Waste not…

Over the past year I’ve done a fair amount of reading on school lunch programs.  While I’ve focused most of my research on food and the health statistics among school age children, another topic that captured my attention was food waste.  The amount of waste associated with elementary school lunches is astounding.  Statistics show that the average elementary student wastes 25% of their lunch. Two independent research groups audited lunchroom waste and their findings were staggering.  The first group audited a school in Loveland, Colorado and found the amount of fruit that ended up in the trash topped 40% while 32-44% of the vegetables were thrown out.  Ethan Bergman, a professor in the Dept. of Health and Human Performance at Central Washington University  who studies school nutrition says this, “On the days they’re serving broccoli or cauliflower, you look in the garbage and it’s all green or white.”  Seven Generations Ahead, a non-profit group, conducted another study in Chicago and found that in one school alone students were discarding 334 lbs. of food in a single day!  It is estimated that this kind of food waste costs taxpayers $2 billion dollars through the National School Lunch Program.

In this article, the author writes, “We live in a culture of excess, and food is no exception. The average American wastes more than half a pound of food per day. ” The same article also outlines some interesting statistics about food waste in America:

  • 40% of the food produced in America is never consumed
  • 29 million TONS of food is wasted in America every year
  • 17% of landfills are made up of food scraps
  • 25% of the food that enters the home is never consumed

All in all…food waste has reached epic proportions in this country.  Combine the statistics mentioned above with the fact that typical American school aged child generates 67 pounds of discarded school lunch packaging waste per school year (that’s more than 18,000 pounds of waste per year at the average-sized elementary school) and you’ll see that school lunches alone generate A LOT of waste.

This information has made me much more mindful of how I handle excess food in our home.  As you may have noticed, I tend to cut a lot of my kids foods into shapes.  Studies show that consumption of fruits and vegetables greatly increases if they are served in cut format.  This has certainly proved to be the case with my kids which makes it well worth the effort.  Obviously when I cut shapes out of food for lunches there are scraps leftover and VERY rarely do I throw any of those scraps away (by throwing away, I mean putting them in our compost pile).  So, today I thought I’d take some time today to share some tips and tricks for using lunch scraps.

Below you can see how I created lunches for all of my boys (husband included) yesterday and used every ounce of excess so as to not waste the food.  I’m happy to report that the boys came home with all but a few bites of food gone.   My youngest son left a grand total of 2 uneaten cucumber stars in his lunch box and my oldest left 3 cheese curds and 4 almonds uneaten.  That’s a far cry from the amount of food I continue to see kids throw away when I join my boys for lunch at school.

First, I do my best to find cookie cutters that take up as much of the bread as possible.  Separate the meat, cheese and bread.  Cut leftover bread into strips and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

When using a cookie cutter that doesn’t fit most of the sandwich I use smaller cookie cutters to cut additional shapes out of the sandwich.  Any scraps also went into my “bread” container.
Great uses for bread scraps:
Meatloaf (I use this recipe minus the ketchup concoction on top)
Grind them into bread crumbs and use to make Swedish Meatballs

Now cut the scraps of meat and cheese into chunks and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Use the cheese anytime you need “shredded cheese” (tacos, casseroles, salad topping, etc…).  Sprinkle the meat on a salad, make meat & cheese pockets for an after school snack, etc…

When I cut shapes out of fruits or vegetables I typically divide the pieces between my two boys.  As you can see below, I made a stack of “solid” star cucumbers for one of my boys and another stack of star “outline” cucumbers for the other.  If you have more than one child this is a great way to utilize scraps of fruits and veggies.

Here are a few ways I use leftover fruits and veggies:
Cut up excess fruits and veggies and make myself  or my husband a salad for lunch
Make purees to put in pasta sauce, brownies or other dishes (find puree recipes HERE)
Freeze fruit and use in smoothies
Freeze veggies and use in soups or stews
Worst case scenario, throw unusable scraps in a compost pile so it doesn’t turn into waste


Lunch for my youngest son includes:  turkey/cheese sandwich, cucumbers, orange slices, string cheese, hard boiled egg, fudge cookie (the recipe for the fudge cookie is HERE…my boys LOVE these cookies!)
Lunch for my oldest son:
Lunch for my husband:
Following some of these tips and packing lunches in a waste-free, re-usable lunch kit you and your child can help cut down on the amount of waste generated in school lunchrooms.


This entry was posted in General, health statistics, school topics, sports, themed lunches and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Waste not…

  1. Tia says:

    Awesome Jamie! Keep up the great work!

  2. Danielle says:

    Very nice! Great ideas, especially the pureeing for sauces and such. :) I pack my kid’s their lunches for school and we are only in the second week of school, but I’m finding that my kindergartner is not eating much of anything for lunch. So far, they’ve had just basic things that they would eat at home… turkey wraps and fruit w/ some veggie chips and such. For example, yesterday she only at two bites of her turkey wrap… nothing else. :( Hopefully this is just a phase as school is very new for her, but I’m going to start to do some sandwiches and such in shapes like I do at home occasionally and see if that makes a difference. ;)

  3. Donna P says:

    I wondered what happened to the scraps. I thought you were eating PB&J scraps for YOUR lunch. If we cut off crusts, I through them in a bowl to dry, then use the Magic Bullet or food processor to make bread crumbs that I use the same way.

