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How to Talk to Children About Food Waste

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

In Hamilton County, Ohio approximately 32,000 children are food insecure. While adults should realize that 17% of local youth are unsure when or how they will access their next meal, statistics are not the best way to motivate children.

How should adults talk to children about food waste? Elise Roalef, Outreach Specialist with Hamilton County R3Source, is skilled at having these conversations. Her advice, start by talking about preferences.

“Food is important, we need it all the time, and kids understand that food is fuel. They know that they like to eat certain foods and they dislike other foods so it’s an easy concept to work on with children.” Elise provides waste reduction education in classrooms throughout Hamilton County. Developmentally appropriate conversations are key to influencing behavior.

“One of the things we talk about is food on their lunch trays or food in their lunch bags. What are some things that they don’t like and usually want to throw away? We have them make lists of those items and challenge them to find alternative items that are just as healthy or of similar nutritional value. We help them understand that this is something we can potentially discuss with our parents or with school staff.”

School lunch tray

Exposing children to new foods can be difficult. They usually need to try a food 15 times before they like it. When introducing new foods, start with small portions coupled with plenty of preferred, nutritious foods.

Talking with children about food waste is an important first step in teaching them to reduce waste. Adults should also model good behavior and introduce children to concepts like making a shopping list, serving good food, storing food safely, and sharing the bounty with friends or neighbors.

Starting these conversations might not be easy or feel natural. Try making an upcycled recipe with the children in your life and have a casual conversation about why we don’t waste food.

Different kinds of dry beans

Leftover Bean Dip


· 2 cups beans (cooked or canned)

· 1 tbsp. garlic

· 1 lime

· 1 tsp salt

· Dash of cayenne pepper


1. In a microwave-safe bowl heat up beans for 2 minutes.

2. Add garlic, juice from the lime, salt, and cayenne pepper. Stir.

3. Microwave for 2 minutes.

4. Remove, and mix until creamy.

5. Let cool and serve with vegetables or tortilla chips.

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