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Reduce Food Loss and Waste in The School Meals Programs

Food and Nutrition Service


Judy Wilson, Senior Nutrition Advisor, Organization: Office of Policy Support,Food and Nutrition Service, USDA, (703-305-2584)


To reduce food loss and waste in the school meals programs by reducing plate waste and encouraging schools to donate edible foods to eligible organizations.

Baseline: In 2002, USDA reported that 12 percent of the calories served to students in the National School Lunch program were lost because of plate waste (based on 1991-92 data). Lack of recent data and the transition to the new school meal requirements make projection of the potential reductions in waste difficult.

Activity 1

Conduct a study (nationally representative sample) to acquire new information on the amount of plate waste in schools with respect to the type of foods wasted, student and food service characteristics, and related information.

  • Award contract: Spring 2013 
  • Collect  and analyze: School years 2014-15       
  • Clearance and release of final reports: 2017

Activity 2

Issue updated guidance materials and provide technical assistance to further encourage “offer versus serve” and family-style service in school meal programs (Offer vs. serve and family-style services in childcare can reduce plate waste by allowing kids to select types/amount of foods).

  • Update and issue guidance on offer vs. serve: May 2013
  • Provide technical assistance and support: Ongoing           

Activity 3

Investigate use of behavior economic approaches in the school food environment to identify effective ways to reduce plate waste.

  • Provide funding to ERS and Cornell: 2013
  • Disseminate promising practices via meetings, web site and other communication: Fall 2014*

Activity 4

Provide training, resources and support to school food service personnel to reduce in-kitchen food loss, improve the quality and acceptability of foods served and donation of wholesome leftover foods where feasible. In-kitchen food loss is due to overproduction, spoilage, expiration, trim waste, spillage, etc., and is controlled by food service staff.  Food service personnel also control some post-production food loss, such as that related to portion sizes, quality/acceptability of foods, and management of left over foods, etc. To address these issues, FNS will:

  • In collaboration with National Food Service Management Institute (NFSMI) provide training to school food service personnel on food management and production practices to minimize food loss (i.e., overproduction, accidents, and inventory issues.): June 2013*
  • Provide staff training on Behavioral Economics/Smarter Lunchrooms: June 2013*
  • Provide resources to schools to help improve the quality of meals and technical assistance to facilitate donations of wholesome foods including distributions of kid friendly recipes and menu planning tools to schools.: Fall 2013*         

*Activities are ongoing from these dates.