Schools work to lessen wasting lunch food


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Each school day, students in Alpine School District discard approximately $4,000 worth of fruits and vegetables.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg lettuce.

A similar situation exists in other districts, not only in Utah County, but throughout the nation.

Recently enacted federal regulations known as the Healthy Hunger-free Kids Act require students eating school lunches to take a half-cup serving of either fruits or vegetables. While that sounds like a good idea to provide nutrition, it is not having that effect, as 73 percent of students nationally throw away their vegetables and 47 percent discard their fruit.

While it does not appear to be happening on quite the same scale in Utah, there is still a definite impact.

Linda Ward, director of nutrition services for Alpine School District, estimated half of the district’s students discard those items.

“It appears that nearly half of the fruits and or vegetables taken go directly in the garbage,” she said. “Just for lunch it costs our department about $8,000 [each day] for each student to take a fruit or vegetable.

“If about half is being thrown away daily, that is a cost of $4,000 per day. It’s sad to see that kind of waste — financially and good produce as well.”

Bill Vest, the food service supervisor for Nebo School District, agrees.

“It is disheartening to see,” he said. “Some of the foods that are left over for the summer [program] are taken to the food bank.”

Most of the food, however, cannot be reclaimed.

“Once it has gone in the garbage, we are not allowed to take it out,” said Laura Larsen, director of child nutrition for Provo City School District.

Nebo is working to curb the problem by offering flavorful foods that also meet the guidelines.

“We brought in flavored applesauce — strawberry, kiwi strawberry, peach and blue raspberry,” Vest said. “We also put in Mandarin orange cups and frozen strawberry cups. We also use packaged fruit juice — orange, white grape and apple.”

For vegetables, Nebo is using a lot of packaged baby carrots and makes colorful vegetable cups.

After those changes were implemented, the waste went from 50 percent down to 25 percent, Vest said.

Larsen has been in her local position approximately four months, but has worked in child nutrition for 15 years.

“It is something school districts have been struggling with, probably across the nation,” she said. “It is something we are working with to hopefully make better.

“We do so many things to try and encourage our kids. We really do our best to make meals that kids want to eat — something they are familiar with and that tastes good and still meets the guidelines.”

One such meal is known as the bistro hamburger garden bar. Students build their own burgers on a whole grain bun, adding toppings including tomatoes, various types of lettuce and cheese, mushrooms, onions, cucumbers and fresh peppers.

“We also do the Oodles of Noodles bar with whole grain pasta,” she said. “They can choose their sauce, and put chicken and fresh or sautéed vegetables on.”

Nebo has also made changes to its entrees.

“We are featuring some fun new main entrees,” Vest said. “They include orange chipotle chicken rice bowls. Those have been a big hit. Also teriyaki chicken rice bowls. They consume all of those.”

In those products, made by district employees, they use brown rice, a glaze, and serve with fruits and vegetables. The glaze or sauce seems to make the brown rice more palatable for the students, Vest said.

“We have some delicious chicken salads, mainly for secondary schools, plus chipotle chicken wraps,” Vest said.

To meet the requirement to offer milk, the district has strawberry, chocolate or regular milk — all in low-fat varieties.

One method used by several school districts seems to increase food consumption and decrease waste. That is scheduling recess before lunch instead of after.

It decreases the students’ urge to hurry through lunch to get out and play.

“This has been a good thing,” Vest said. “We talked to our custodians. They indicated the waste is cut almost in half. They tell that by the number of garbage cans they take out to the trash.”

In Provo, the staff is working to create an inviting environment.

“We do a lot of carvings on our serving lines,” Larsen said. “We use bananas, apples, grapes and pumpkins. They are seeing something fun with the food we are offering to them to eat.”

Education has also played a part in reducing waste. It works with both parents and students.

“Our dietetic interns have conducted educational classes in our schools,” Vest said.

There is also wellness information on the district’s website at www. nebo. edu.

Daily Herald reporter Barbara Christiansen can be reached at (801) 344-2907 or bchristiansen@heraldextra. com. Twitter: @bchristiansen3.

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