    Our school has a “share basket” in the cafeteria. Kids can put in their unused items and others can go looking for something. Since milk is included in our purchased lunch, a lot can be wasted. The kids who love milk get an extra for free. When my kids take oatmeal in the Thermos, I encourage them to look for milk in the share basket. Some if it isn’t “shareable” (baked beans anyone??). Since my kids take all reusable packaging 99% of the time, they come home with their uneaten items. But one told me the other day a friend scored a pudding cup from the share basket. “Can you believe it mom??? Someone didn’t want their pudding???”

    • Melissa says:

      what a great idea to have a share basket! i will mention this idea to our school’s PTA at the next meeting, we discussed the issue of some kids not having enough to eat, at school and home. the local news station did a story about kids who save some of their lunches to eat at home over the weekend because their families do not have enough to eat.

  4. Nicole Ritter says:

    LOVE your blog! Recently stumbled upon it and am VERY thankful I did! I have a VERY picky 3 yr old and a not at all picky 1 yr old. The cookie cutters have been a miracle in actually getting my 3 yr old to eat a sandwich (or anything)! THANK YOU!! He’s so proud of himself when he eats all of his stars!

  5. Elaine N says:

    Bravo Jamie! I know a lot of people comment that it looks like you waste a lot of food cutting out all of those shapes, and I’m glad to see that you addressed it in a post showing how you use all of those scraps. I am always appalled at the amount of waste I see at school and in restaurants. Perhaps we have been TOO blessed in recent years b/c I think our excesses have given over to the waste of many, many things. I hate to think that we may have to go through a tough economic time, reminiscent of the depression, before we can swing back to being less wasteful. My husband grew up with depression era parents and they taught me a lot about not being wasteful (and I’m not just talking about food!). We have hungry children living in our own backyards and it makes me sick to think of the food that end up in the trash. My kids are in high school and if they don’t eat something, they bring it home to me. Occasionally my son doesn’t have time to eat everything ….this morning I found a turkey sandwich in his bag and I had to talk to him again about why that’s not okay. He at least had the grace to look guilty!

  6. Annie Jones says:

    When I make my kiddo’s lunch in the morning and there are “scraps” leftover, I just eat them myself. I’m really not a breakfast eater, but I can stomach savory foods (like turkey sandwich scraps) much better than I can oatmeal or cold cereal. I figure eating the small amount of scraps is better for me than walking around all morning on an empty stomach.

  7. Pokeyann says:

    After seeing the crazy amount of food they gave my two 4 year olds to eat at Pre-K, I started packing their lunches. It is snowballing from there. Aside from the nutrition aspect, the waste was very shocking to me. I was using the scraps to feed some ducks in our neighborhood, but those are some awesome ideas. Now we can feed the ducks, ourselves and the compost!

  8. Kerry says:

    how are you keeping those lunches cooled?

  9. Pam says:

    The school my boys go to has it’s own green house and a compost pile for lunch scraps. They learn at an early age how to use a compost pile and they get time in the green house through their science classes. Most of the salad bar and fresh vegis come from the green house at the schools. It’s a great program we have in our district. Love the ideas they are great!!

  10. Rose says:

    Where did you get the blue container?

  11. Stephanie says:

    PERFECT TIMING FOR THIS POST! I some supplies to start making cute lunches for my girls this passed weekend, and one thing that ekpt bugging me was the thought was wasting the cut out pieces. today I surprised myself…out of fear of wasting the outline of a cucumber, I cut a piece of cheese the same shape and stuck it in the empty space lol.
    Thanks for all the tips and ideas! I don’t feel at all as worried and look forward to getting creative with the cut, unused parts of the lunches!!! =)

  12. This is one of your best posts yet. Very commonsensical but there is no doubt that most people probably don’t do these things!

  13. Angie says:

    Just love your posts and have used ~many~ of your ideas for my own boys’ healthy lunches. Glad to get ideas on what to do with the remnant sandwich parts. I just make myself the human garbage disposal and eat all the leftover parts as part of my breakfast that morning.

  14. Jenspire says:

    YOU are such a genius!!! I HATE wasting food, too! Thanks for the great idea!!

  15. Maria says:

    I’ve been reading your site for a few weeks but I was always wondering what you did with the scraps. Great ideas.

  16. Melissa says:

    This is a great post. I am a new reader of your blog and it is very inspiring, not just for cute lunches! – although I am loving surprising my son with cute food!

  17. FunkySteph says:

    Thanks for sharing those tips as I felt recently very guilty using the cookie cutter to shape a sandwich…. I have a great reciepe for using “old” bread similar to the english pudding and would share it with pleasure, but did not thought about it until I read your post!!!!

  18. Reyes says:

    Thanks so much, for your posting, as i am working on a school paper on school lunches this was of great assistance, as well as an eye opener…just wish the government will be able to realize how much money we taxpayers are wasting.

  19. What’s up, always i used to check blog posts here in the early hours in the break of day,
    because i love to find out more and more.

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