appeal to students? By saying that, we don’t mean schools should resort to junk food or other unhealthy but delicious items. A little bit of creativity is all that is required.
Another school that has successfully reduced waste by as much as 75% over two years is Didcot Girls’ School. The catering manager, David Leake, monitored student eating habits closely to ensure that students liked the food.
He also opted to buy high-quality ingredients, which are more expensive but also tastier and can be used entirely rather than having to throw large proportions out. He justified the extra cost of good ingredients by saying that they made healthy food options more attractive to students, which means that less food gets wasted.
The results were significant – food waste per day was down to 2 kg from an average of 8-12 kg, leading to estimated savings of £2,000 a month.
3. Initiate campaigns to promote healthy eating habits
For starters, the proportion sizes can be reduced. Schools can plan to provide a simple lunch, with one main meal, one vegetarian (or vegan) option and fruit or yoghurt for pudding. For breakfast and break services, minimal choices can be served, such as a fruit.
Not only this, but there are also creative ways to reduce food waste outside of mealtimes as well.
St. Marie’s Roman Catholic Primary in Bury, for instance, came up with the concept of “Fruity Fridays” long before the pandemic.
This is when students convert leftover fruit from the week into fruit cocktails and then sell them to other students. The initiative was conceived as a way to encourage pupils to eat more fruit and was also part of Keep Britain Tidy’s Eco-Schools programme.
Not only has waste reduced, but students are also more conscious about making healthy choices and finishing their plate.
Wrapping it up
In conclusion, the food waste challenge at schools can be combated with simple solutions that involve both students and school authorities working together to give students the meals they want to complete.
Taking student surveys to understand meal preferences, setting up food committees and streamlining the serving process can all go a long way in cutting down on waste and giving students a more wholesome dining experience.
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