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 waste each year in schools alone!

Your school can take action to reduce this waste, and even get your students involved!


There are several things that can be done in the cafeteria before the food is consumed:

Cafeteria Kitchen

  • Review sales report to see which items are less popular, and consider replacing them for more popular food items.
  • 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.
  • Promote menu items on Facebook and school website, so parents and students know what you’re offering.
  • Purchase fresh produce in shorter intervals and use USDA’s Food Buying Guide to determine how much to order.
  • For lower grade levels, allow the students to choose what food items they would like, instead of serving all food items to all students.
  • 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 precut 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.
  • Have recess before lunch and give students at least 25 minutes to eat.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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.
  • 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.