Managing food waste in schools during COVID-19: a collective effort

Students and teachers are now adjusting to the routine of classes and break post-lockdown. Even though it has just been a month, it is essential to note the consumption of food is still an issue in schools.

Food giant Heinz and children’s charity Magic Breakfast recently conducted an online survey to study the issue of child poverty and assess its impact.

Their findings discovered an increase in child hunger as compared to this time in 2019 with 28% of teachers surveyed reporting the number of children coming into school without eating breakfast has increased in the past year.

Moreover, this situation is compounded by reports the new school year has seen a reduction in the number of teachers available to assist with the general welfare of children.

Worryingly, the situation is expected to worsen for children when the Government furlough scheme ends in October as this could leave an increasing number of people without jobs.

No wonder, schools are already seeing reduced productivity levels amongst the children – which is a sign of worry and caution.

In the previous article, we discussed the precautions kitchen staff and caterers could take to ensure safety during COVID-19 and reduce food waste in schools. The second part of the series highlights the roles and responsibilities of school boards, meal supervisors and students managing food waste in schools. Let us dive in:

School boards

1. First things first: we anticipate you will have attempted to confirm how many students were likely to return to school and when. This helps in making appropriate arrangements in the dining area, such as sanitisation stands, serving counters, meal times, and so on.

2. Establish protocols for communicating school food distribution plans to students and parents. With COVID-19, things have changed and now new rules could include the elimination of self-service, mandatory hand sanitisation, using paper plates and more.

3. Gain commitment to provide a hot meal to students every day. If it is not possible right away, confirm with the school kitchens what they can best support and implement during the pandemic, even if the arrangement is temporary.

4. If it is possible, set up a delivery service for those students who are entitled to free school meals but cannot attend due to self-isolation, staggered re-entry and other reasons. The delivery service, however, depends on the number of absent students and if the teachers or parents themselves can deliver food to students.

5. Be aware of your staff’s mental health during this time. Managing students, especially during lunch breaks, is going to be challenging. Therefore, it is vital to have open discussions about how risk is being managed to alleviate any anxiety.

Meal supervisors

1. Ensure the kitchen team is aware of the school-wide briefings on how the school plans to manage COVID-19 safety. Lunchtime supervisors must also agree and adhere to their roles and responsibilities supporting them during breaks.

2. Maintain social distancing in queues by keeping different meal times for other year groups. Alternatively, if feasible, permit eating in classrooms with proper food safety and temperature monitoring controls, of course.

3. Set up serving stations and mark the dining area for queuing, seating and clearing sections. If you do not have adequate resources, provide packaged lunches as a temporary measure. Please note: this will create more packaging waste than usual.

Students

1. Make frequent hand-washing mandatory for everyone – whether they are leaving or entering the dining room.

2. Set up food committees where students can share their menu choices and portion size preferences. This way, kitchens can prepare their meal orders in advance.

3. Provide a simple lunch, with one main meal, one vegetarian (or vegan) option, and yoghurt or fruit for pudding. This will also help portion sizes. For breakfast and break services, minimal choices can be served, such as a sandwich or fruit, rather than self-service.

4. Ensure students place plates and cutlery into disinfectant bowls. That way, they will not return the food waste to the kitchen. This waste can be directly taken to your on-site food waste Aerobic Digestion systems to be converted into power, or to any other recycling unit installed in your school.

5. It is okay if students bring their food or water from home. However, lunch boxes and water bottles should be properly disinfected.

6. Clearly labelling and displaying menu options will allow students to choose what they want and order just that.

7. Lengthy queues not only can put students off their food but also act as a safety hazard. Therefore, if possible, keep different meal timings for each year group.

8. Allow meal pre-orders and offer grab-and-go options so that students get to eat what they want whilst also maintaining a social distance.

Wrapping it up

Combating food waste during COVID-19 is not just the responsibility of one person. Everyone must work together to give students a wholesome dining experience. If your school anticipates high levels of food waste in months to come, don’t worry. We can help.

We implement future proof technologies like our iD-R-500 Aerobic Digestion System that simplify the food waste processing system and are perfect for medium-to-high volume mixed food waste requirements. Are you keen to find out more? Please email us at enquiries@waste2es.com or visit www.waste2es.com.

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