When I was matriculating through elementary and high school, one of my least favorite aspects of any educational experience was lunchtime but not because I disliked the 45 free minutes to gossip, do homework and eat. I was wary of lunchtime because of the school’s limited options for lunch food.
In the Los Angeles Unified School District, the same wariness is being felt at lunchtime — but in this case among school administrators and employees within the district’s food services department. According to the Los Angeles Times, LAUSD students throw out approximately $100,000 worth of food each day. Due to the massive waste, the nation’s second-largest school district is discussing ways to reduce waste while maintaining federal nutrition standards.
It is important to teach students early on about the environment and how it affects their health. The school system should revise some of its policies that lead to students wasting unwanted food and focus on other ways of educating them on the critical issues of nutrition and environmentalism.
The discussion surrounding the growing amount of student waste was elevated when the federal school meal rules were finalized in 2012. The rules, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, stipulate that schools must increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free milk while also reducing the levels of sodium and trans fat in meals. Though these changes work to enhance the diet and health of school children, will they ever learn its true importance if it’s forced upon them?
More of the district’s resources should be focused on how to be more environmentally friendly, especially in a city such as Los Angeles that is overpopulated and consistently attempting to make itself more eco-friendly.
By stressing the importance of being environmentally friendly and not wasting food that you don’t like, students can take so much more away from the experience of lunchtime. If school administrators focus on educating students about why it is not okay to waste the food they don’t like, it can turn into a better lesson on the benefits of why eating fruits and vegetables is necessary.
This is also a wise and important financial decision on the district’s part. The cost to feed children in U.S. public schools has grown over the years. It costs $11.6 billion to fund the federal school lunch program, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Some of those sizable funds can go to educating students on the environment. Currently, the national average for plate waste at K-12 schools is around 12 percent, according to the Food Assistance & Nutrition Research Program.
Furthermore, 80 percent of LAUSD students are eligible to receive not only a free or reduced price lunch but also a free or reduced price breakfast. With the multiple free meals a day, the waste accrued is more costly than students not receiving both their servings of fruit and vegetables.
Unfortunately for some LAUSD students, school is the only place where they receive fresh food and vegetables. There is also no denying that exposure to fruits and vegetables will make students more likely to lead healthier lifestyles and reduce their chances of becoming overweight, but there are other routes to getting children into healthier patterns.
But the pattern right now shows that even when forced to have a vegetable or fruit on their plate, students are resisting. Therefore, another solution should be pursued.
“What can we do about this?” David Binkle, director of LAUSD food services, said to the Los Angeles Times. “We can stop forcing children take food they don’t like and throw in the garbage.”
Healthy school lunches are necessary. As an institution designated for learning, schools are the place where teachers and administrators can instill into students the importance of eating healthy and maintaining active lifestyles. One way to achieve this aim is through keeping the fruits and vegetables available to students.
School systems must be realistic about how much change they can make when educating students on both healthy eating patterns and waste reduction. But if policies are revised and game plans are worked in conjunction with one another, the food challenges students face during lunchtime can begin to be nibbled away at.
Jordyn Holman is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “Making the Grade,” runs Wednesdays.