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Food: Waste Less and Enjoy — It's Good for All of Us!

Is food waste a problem at your school? While not everywhere, it can be a problem for some schools. If it is for your school, what can you do to help? This Play focuses on three ways to decrease food waste: Reduce, Recover and Recycle.


Here's a quickstart guide to help you get started!


Food Waste _EPA_Intro

Click for overview of waste reduction
Credit: Environmental Protection Agency

Why This Play?

Did you know that between 30% and 40% of food in the United States goes uneaten each year?i ii Taking only what you will eat in appropriate portion sizes to promote health and well-being is an easy opportunity to combat food waste. Paying attention to reducing food waste benefits the environment because less waste is going into landfills. It also helps us to better appreciate the resources (water, energy, land, etc.) that go into getting food onto our plates,iii all while making a positive difference in the lives of people,iv animalsv and the environment.vi vii


i U.S. Food Waste Challenge: Frequently Asked Questions. USDA, Office of the Chief Economist. Accessed February 28, 2019.

ii Hall, K. D., Guo, J., Dore, M., & Chow, C. C., The Progressive Increase of Food Waste in America and Its Environmental Impact. 2009. PLoS ONE, 4(11): e7940. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0007940. Accessed February 28, 2019.

iiiGunders, D., Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill. 2012. Natural Resources Defense Council. Accessed February 28, 2019.

iv Ibid.

v Reduce Wasted Food by Feeding Animals. 2016. EPA Sustainable Management of Food. Accessed February 28, 2019.

vi A Roadmap to Reduce Food Waste by 20 Percent. 2016. ReFED. Accessed February 28, 2019.

vii Food Recovery Hierarchy. 2017. EPA Sustainable Management of Food. Accessed February 28, 2019.

What to Do

What to Do

There are three parts to this Play: reduce, recover and recycle. You’ll plan strategies for all three as you follow the three steps. Read about what to do and then review Who Can Help? and Build Interest to get more information and help.


note  Note: In any Play where you plan to work with school meals or à la carte offerings, you must involve the school nutrition director and other professionals! If that’s not you, be sure to contact that team before you get started.


Step 1: Reduce.


After you’ve involved the student body (see Build Interest) and everyone is on board to reduce food waste at your school, the first step toward success is to identify opportunities to waste less.


  • Poll students to find out why they throw away food. Do they not like it? Was the portion size too big? Did they run out of time to eat? Understanding why food is wasted will help you choose the right strategies to make your Play a success!


  • Start small — even small changes conserve resources and can help schools save money on food purchasing and disposal costs. And remember, food is only nutritious if it is eaten! Here are some ideas to help reduce food waste before it happens:


    • Plan a “Trashless Tuesday” or “Waste-Free Wednesday” to introduce students to the environmental benefits of reducing food waste.


    • Ensure weekly menus are clearly posted in classrooms and cafeterias to help students decide what to eat each day.


    • Remind students of the next day’s menu choices during afternoon announcements.


    • Work with school nutrition professionals to make meal options more appealing by providing student feedback on menus and recipes as well as how to display food to encourage healthy choices and proper portion control. As with other Plays, holding taste tests is always a good way to find out what students like! (Note: The suggested budget of $0.60 per student is not covered by Fuel Up to Play 60 Funds.)


    • In high schools, especially ones with open campuses, provide a grab-and-go option for lunch so students can get a nutritious meal before they leave or if they’re eating somewhere other than the cafeteria.


    • Ask teachers or other school nutrition professionals who engage with students during lunch to encourage them to finish their meals, including drinking their milk.


    • Talk to your principal and school nutrition professionals about additional strategies to help reduce waste before it starts — this could be as simple as serving sliced fruits or implementing Offer Versus Serve.


note  Note: Don’t forget to visit the Funding and Outfitting Your Play section for information and ideas on what you might need to help with this Play.


Step 2: Recover.


Food recovery is the organized collection and donation of excess food to those in need. There are two options for this step. Consider doing both to have the biggest impact!


  • 1st option: Set up a sharing table where students can give or take individual items that would otherwise be thrown out.


    • Establish a list of food items that are safe to share — unopened milk stored at the right temperature, packaged foods and fruit with peels.


    • Work with student volunteers to monitor the table and ensure only approved items are shared.


    • Work with your school nutrition professionals to follow these USDA safety requirements and other best practices, including making sure you have coolers or ice buckets if you are going to include unopened milk or other perishable items that need to stay cold on your sharing table. Consider applying for funds to get the equipment you may need.


      note  Note: In addition to reviewing the USDA requirements, be sure to check with your school nutrition professionals about any other regulations that should be followed.


  • 2nd option: Locate the nearest food bank in your area. Contact a representative to see if they have a method for collecting usable but uneaten foods and beverages, and whether your school might be a candidate for donating uneaten foods at the end of each week or month. Note that your school may not have “enough” uneaten foods to do this activity, but check it out to be sure.


    • If the food bank has such a program, and if your school has enough to donate:


      • Set up a volunteer group of students to work with the school nutrition team to collect foods that can be recovered from the meals program to donate. These can be foods from the sharing table or larger portions of foods in the kitchen that have not been used and may qualify as safe donations.


