Pathways to Excellence in School Food: Reducing Food Waste

September 09, 2013

Less waste in school food means more produce for all.

School food programs across the country are trying to reinvent themselves in response to the critical health needs of students. Over the past year, HSC has been working with CPS to develop a comprehensive plan to achieve excellence in their school meal program. This plan centers around 10 interconnected pathways that are critical to success of every school food program.

This week, we highlight efforts relating to reducing food waste in school meal programs. Learn more about the 10 pathways to excellence in school food and to read about CPS's action plans for achieving excellence in school nutrition.

Like all sectors of the food industry, school food programs are developing innovative programs to address food waste. CPS has been piloting a program called FoodShare, the goal of which is to reduce the waste of food while at the same time addressing food insecurity that exists among so many Chicago families.

Care for Real, a well-established food pantry based on Chicago’s North Side, helped pilot FoodShare in four nearby neighborhood schools beginning in February 2013: Agassiz Elementary, Boone Elementary, Decatur Classical School and Stone Scholastic Academy. With the assistance of Care for Real, FoodShare collects leftover fruit and non-perishable food items from the cafeteria and redistributes them through food pantries to families in need.

To implement the FoodShare program, CPS partnered with well-established food pantries that had the staffing and operational capabilities to transport the food safely and effectively. Twice a week, Care for Real drivers collect the FoodShare food from each school and take it to the pantry for redistribution. School administrators and lunchroom staff ensure leftover produce is set aside for pickup.

Care for Real Executive Director Lyle Allen estimates that through FoodShare, Care for Real has collected and distributed 3 to 5 tons of fresh produce to the community since the launch, and the program can only grow from here. He says many clients who have received food have been families with children 18 and under. The community the pantry serves not only experiences food insecurity, but has one of the highest childhood obesity rates in the city, so the fresh produce that would have otherwise gone uneaten is not only going to good use, but making a huge impact on healthy eating habits.

“These are pristine items,” Allen says. “When our clients get fresh produce, they’re thrilled. These products weren’t going to be used at the school, and now they’re going home and being eaten, where they’re making a significant impact.”