Program aims to reduce food waste and teach about healthy nutrition
Enterprise Staff
Friday, November 29, 2019
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Enterprise photo by Nolan Lister

East Side School student Kimber Hosford holds a food tray while Dale Sexton prepares a food waste audit, as Michelle Uberuaga looks on in the background.

An effort to redesign the school lunch menu, reduce food waste and promote healthy eating habits is underway in Livingston schools.

With 900 school lunches served daily in Livingston, school officials see an opportunity with the new program — recently launched by Farm to School of Park County — to prevent student food waste and teach kids about nutrition and local agriculture, said Rachael Jones, executive director of Farm to School.

During the 2019-2020 school year, the Farm to School program will be coordinating an assessment of food systems and operations in Livingston schools as part of a “school meal redesign,” Jones said. 

The team recently conducted a food waste audit at East Side School. Once complete, the team will have a better  understanding of what Livingston students are choosing to eat, what they are throwing away and why, said Jones.

“After the audit, we’ll have a better idea of how and where to reduce food waste and will create food waste reduction strategies,” she said. “Preventing food waste is not only the best way to make sure children eat healthy meals, but it is also the best way to reduce the damaging environmental impacts food waste has on our world.”

Food waste happens at all points in our food system and Jones said Livingston cafeterias are no exception.  

Jones said preparing children for a future of lifelong healthy habits has never been more important. The meal redesign program is an effort to significantly reduce the food waste generated in Livingston schools, from kindergarten through 12th grade, while at the same time redesigning the school lunch menu, Jones said.

“We want to develop a more satisfying experience for students, parents, teachers, administrators and of course, the  cafeteria workers who deliver food to our students every day,” Jones said.

Michele Carter, the school food service director, offered similar comments.

“During this first year of the redesign project, we’re gathering all kinds of baseline information that will help us develop strategies to ensure students eat their nutritious meals,” Carter said.

Data collected during the recent food waste audit at East Side School, as well as a full assessment of current state operations and systems to be completed during the 2019-20 school year will help shape the future of local school lunches, officials said.  

“We’re collecting quantitative data that tells us what the students are throwing away, and qualitative data that tells us why students are throwing food away,” Kaitlyn Schlangen, a Montana State University dietetic Intern with the Farm to School program, said.

Jones cited a number of troubling national trends as reasons why this project is important for Livingston schools.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2018 reported that about 13.7 million, or 18.5 percent, of American children between the ages of 2 and 19 were obese. And in Montana, obesity rates have tripled in the last three decades, from 8 percent to more than 25 percent, Jones said.

At the same time, the American Center for Disease Control has found that just 10 percent of children in the United States are eating the recommended daily servings of vegetables and fruits, Jones said.

She added that, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, uneaten food is the largest contributor to waste  sent for disposal in the United States.

Farm to School’s school meal redesign project is being paid for with support from a $25,000 “challenge grant” from AMB West Philanthropies. That money is being matched by donations from individuals in the community, Jones said.

This year represents AMB West’s first $25,000 installment of a three-year pledge toward the effort, and Farm to School is required to match those funds each year, she said.