In Louisiana, there are many points at which food loss and waste are generated, including in schools and households. Luckily, there are proven strategies that are simple and cost-effective to implement and can help reduce the amount of waste in school nutrition programs.
Best Practices for Child Nutrition Programs to Help Reduce Food Waste
Healthy Kids, Not Healthy Trash Cans
The best way to tackle food waste is to make sure students consume what they take. USDA recommends "If a school has leftover food on a frequent basis, menu planning and production practices should be adjusted to reduce leftovers." (USDA Memo SP 11-2012) This involves good planning by school nutrition staff, getting students and families involved in decision-making, and educating students on the impacts of wasted food.
The Institute of Child Nutrition also hosts a Child Nutrition Recipe Box. The Recipe Box provides Child Nutrition Program operators with standardized recipes for meals that meet meal pattern requirements.
School meals programs should also routinely evaluate instances of leftovers/food and take action to reduce this occurrence. "As always, CNP operators should take steps to encourage consumption of the meal, including preparing appealing meals and serving them in a convenient manner. For example, CNP operators are encouraged to promote meal consumption by including an option of cut up whole fruit to make it easier to eat, and engaging children through taste tests, student advisory committees, and nutrition education. These practices help ensure children get the most out of the food assistance programs." (USDA Memo SP 41-2016)
Interested in learning more about the trends in School Meal Programs? The School Nutrition Association summarizes findings from a survey conducted with director-level SNA respondent members representing over 800 unique districts from all SNA regions in May and June, 2019 in a trends report. The School Nutrition Trends Report is completed each year.
Resources for Nutrition Integrity Goals to Reduce Food Waste
1. Keys to Excellence: Standards of Practice for Nutrition Integrity is an initiative of the School Nutrition Association (SNA) designed to assist schools in achieving nutrition integrity goals at the administrative, management, and operational levels. This tool, through its standards of practice and indicators, defines national standards for quality programs and provides a framework for continuous program review, evaluation, and improvement. The Keys to Excellence are also the basis for the 4 Key Areas in USDA’s Professional Standards for School Nutrition Programs Personnel launched in July 2015 and revised in July 2019. See Best Practices B1.2 and B7.3 for tips on food waste.
2. School Meal Programs Innovate to Improve Student Nutrition is a report from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. See page 17 for information that specifically relates to food waste.
This report explores the survey results on SFA directors’ perspectives on meal and snack nutrition requirements and on districts’ experiences implementing the updated standards near the end of SY 2014-15. It reveals that many districts have emerged from the most challenging phase of the transition to healthier meals.
Offer Versus Serve
Food service operations with increased food costs may want to consider implementing
Offer Versus Serve (OVS).
OVS is a provision with two major goals: (1) reduce food waste in CNPs, and (2) permit children to select only the foods they want to consume.
OVS allows students to decline components during a breakfast, lunch, or supper service. The number of components that can be declined at each meal
service is contingent on the CNP the agency operates. While OVS is required for lunch at the high school level for the National School Lunch Program,
it is optional for all other grade levels.
The USDA has developed Offer Versus Serve National School Lunch Program Posters and Tip Sheets
that are intended to educate students in selecting a reimbursable lunch under Offer Versus Serve. Teachers and school food service professionals will find these posters help students more quickly select the foods in the lunch line that make up a reimbursable meal.
Menu Planning Flexibilities
Beginning July 1, 2019, updated school meals regulations allowed for menu planning flexibilities with regard to milk, whole grain and sodium requirements. The changes allow school meals program operators to plan menus that encourage the consumption of a variety of grains, fruits, vegetables, protein and low-fat dairy, while appealing to student tastes and reducing the incidence of discarded food.
The school meals proposed rule would continue to ensure children receive wholesome, tasty meals that provide the nutrition they need to grow and thrive, while offering increased flexibilities for local school districts to serve children food they will want to eat.
In January 2020, USDA released a proposed rule, "Simplifying Meal Service and Monitoring Requirements in the NSLP and SBP". The proposed rule would:
Allow local schools to offer more vegetable varieties, while keeping plenty of veggies in each meal;
Offer legumes as a meat alternate could count toward the weekly legume requirement.
Provide schools options to customize meal patterns to best serve children in different grades or smaller schools who eat together;
Make it easier for schools to offer school lunch entrées for a la carte purchase, thereby reducing food waste;
Support a more customized school breakfast environment by letting schools adjust fruit servings and making it simpler to offer meats/meat alternates, ultimately encouraging breakfast options outside the cafeteria so students can start their day with a healthy breakfast;
Exempt SBP and NSLP entrées from the competitive food standards on the day the entrée is offered on the school menu and for two days after.
Expand the flexibility for the sale of calorie-free, naturally flavored waters during the school day.
Shift to a performance-focused administrative review process that is less burdensome and time consuming, which would increase collaboration with operators to improve program integrity
A sharing table is a place where students can place unopened food and drinks that they choose not to eat or drink. Students drop off unwanted food and drink on the Sharing Table immediately after leaving the serving line.
Louisiana Administrative Code, Title 51, Part XXIII, Chapter 19
§1909. Reservice [formerly paragraph 22:12-5] A. Once served to a consumer, portions of left-over food shall not be reserved, except: 1. food that is not potentially hazardous, such as crackers and condiments, in an unopened original package and maintained in sound condition may be reserved or resold; 2. food that is dispensed so that it is protected from contamination and the container is closed between uses, such as a narrow-neck bottle containing catsup, steak sauce, or wine.
However, in an attempt to assist with controlling food waste, the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) has indicated that child nutrition program operators who wish to institute a sharing table at a school may submit a proposed plan to LDH for review and possible grant of a variance.
When it comes to sharing tables, it is imperative that proper food safety and food handling procedures are followed and that School Food Authorities work closely with parish sanitarians to make sure an approved sharing plan is in place. Allowing share tables may, in a controlled manner, reduce food waste and allow additional nutrition opportunities for children.
Louisiana Sharing Table Guidelines
SFA applicants will need to submit a variance request and identify the parameters under which they will conduct the share tables. Submit your requests to the local LDH Environmental Health Sanitarian Services Office in your parish. In order for consideration of the variance, the plan must include the following information from the Guide to Share Tables from the Louisiana Department of Health.
How are Louisiana Schools Helping to Reduce Food Waste?
The rule allows schools in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs to offer flavored, low-fat (1 percent) milk at lunch and breakfast and as a beverage for sale a la carte, without the need to demonstrate operational hardship, and requires that unflavored milk (fat-free or low-fat) be available at each school meal service.
For consistency across programs, the rule extends the milk flexibility to the Special Milk Program for Children and to the Child and Adult Care Food Program for children ages six and older and adult participants.
The rule illustrated by the USDA NSLP and SBP Sodium Timeline & Limits retains Sodium Target 1 through School Year 2023-2024, moves Target 2 to School Year 2024-2025, and removes the final target in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.