Skip to main content
California Department of Education Logo

Plate Waste Prevention in Child Nutrition Programs

Information on plate waste including strategies, best practices, and resources for sponsors participating in Child Nutrition Programs (CNP).

Overview

In the United States, food loss and waste is about 30 percent of the food supply at retail and consumer levels. Americans waste enough food every day to fill a 90,000 seat football stadium. Approximately one-third of all food is wasted at the retail and consumer levels. While the amount of food wasted in CNPs has not increased during recent years, there are many ways that everyone can help reduce, recover, and recycle food before it goes to waste and teach students about the impact it has on the environment and in their community.

Follow @CDENutrition on Twitter.

Strategies

There are three main challenges identified in efforts to reduce food waste in schools:

  • Accommodating student taste preferences and unfamiliarity with menu items
  • Helping students deal with early meal schedules and insufficient time to eat
  • Redistributing uneaten, intact items

Successful strategies for minimizing plate waste that help address these challenges are as follows:

Challenge 1: Accommodating student taste preferences and unfamiliarity with menu items

  • Obtain feedback on new menu items
  • Implement the offer versus serve option across all applicable CNPs
  • Provide more choices
  • Serve foods with familiar flavors
  • Serve ready-to-eat fruit
  • Invite school staff and teachers to eat meals with students
  • Use kid tested menus

Challenge 2: Helping students deal with early meal schedules and insufficient time to eat

  • Encourage principals to schedule recess before lunch
  • Encourage students to keep food items for snacks
  • Offer grab-and-go items
  • Serve Breakfast in the Classroom

Challenge 3: Redistributing uneaten, intact items

  • Offer share tables
  • Donate intact items to eligible local food banks or charitable organizations

Best Practices

Below are some best practices to consider for minimizing plate waste in your program(s):

  • Buy what you need. Use production records and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Buying Guide web page External link opens in new window or tab. to help you reduce leftover food.

  • Consider food sharing. Partner with your local health department to implement safe practices that encourage kids to leave unwanted food on share tables.

  • Market your meals. Highlight new foods on your menus and serving lines. Consider holding taste tests and recipe competitions or creating a student advisory committee to provide feedback on food acceptability and recipe names. Check out the Team Nutrition Popular Events Booklet web page External link opens in new window or tab. for resources.

  • Create a Smarter Lunchroom. Offer a grab-and-go line for kids who want to get through the line faster so they have more time to eat. Use serving utensils that help kids take reasonable portions. Get more ideas on the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement website External link opens in new window or tab..

  • Check food acceptability. How do students feel about the foods being served? Is the fresh fruit ripe? Is the milk cold? Find out through student surveys or by doing your own check of what is offered.

  • Give kids a choice. Participate in the offer versus serve option, which allows students to decline some of the food offered in a reimbursable lunch or breakfast. Or, consider a salad or produce bar to give children more choices among a variety of fruits and veggies.

  • Cut fruit into smaller pieces. Whole fruit is more likely to be thrown away. Orange slices and apple quarters are easier and faster for kids to eat.

  • Schedule recess before lunch. It can reduce plate waste by as much as 30 percent.

  • Give kids time to eat. Extending the lunch period from 20 to 30 minutes can help reduce waste by nearly one-third.

  • Donate safe food. Partner with your health department and local hunger relief organizations to donate safe and wholesome food. See the USDA policy memo Guidance on the Food Donation Program in Child Nutrition Programs External link opens in new window or tab..

Join the U.S. Food Waste Challenge. Sign up today so your school is recognized on the USDA Office of the Chief Economist web page External link opens in new window or tab..

Contacts

For questions regarding the content of this web page, please contact your School Nutrition Program (SNP) or Summer Meals Unit (SMU) Specialist.

SNP

Mia Bertacchi, Child Nutrition Assistant, Northern School Nutrition Program Unit (SNPU), by phone at 916-445-1261 or by email at mbertacchi@cde.ca.gov, or Lori Porter, Child Nutrition Consultant, Southern SNPU, by phone at 916-322-1454 or by email at lporter@cde.ca.gov.

SMU

Barbara Hedges, CNC, SMU, by phone at 916-327-6071 or by email at bhedges@cde.ca.gov.

 

Questions:   Nutrition Services Division | SNPINFO@cde.ca.gov | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Wednesday, October 18, 2023
Related Content
  • Nutrition
    Resources and information related to child nutrition, nutrition education, food distribution programs, and the Child Nutrition and Physical Activity Advisory Council.
  • SNP Guidance, Manuals, and Resources
    The most recent guidance manuals, management bulletins, and other materials needed for proper administration of the School Nutrition Programs (SNP).
Recently Posted in Nutrition
  • National Nutrition Month 2024 (added 01-Mar-2024)
    The CDE NSD encourages all program operators to celebrate National Nutrition Month and NSBW.
  • Summer EBT 2024 Announcement (added 01-Mar-2024)
    This communication provides information for school food authorities (SFA) about 2024 Summer EBT (S-EBT) benefit issuance and timeline, automatic eligibility determinations, SFA support, toolkit resources for households, and contact information.
  • State Agency Monitoring in the SFSP (added 01-Mar-2024)
    The USDA issued Policy Memo SFSP 06-2024: State agency Monitoring in the Summer Food Service Program.
  • New SFSP Management Bulletins (added 27-Feb-2024)
    The CDE has published five new Management Bulletins that impact the Summer Food Service Program.
  • SFSP Policy Updates Listening Session (added 27-Feb-2024)
    The CDE will host a Listening Session that will review changes to the federal SFSP regulations and how these policies will impact SFSP operations.

  • 2024–25 CNP Reimbursement Rates (added 27-Feb-2024)
    The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued the Summer Food Service Program 2024 reimbursement rates for breakfast, lunch, supper, and snacks. You can review these rates on the 2024 Child Nutrition Programs (CNP) Reimbursement Rates.
  • Updated USDA Guidance on the CEP (added 27-Feb-2024)
    This page contains updated USDA guidance on the CEP, including new policy memos.
  • Governor Newsom Secures Presidential Aid (added 27-Feb-2024)
    Governor Newsom Secures Presidential Major Disaster Declaration to Support Storm Recovery Efforts in San Diego
  • Quaker Issues Revised Recall Notice (added 21-Feb-2024)
    Quaker Issues Revised Recall Notice with Additional Products Due to Possible Health Risk.
  • Letter of Support: Healthy Meals Incentives (added 21-Feb-2024)
    The California Department of Education (CDE) would like to announce that School Food Authorities applying for the Healthy Meals Incentives Recognition Awards can request a letter of support from CDE.