As school-lunch debate puts attention on rejected meals, we might consider a bigger problem: food wasted at home

The new nutrition rules for school meals have led some students to throw away food they’re served. Schools across the country are estimated to waste $1.2 billion worth of food every year, based on extrapolations from a study the National Institutes of Health conducted in Boston schools. That’s a lot of wasted food and money, but students and their families waste even more food at home, George Jones writes for WFIE-TV in Evansville.

According to the U.S. Department of Education approximately 49.8 million pre-K through 12th-grade students will attend public schools this year. Each student is estimated to waste about $33 worth of federally funded lunches per year. “The average person in the general population wastes almost that much in total meals during one month,” Jones reports.

Americans threw away $161 billion worth of food in 2010—nearly one-third of the available food supply, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That means the average person discards $372 worth of food each year, or four times as much as students.

“Sometimes people say it’s the family and parents making choices, but it’s the larger system we’re in that making this problem,” aid Pamela Koch, director of the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education and Policy at Columbia University. “They’re working so many hours they think they don’t have time to shop and cook healthy. And the most inexpensive foods are the ones that are not the most healthy for them.”

Rising obesity rates and fast food consumption show that adults aren’t eating well-balanced meals, much less school-aged individuals. The School Nutrition Association supports the rules requiring reduced-fat and fat-free milk and more fruits and vegetables, but “feels serving only whole grain breads and requiring children to take food they don’t otherwise each is burdensome for schools,” Jones reports.

“You’re never going to be able to promote healthy diets for kids if they don’t get healthy options across the board,” SNA spokeswoman Diane Pratt-Heavner said. “It’s the students who are unfamiliar with those healthier choices who are not responding well.”

Students part of the Montgomery, Ala., group called E.A.T. (Education, Act Transform) were much more receptive to trying new foods—such as radishes—when they went through the process of planting and harvesting them. “They come here, and now they have an understanding,” E.A.T. South Executive Director Denise Blake Green said. “They’ve seen the cycle—planting, harvesting, cooking, composting. When they leave here, food looks different to them.” (Read more)

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