Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Food Pairings, Plate Waste, and Wasted Dollars: The Case of Elementary School Lunches

Friday, November 13, 2015 : 2:30 PM
Orchid B (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Ariun Ishdorj, Texas A&M University
Plate waste, defined as the quantity of edible food left uneaten after a meal, has been documented as a challenge at all grade levels in schools participating in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) new nutrition standards in the NSLP were implemented at the beginning of SY 2012-2013. The new school meal standards made several changes and additions to the previous standards, such as increasing the availability and portion sizes of fruits and vegetables offered, and requiring the selection of a fruit or vegetable by each student participating in the program. The new standards have been criticized for contributing to increases in plate waste. Although high plate waste was recorded and is a problem with school lunches, it is not clear whether students dislike the foods served, the composition of meals, the environment in which they are eating, or some other factors. Therefore, the objectives of this study were to provide measures of plate waste for main entrées and vegetables from elementary school lunches before and after the implementation of new school meal standards, determine factors which affect plate waste, and assess the economic/financial costs associated with plate waste. In addition, the relationship between main entrée and vegetable pairings were examined and entrée and vegetable pairs associated with the least and most plate waste were identified along with the associated intake of calories and nutrients. Plate waste collections were conducted in three phases: (1) phase 1 School District 1 (April 2012 and May 2012), phase 2 School District 1 (October 2012 and November 2012), and (2) phase 3 School District 2 (November 2012, December 2012, and January 2013). Combined across two school districts with three schools in each district, a total of 60 days, ten visits to each school, of plate waste collection of lunch time meals were sampled. Plate waste varied significantly by grade, school, and school district. Average percent plate waste for vegetables, both before and after the changes in school meal standards, were over 50%. Main entrées were wasted less compared to vegetables, but the percent entrée wasted was slightly greater after the changes in standards. Plate waste for main entrées and vegetables varied by type of entrée and type of vegetable served. The majority of plate waste comes from vegetables when we look at most wasted entrée and vegetable pairings. For the least wasted pairings of entrées and vegetables, plate waste for both entrée and vegetable were relatively low. Plate waste for starchy vegetables was relatively high compared to other subgroups, however, plate waste for white potatoes was the lowest compared to other starchy and non-starchy vegetables. Furthermore, plate waste for white potatoes was varied by product form. Four out of five entrée and vegetable pairings that had the lowest overall plate waste had potato products as side dishes, both before and after the changes in standards.