      • Work with the representative on a pick-up or delivery plan and work with school nutrition to work out a reasonable schedule.


      • If the food bank doesn't have such a program, consider working with the representative, your school nutrition professionals, and the school's parent-teacher organization to start a program.


      • Give the food bank this set of recipe cards to print out and offer to their clients.


        note  Note: Another option for what to do with recovered food is to consider doing the Fight Hunger — Nourish Your Community Play and setting up an in-school food pantry for a backpack program.


Step 3: Recycle.


Recycling food that cannot be donated is a wonderful way to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve soil health. Food contains energy and nutrients that are useful not only for feeding people, but also for feeding animals and plants. By recycling uneaten food, you can preserve the resources that would otherwise be wasted and put them to their next best use. There are several ways you can choose to make a difference in this area.


  • Food scraps can be used to feed cows, pigs and other livestock or even to sustainably generate electricity.viii Note: Check with your local health department to see if this is an option in your area.




FoodWaste_Compost_Take Action
Used with Permission: Sustainable America


  • Composting food scraps and inedible foods or breaking them down to create a nutrient-dense plant food can be done in your school’s garden, at a community garden, at a commercial composting facility and even indoors!


    • You’ll need separate collection bins, compostable bin liners and garden or rubber gloves.


    • All bins should be clearly labeled with images and staffed by a volunteer.


    • Collect discarded fruits and veggies to feed plants in your school’s garden or find a community garden that could benefit.


Ask your science teachers about different methods of composting, such as vermicomposting.


xiii Gunders D. Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill. 2012. Natural Resources Defense Council. Accessed February 28, 2019.

Who Can Help?

Who Can Help?

You are not in this alone. There are many people who can help make this Play a success. For this Play, you’ll definitely need the help of your school nutrition professionals. Meet with them first to talk about the goals of the Play and what seems most “doable” in your school. Here’s a list of who can help and some specific ways they can do that.


Who Can Help

What They Can Do

School Nutrition Professionals

  • Help identify food waste and its causes
  • Assist with reduction, recovery and recycling efforts
  • Help you navigate any regulations or food safety requirements as you implement strategies


  • Approve your plan
  • Engage with school nutrition staff, teachers and custodians to get their support
  • Encourage student participation


  • Participate in food waste audits, food recovery efforts and other activities
  • Encourage student participation


  • Assist with food audits, food recovery efforts and recycling
  • Encourage peers to participate


  • Volunteer to help with food audits, food recovery efforts and recycling
  • Encourage their students and other families to participate

School Transportation Personnel

  • Possible assistance in food recovery efforts (transporting recovered foods to local food pantries)

External Resources


As with any game that’s worth playing and winning, you are bound to run into challenges. That's why getting help from others is so important. You’ll be more likely to achieve your goals when everyone works together.


Recruit team members to join a food-waste reduction committee that includes your principal, school nutrition professionals and students, as well as parent and teacher volunteers. Meet to discuss the different strategies your school can try and who you might need to get permissions from for each strategy.


The bottom line: Food is too good to waste. Waste often means the wasted food goes to a landfill, where it contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, which are bad for the planet.ix


ix  Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Overview of Greenhouse Gases. 2015. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Accessed January 21, 2019
Build Interest

Build Interest

Launch an awareness campaign to talk about the importance of reducing food waste and share details on why it is important for the environment.


  • Continually remind everyone that nutrition isn’t nutrition unless it gets eaten!


  • Have your student team keep their classmates up to date and announce successes during morning announcements.


  • They can make posters that display the Play’s goals and mark each goal off as it is completed so the entire student body is aware of the school’s accomplishments.


Collaborate with your food-waste reduction committee to identify strategies that will work best in your school.


  • Set incremental goals for each strategy — even small successes are worth celebrating!


  • Consider polling students about what activities they would be most likely to volunteer to help with — composting, working with local food pantries, collecting food for a school pantry or helping get the word out.


  • Encourage teachers in health, P.E., and general science classes to use the Undeniably Dairy lesson plan Creating My Plate and the accompanying video to help teach students what it means to compose healthy, balanced meals and how to reduce food waste in the process.


Create posters and morning announcements highlighting your program and the important role students can play in reducing food waste.



Send information home to parents or attend a PTA or PTO meeting to explain your Play.


  • Remember to mention the cost, location, benefits and options so parents or family members can spread the word when they go home.


Consider asking parents/guardians to join your food-waste reduction committee.

Share Your Results

Share Your Results

Have students create posters about your program’s success and highlight creative ways to reuse food. Distribute postcards in classrooms and advertise your Play during morning announcements. Get the word out on your school's website or blog, in your school newsletter or student newspaper and on social media!


Involve the community. Attend a meeting of your school's PTA or PTO and provide information on how the program is good for students and the community. Keep them updated on the goals and successes of the program.


Register your school to participate in the USDA’s U.S. Food Waste Challenge and encourage other schools in your district to do the same.


