Food Waste in a School Nutrition Program After Implementation of New Lunch Program Guidelines



      To assess the amount of food waste by meal components according to the new National School Lunch Program guidelines among pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students.


      For 5 consecutive school days in 1 elementary school, the research team collected school lunch trays and separated meal components into bins relative to each food or beverage appearing on the school's daily menu. Bins were weighed in grams and converted to ounces and cups at the end of each lunch period.


      The researchers examined 304 meals from 1 pre-kindergarten class and 5 kindergarten classes. Of 4,988 oz of food and beverages served, 2,261 oz (45.3%) were wasted during 1 full school week, totaling 141 lb. The greatest amount of food waste was generated from vegetables, the main entree, and milk, respectively.

      Conclusions and Implications

      Strategies to reduce food waste in school lunch should be researched and implemented.

      Key Words

      To read this article in full you will need to make a payment

      Purchase one-time access:

      Academic and Personal

      SNEB Member Login

      SNEB Members, full access to the journal is a member benefit. Login via the SNEB Website to access all journal content and features.
      Join SNEB today online


      Subscribe to Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior
      Already a print subscriber? Claim online access
      Already an online subscriber? Sign in
      Institutional Access: Sign in to ScienceDirect


      1. National School Lunch Program Fact Sheet. US Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. Accessed May 2, 2014.

      2. Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act 2010, Public Law 111–296. 111th US Congress. Published December 13, 2010. 124 STAT. 3183. Accessed May 2, 2014.

      3. Nutrition standards for foods in schools: leading the way toward healthier youth. Institute of Medicine. Accessed May 2, 2014.

      4. Nutrition standards in the national school lunch and school breakfast programs: final rule. US Department of Agriculture. Published January 26, 2012. 77 Federal Registrar 17. 111th US Congress. Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act 2010, Public Law 111–296. Accessed May 2, 2014.

      5. Summary of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (by program). US Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. Accessed May 2, 2014.

      6. Plumlee R. The Wichita Eagle. Wasted food a worry for schools. Accessed May 2, 2014.

      7. Moser D. More food goes to waste under new guidelines. Accessed May 2, 2014.

      8. Buzby J, Guthrie J. Plate waste in school nutrition programs. US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Accessed May 2, 2014.

        • Guthrie J.
        • Buzby J.
        Several strategies may lower plate waste in school feeding programs.
        Food Review. 2002; 25: 36-42
        • Adams M.
        • Pelletier R.
        • Zive M.
        • Sallis J.
        Salad bars and fruit and vegetable consumption in elementary schools: a plate waste study.
        J Am Diet Assoc. 2005; 105: 1789-1792
        • Marlette M.
        • Templeton S.
        • Panemangalore M.
        Food type, food preparation, and competitive food purchases impact school lunch plate waste by sixth-grade students.
        J Am Diet Assoc. 2005; 105: 1779-1782
        • Reger C.
        • O'Neil C.
        • Nicklas T.
        • Myers L.
        • Berenson G.S.
        Food waste of school lunches served to children in a low-socioeconomic elementary school in south Louisiana.
        School Food Service Research Review. 1996; 20: 13-19
        • Cohen J.
        • Richardson S.
        • Austin S.
        • Bryn Austin S.
        • Economos C.
        • Rimm E.
        School lunch waste among middle school students: nutrients consumed and costs.
        Am J Prev Med. 2013; 44: 114-121
        • Birch L.
        • Savage J.S.
        • Ventura A.
        Influences on the development of children's eating behaviours: from infancy to adolescence.
        Can J Dietetic Pract Res. 2007; 68 (S6): S1-S4
      9. US Census Bureau. Accessed May 2, 2014.

      10. St. Pierre R, Fox M, Puma M, Glantz F, Moss M, Endahl J. Child Nutrition Program operations study, second year report: executive summary. Alexandria, VA: US Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service; 1992.

      11. US Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. School Food Authority paid lunch price report. Accessed May 2, 2014.

      12. US General Accounting Office. Waste from school lunches. GAO/RCED-96–128R. Washington, DC: US General Accounting Office; May 8, 1996.

      13. US Environmental Protection Agency. Reducing food waste for business. Accessed May 2, 2014.

      14. USDA school meals: healthy meals, healthy schools, healthy kids. US Dept of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. Accessed May 2, 2014.

        • Byker C.J.
        • Pinard C.A.
        • Yaroch A.L.
        • Serrano E.L.
        New NSLP guidelines: challenges and opportunities for nutrition education practitioners and researchers.
        J Nutr Educ Behav. 2013; 46: 683-689
        • Birch L.
        • McPhee L.
        • Shoba B.
        • Steinberg L.
        • Krehbiel R.
        “Clean up your plate”: effects of child feeding practices on the conditioning of meal size.
        Learning and Motivation. 1987; 18: 301-317
        • Costanzo P.
        • Woody E.
        Domain-specific parenting styles and their impact on the child's development of particular deviance: the example of obesity proneness.
        J Social Clin Psychol. 1985; 3: 425-445
      15. Smarter lunchrooms. US Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. Accessed May 2, 2014.

        • Just D.R.
        • Wansink B.
        Smarter lunchrooms: using behavioral economics to improve meal selection.
        Choices. 2009; 24: 19
      16. Hanks A, Just D, Wansink B. Smarter lunchrooms: libertarian paternalism can address new school lunchroom guidelines and childhood obesity. Accessed May 2, 2014.

        • Wansink B.
        • Just D.R.
        • Payne C.R.
        MZ Klinger. Attractive names sustain increased vegetable intake in schools.
        Prev Med. 2012; 55: 330-332