Opinion & Editorial

Back to class doesn’t need to result in lunchroom waste

A few months ago, I was lucky to meet a Springfield School District school cafeteria employee during a community event. I was handing out materials about preventing wasted food when she relayed what her school was doing to avoid wasted food.

As a sustainability professional and Springfield taxpayer, I was impressed—and wanted to know more.

Heather Murray, Springfield School District Nutrition Services Department Supervisor, recently shared more about Springfield’s approach.

“The (school district) considers food waste an important topic as funding received must be managed in a way that provides the most cost-effective, while also nutritionally sound, and most appealing meals possible for our students,” Murray wrote. As the father of a 6-year-old, I know this is a tricky balance.

So, why is preventing wasted food a big deal? Consider these statistics.

A 2019 World Wildlife Fund (WWF) study estimates the cost of wasted food totals up to $1.7 billion annually in U.S. schools ($9.7 million daily).

The WWF study reported that reducing wasted food in U.S. schools by even 3%t would be the equivalent greenhouse gas reduction of removing 12,400 passenger vehicles from the road for a year.

The Oregon Hunger Task Force reported that 17.4% of Lane County children were food insecure in 2021.

Cost. Climate. Kids.

To curb waste in Springfield, Murray said daily attendance is taken in classrooms to see who is participating in meal services, and this information is passed on to school kitchens.

“Kitchen managers then utilize that data, along with historical meal counts, to prepare an appropriate number of servings each day, reducing waste and/or leftover product,” Murray wrote. Administrative staff also chime in about inventory levels to reduce overstock risks, and menus are collaboratively developed to ensure food gets eaten.

So, what if there are leftovers?

Murray wrote that “leftovers can be applied to enhance future meals and not become food waste” using “appropriate food handling protocol.” Furthermore, the district employs “No Thank You” tables so students can access sealed/unused items from a meal, making those available for consumption.

Finally, the district has cultivated relationships with organizations, such as Burrito Brigade and Eugene Mission, that accept donations of products that are no longer able to be served to the student population—but can still be utilized within their organizations.

Any county schools interested in upping their wasted food prevention game should contact Oregon Green Schools (OGS), a nonprofit that helps school lunchrooms audit and reduce lunchroom waste. Contact Regional OGS Coordinator Joshua Frankel at (541) 636-0096 for more information.

Daniel Hiestand is the Lane County Waste Reduction outreach coordinator. He wrote this for The Chronicle.

WasteWise Lane County, a part of the Lane County Waste Management Division, seeks to empower residents and businesses with education and resources to reduce waste, conserve resources, and live sustainably. Follow WasteWise Lane County on Facebook and Instagram @WasteWiseLaneCounty.



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