Share student stories, videos and pics on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram tagging FUTP 60 (FB: @FuelUpToPlay60; TW and IG: @FUTP60) and using #FuelGreatness!


FoodWaste_BananaPeels_Spread the word
click to view
Credit: I Value Food

Think long term. Create a student task force to notify local businesses about what you are doing. Don’t forget to thank everyone involved and provide them with regular updates on your accomplishments. Reengage businesses at the end of each school year and keep an eye out for new ones you can recruit to help you with next year’s plans! Review this Food Waste: Long-Term Strategies document for ideas on how to keep building.



This section features ideas on ways to involve everyone in your school and community. Think about ideas for differentiating between older and younger students and ways to bring in the family connection.


Build student leadership opportunities. As much as possible, have students do the planning and run your programs.


For Older Students


  • Considering composting. Include the custodial staff and contact your county agricultural extension office to ask about local farmers who would be willing to accept food scrap donations.


  • Look into the possibility of students earning service learning hours. Students should lead the food-waste reduction committee and consider creating subcommittees for different strategies in three key areas:reduction, recovery and recycling.


For All Students


  • Set up one subcommittee for each food waste strategy: reduction, recovery and recycling. Have students work together to create a strategy for improvement in their area. Help put students in contact with adults who can assist them.


  • Have each committee ask questions like these and then come up with strategies to try to answer them:


    • Reduction: How do we make sure students only take what they plan to eat? Think awareness campaigns, portion control, help from cafeteria supervisors and servers and other ideas.


    • Recovery: How do we make use of the food waste that can be saved? Think sharing tables, backpack or food donation programs for the Nourish Your Community Play, and other ideas.


    • Recycling: What can we do to make use of food scraps and other food waste? Think providing compost for the school garden or local farms, feed for local dairy farms, and other ideas.


Put students in the driver’s seat as much as possible. They’ll learn valuable life lessons on how to plan and implement programs, and they’ll feel great about helping their school!


For Everyone


Everyone can:


  • Measure your waste — even for just one day — of everything you throw away.


  • Involve everyone in your household when planning meals — including school lunches — and shop accordingly.


  • Take your leftovers home with you when you dine out. If you don’t think you’ll eat them in time, incorporate them into other meals.


  • Ask for half portions or shared plates when dining out.


  • Encourage your grocer and local restaurants to buy local food and “ugly produce.” Hold taste tests for kids to test the difference between what they usually see and the “ugly” versions. They’ll get a chance to see that the two taste the same, while having an opportunity to try things they otherwise may not eat.


  • Talk to parents, students, teachers and other school adults about food waste and share strategies that you’ve tried, either at home or at school.


For Parents or Caregivers


Consider sending home this Eat Right and Reduce Food Waste tip sheet to help families make the most of their food budgets. Have students share their experiences in helping their families make changes at home that help with reduction.


Help Build the Whole Fuel Up to Play 60 Community


Encourage students to log on to their Dashboard and report activity to achieve Level Three (30,000 Points) and be named a Fuel Up to Play 60 Student Ambassador! Having ambassadors at your school might help get more students involved!


Homefield Advantage: Check out this resource and share it with parents and caretakers so they can see what they can do to help at home and at school.

Why This Play?

Warm Up Activity Idea!

No quite ready for the full Play? Try this.



Create a food-waste reduction committee to anecdotally measure how much food is being wasted in your school. A visual assessment — all, 3/4, 1/2, 1/4, or no food wasted —from each student's meal will give you an idea of how much food is being thrown out.

Use your results to help set goals for this Play.

Funding and Outfitting Your Play

Apply for Funding

Things That Might Help

  • Educational posters and flyers
  • Waste tracking logs
  • Camera for photo-documenting your success
  • Food recovery and rescue supplies
    • Labels and markers
    • Boxes, bags and other containers for packaging and transporting food
    • Gloves
    • Access to a vehicle for drop-offs
    • Access to a fridge and freezer for perishable items
    • Insulated bags for cooler items
  • Composting supplies
    • Compost collection bins
    • Food scrap buckets for measurement
    • Heavy-duty or kitchen-grade scale
    • Gloves
    • Clear, colorful signage, bin labels and markers
    • Red wriggler worms (for vermicomposting or school garden composting)

Take a look at this Equipment Catalog for items that might help in a big way!

note  Note: State and local dairy councils may not fund everything on this list. Check your local dairy council to find out what their priorities for funding are.

Funds for Fuel Up to Play 60

Up to $4,000 per year is available to qualified K-12 schools enrolled in Fuel Up to Play 60 to kick-start healthy changes! 

General Information

note  Note: Be sure to consult with your school's nutrition team when applying for a healthy eating grant!

More Funding Opportunities

Check out your state’s Department of Education or Health and Environmental Agency to find out if there are any grant opportunities to support food-waste reduction activities.

If you plan to start a school garden, funding can be found using the following resources:

Fuel Up to Play 60 provides this information as a courtesy. It does not imply an endorsement of the websites, organizations, or all information provided thereby. Fuel Up to Play 60 cannot attest to the accuracy of information provided through links. You will be subject to the destination site's privacy policy and terms of use when you leave this website.