Healthy Lunchtime Options Expose Wasteful Students’ Behavior

By Adrianna Iorio, Clarion Editor-in-Chief

Lunch time is an essential aspect to any high school student’s day as it allows for students to relax, take a break, and mentally prepare themselves for the last two hours of their school day. An essential part of lunch is consumption of food itself, a process that is somewhat wasteful when it comes to many students using the school lunch options.

Why do students need to take a fruit or vegetable if they don’t plan on eating it?

Students who buy lunch may be reminded by cafeteria staff to choose between the fruits and vegetables offered.  This requirement was not established by Kennedy or even SCUSD but rather by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) a branch of the federal government responsible for overseeing affairs regarding agriculture.

Beginning in the 2012-2013 school year, new regulatory provisions, initiated by the USDA, required that school lunch options be altered.   The goal of these new meal plans funded by “The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act,” is to help reduce America’s childhood obesity epidemic. In helping schools across the country produce balanced meals, some issues have arisen, mostly because the lunches reimbursed by the USDA come with a requirement. In order to receive reimbursement, all meals must follow a “balanced meal” criteria, which consists of five components: fruit, vegetables, meat/meat alternates, grains and milk. A reimbursable meal consists of a half a cup of fruit or vegetables and at least two other full servings from the five component groups.

An immense amount of food is wasted during, specifically, lunch time, as students are served all food components in order to comply with the USDA.

According to Otto Ducey, a substitute teacher, lunch time is a sad experience due to the amount of food littered across campuses.

“I’ve witnessed students throwing away what appears to be entire lunches. Sometimes the main meal has one or two bites taken and the fruit is completely tossed out – it just seems like more food is wasted than what is eaten,” Ducey tells the Clarion.

Cafeteria manager Maria Ortiz reports that she and her staff are trying their best to avoid food waste despite it being something that’s inevitable. Ortiz reports the prime reason food waste is prominent among schools in general is due to an inconsistent number of students who buy lunch. A contributing factor to the unpredictability in these numbers is “grab-and-go” meals (meals made prior to students buying lunch.) “Grab-and-go” meals do not allow the cafeteria staff to respond directly to student preference in terms of what they want to eat.  At the end of the lunch period, possibly half of these lunches can be uneaten.

Kennedy, similar to other schools across America, are trying their best to ensure every meal is waste-free. In Elkhart, Indiana, Woodland Elementary School is working with the non-profit organization Cultivate. Cultivate takes uneaten food from caterers or large food business, and makes frozen meals for students at Woodland Elementary School. Cultivate stops by Woodland three times a week to gather the uneaten food, and by Friday 20 students have eight individual meals to take with them for the weekend.

Ortiz and her staff have tried to cut down on the amount of food served including sourcing local and fresh produce. The cafeteria also makes “build-to-order” meals – food made as students arrive, such as pasta alfredo, lasagna, and teriyaki chicken. Pre-made meals stay hot, can be reused, and are much more effective in limiting waste.

The cafeteria aims to ensure every student who buys lunch is happy while at the same time trying to be as waste free as possible. As Ortiz puts it, “We’re here to serve, not to waste.”


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