SOLVING THE PROBLEM
The report conveyed several possible solutions to reducing plate waste, based on other research findings.
Prominent among the suggestions was offering a wider selection of choices, particularly among fruits and vegetables. Salad bars were listed among possible examples of an “offer vs. serve” provision in school meal programs, Guthrie said.
“Historically, children had to take the full meal under the USDA rules,” Guthrie said. “Under this provision, they can decline a maximum of two of the typical five menu items.”
On the other hand, students are not required, under such a system, to select a fruit or vegetable with their meal.
“But one thing that has been done with the offer vs. serve provision is that they started coupling it with a range of choices in the fruits and vegetables,” she said.
Another possible solution centers on scheduling lunch to follow a recess period.
When children eat lunch before recess, they’re more eager to run out and play than to finish eating, Guthrie said. “There’s consistency in the research. Only 18% of schools schedule recess before lunch. So it seems that’s a factor.”
Other possible solutions may involve widening the selection of commodities in the USDA program, specifically the inclusion of more fresh fruits and vegetables. The report also suggests that school districts might consider accessing as much locally grown produce as possible.
“It can play a role; the tricky part is it is going to have to go through some co-op (in order to have consistency and volume),” said Elizabeth Pivonka, president of the Wilmington, Del.-based Produce for Better Health Foundation.
Another key element is providing students with a voice in menu content, the report noted.
“Student advisory groups offer one way to create improved menus that are acceptable to students, which would likely have some impact on reducing plate waste,” the report said.
Meanwhile, Guthrie said that the keys to enhancing student nutrition, based on her findings, seem to be information and choice.