(May 13) WASHINGTON, D.C. — A recently released government report on school lunch waste serves up numbers that parents may find appetizing — one study found that only about 12% of calories served to U.S. schoolchildren in the National School Lunch Program go uneaten.
But the government report — which surveyed data from numerous such studies — found that findings often depend on methodologies and measurement criteria and that results can vary widely.
Nevertheless, the government report indicates that efforts of students, researchers and school foodservice officials to build consumption of fruits and vegetables at school are working.
It’s also clear that fruits and vegetables are more likely than any other food to end up in the trash can. According to a study conducted in 1996 by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, about 30% of fresh vegetables and 22% of fresh fruits served to children in schools go uneaten.
Those figures comprise just a small helping of statistics gathered in “Plate Waste in School Nutrition Programs,” a report developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service and presented to the House Agricultural Appropriations Committee in March.
The report is a review of some of the most recent research done on school food waste.
$600 MILLION WASTED
Wasted food in the federal lunch program amounts to a direct economic loss of more than $600 million, according to the report, which examined data on student dietary routines and school nutritional programs from the late 1980s through the 1990s.
But the report acknowledges the inevitability of some wasted food and, indeed, concludes that 12% falls “within the normal range.”
The 12% figure is a product of the School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study, which the USDA conducted during the 1991-92 school year to measure food waste in the National School Lunch Program. That study’s chief methodology involved evaluating plates left behind and interviewing students.
But the ERS’s recent report also noted that waste varied by food type and that fruits and vegetables served to students were most likely to be discarded.
“This, of course, is a concern to nutritionists because these are foods that are underconsumed by children as it is,” said Joanne Guthrie, a nutritionist with the ERS who co-wrote the report with colleague Jean Buzby. “So this raises issues about looking at ways of improving quality and/or acceptance of food in the school lunch program.”