|Detailed Objective: This project reviews the literature on plate waste in school nutrition programs, particularly the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), in order to determine the level of plate waste in these programs, factors that contribute to plate waste, and strategies that may reduce waste.
Plate waste is a direct measure of the efficiency of program operations that has been used in a number of studies of USDA school meal programs. Plate waste is generally defined as the quantity of edible portions of food served that is left uneaten. It is a common reason for food loss at the consumer and foodservice levels. While some plate waste is unavoidable, excessive waste may be a sign of inefficient operations and an unresponsive delivery system. Decreasing excessive waste, particularly of foods such as fruits and vegetables, which are underconsumed by American children in comparison to Federal dietary recommendations, also would contribute to effective delivery of program benefits. As requested by Congress, ERS is examining the evidence that several factors may reduce plate waste, including the offer vs. serve provision of school meal food service, rescheduling of lunch hours, and improving food quality. In addition, the study assesses the potential value of nutrition education in decreasing waste.