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How Do I Reduce School Food Waste

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

Anyone who spends time in a school cafeteria during mealtime can see that an enormous amount of food ends up in the trash. In fact, here in Hamilton County, Ohio 32 lbs. of food and 21 cartons of milk is wasted per student each year.

Picture of a food share table at a school

Why this is a problem:

· 20% of children in Hamilton County are food insecure.

· Children learn to view food as a disposable resource.

· When you waste food, you also waste the resources it takes to produce and transport food (e.g., water, fertilizer, fuel, habitat, labor, etc.).

Student sorting food at a food share table

Ways to get students to eat more of their lunch:

· Look at the types of foods most wasted and adjust the menu accordingly. A great way to obtain this information is by doing a food waste audit.

· Set up an “Offer versus Serve” cafeteria so students can choose the foods they want to eat.

· Have recess before lunch to eliminate students’ desire to rush though lunch for more recess time. Also, playing stimulates students’ appetites and thirst, encouraging them to consume more of their lunch.

· Allow more time for students to eat lunch.

Closeup of yogurt and milk on a food share table

How to set up a food share table for items students don’t want to eat:

· Pick a spot and put up a sign listing what can be shared:

o Unopened, pre-packaged food (e.g., beverages like milk and juice, string cheese, yogurt, fruit cups, applesauce cups, pudding, chips/junk food bags, granola bars, bagged carrots).

o Whole fruits with removable peels (e.g., oranges, bananas).

· Assign someone to monitor the table (walk by and look at it periodically) to remove items that do not belong such as food brought from home, cut up fruit, bowls of berries, open or partially consumed items.

· Remind students that they can also take items from the share table during lunch.

· Make sure everything that needs refrigerated is placed in a refrigerator or discarded within two hours.

· Offer share table leftovers to students during after school programs; give to school nurse to feed hungry students; open a school pantry for food insecure students and their families; or donate to a food pantry, soup kitchen, or shelter.

· For more information on setting up share tables in Ohio, check out the Ohio Department of Agriculture and Ohio Department of Health Guidance for School Share Tables.

Tetrazzini with Planned Ahead Chicken

Did you prepare too much chicken? If you safely store your chicken then you can use it the next day in some Chicken Tetrazzini!


8 Tbsp. Butter

4 Cooked Chicken Breasts or Thighs (bone removed)

2 ¼ tsp Salt

1 ¼ tsp Black Pepper

1 Lb. White Mushrooms

1 Large Onion Finely Chopped

5 Cloves Garlic

1 Tbsp. Thyme

1/3 Cup All-Purpose Flour

4 Cups Whole Milk

1 Cup Chicken Broth

12 Oz. Linguine

1 Cup Grated Parmesan

*Feel free to add more herbs and spices to your liking


13x9 Baking Dish

Mixing Bowl

Pan or Skillet

Stock Pot



1.) Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

2.) Butter the 13x9 Pan.

3.) In a bowl, shred the pre-cooked chicken (remove any bones).

4.) Add 1 Tbsp. butter to a pan or skillet, melt over medium heat.

5.) Add mushrooms and sauté until soft.

6.) Once soft add onion, garlic, and thyme. Sauté until onion is translucent.

7.) Transfer mushroom mixture to bowl with the chicken.

8.) Melt 3 more Tbsp. of butter in the pan over medium heat.

9.) Add milk, chicken broth and flour to the pan, stirring constantly.

10.) Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Stir until it thickens.

11.) Bring a large stock pot of water to a boil.

12.) Add linguine and cook until tender.

13.) Add linguine to chicken and mushroom mixture.

14.) Mix well.

15.) Add the mixture to the 13x9 pan.

16.) Stir in parmesan cheese.

17.) Top with parmesan cheese.

18.) Cook for 25 minutes.

19.) Serve!

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