The Tennessee Department of Human Services reports that each day, one in four Tennessee children face the risk of hunger, and 25 percent of Tennessee Households with children are food insecure. To ensure that children are receiving the nutritious food that they need, schools have lunch programs, most free to students. Unfortunately with these programs, over $600 million in food is wasted each year in schools alone!

Your school can take action to reduce this waste, and instill good habits in your students that they will carry into adulthood and have a positive impact on our environment.


Engage Students and Parents

  • Promote menu items on Facebook and school website, so parents and students know what you’re offering.
  • Find out what the students like and do not like. This can also be done by having students sample food items you would like to offer. Try doing this before new menu items are introduced.
  • For lower grade levels, allow the students to choose what food items they would like, instead of serving all food items to all students. Students are more likely to eat foods they choose.
  • Form a student task force to brainstorm food waste reduction strategies and provide feedback as your program unfolds.
  • Invite parents to volunteer in the cafeteria.
  • Encourage students and parents to adopt waste-saving tips at home.

Build Awareness

  • Create or adapt an existing food waste awareness campaign (such as Get Food Smart TN) to raise student awareness and engage them in reducing waste.
  • Hold “Weigh the Waste” contests in which students separate discarded food into a container, weigh it, and compete with other schools (or with themselves over time) to minimize their waste.
  • Connect students to their food through school gardens and Farm to School programming.
  • Hold student focus groups to gather ideas for raising awareness and cutting waste.
  • Connect teachers to curricula and other resources to re-enforce food waste reduction messages in the classroom.



  • Plan menus and meal preparation to ensure that all students are served and have choices but that overproduction is minimized.
  • Track data on how much prepared food isn’t served.
  • Use smaller serving pans toward the end of meal service to avoid waste.
  • Review sales report to see which items are less popular, and consider replacing them for more popular food items.
  • Purchase fresh produce in shorter intervals and use USDA’s Food Buying Guide to determine how much to order.
  • Store, cook, hold, and cool foods to their proper temperature to insure food does not spoil.
  • Store produce in air tight containers to extend the life of the product and date/label it so oldest items are used first.
  • Determine if pre-cut produce or scratch cooking can cut down on waste.
  • Use ingredient by-products and scraps to incorporate into other planned recipes.


  • Set expectations with staff for proper food handling, preparation, and storage techniques using training opportunities offered through NSFMI.
  • Place fruit in two different spots on the lunch line.
  • Give fruits and vegetables creative names.
  • Make white milk 1/3 of milk available and place it in front of flavored milk.
  • Consider “Smarter Lunchroom” strategies that provide an improved atmosphere in the cafeteria.

Other Strategies to Reduce Food Waste

  • Have recess before lunch and give students at least 25 minutes to eat.
  • Set up a “share table” for kids to place packaged or proportioned items they are not going to consume for donation to eligible food banks or other organizations. *Make sure to check local health department for share table rules.
  • Adopt food donation protocols for surplus foods including unclaimed Share Table items and excess food from school kitchens and central commissaries. This should include protocols for what foods can be donated, food packaging and storage, food safety procedures, and tracking systems for donated food.
  • Connect students to their food through school gardens and Farm to School programming.

If you still have some food waste after all of your efforts to reduce, consider these things you can do to keep it from going to the landfill

  • Donate food to local food banks and non-profits. Check out our Donate page for more information and to find a location near you that accepts food donations.
  • Compost food waste for school gardens.
  • Work with local farmers on composting and food scrap projects.
  • Use separate waste bins for recyclables, food donations, compost, and trash.