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K-12 Schools

K-12 schools have a special role in not only reducing, recovering, and recycling food waste on their premises, but also in educating the next generation about recovering wholesome excess food for donation and about reducing food waste to conserve natural resources.

I know schools are already doing so much to cut food waste and educate children about food and agriculture. It would be great if we could get hundreds of schools to join the Food Waste Challenge and spread the word about these good efforts…and stimulate more!”
– Janey Thornton, Deputy Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, USDA –

The Department of Agriculture stresses the importance of careful menu planning and production practices in the lunch and breakfast programs to reduce food waste and improve consumption of healthy foods. But even with careful planning, there can be excess food from time to time. USDA strongly encourages schools to donate leftover foods to appropriate nonprofit institutions provided this practice is not prohibited by State or local laws or regulations. Food donation has been a longstanding policy in all Child Nutrition Programs, as clarified in recent guidance from the Food and Nutrition Service.

To register your school as a participant in the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, simply complete and submit the K-12 form.

Schools across the country are stepping up to the challenge with innovative new programs such as:

  • Using techniques listed on Smarter Lunchrooms Self-Assessment Scorecard to help reduce food waste
  • Setting up a sharing table for kids to place items they are not going to consume (milk and packaged or pre-portioned items)
  • Letting kids self-serve and self-portion
  • Working to ensure kids have ample time to eat
  • Collecting excess wholesome food after mealtimes to donate to food pantries (Food Bus is an example of a public charity that designs, implements and maintains systems by which unused/unopened, leftover food from elementary school lunches is saved and distributed to local food pantries).
  • Using wholesome excess foods for classroom cooking projects
  • Composting food waste for school gardens
  • Collaborating with local farmers on composting or food-scrap projects
  • Joining the EPA Food Recovery Challenge to work with an expert to measure and reduce food waste