Investigating the Relationship between Food Pairings and Plate Waste from Elementary School Lunches


Plate waste, defined as the quantity of edible food left uneaten after a meal, is a challenge for schools participating in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). The new nutrition standards in the NSLP of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) were implemented at the beginning of school year (SY) 2012-2013. School foodservice authorities were concerned that the new standards would result in increased plate waste and reduced participation, especially by students who paid full prices for lunch. There are many reasons for plate waste, including students’ dislike of the foods served, the composition of meals, the environment in which students are eating, the lack of time to eat, or perhaps other factors. The objective of this study was to examine the relationship between entrée/vegetable “pairings” and plate waste by elementary school students pre- and post-implementation of the new school meal standards. Plate waste was measured to determine which entrée/vegetable pairs produced the least amount of waste. Plate waste of 144 and 305 entrée/vegetable pairings was analyzed, pre- and post-implementation, respectively. Our results indicated that more nutritious meals were offered during the post-implementation period. The new school meal standards led to no significant changes in entrée plate waste, but vegetable plate waste increased by 5.6%. As such, increases in the combined entrée/vegetable plate waste were evident from 40.4% pre-implementation to 43.5% post-implementation. The top five vegetables in terms of popularity were all starchy vegetables, the majority of which were potatoes in various processed forms. The least popular vegetables were dark-green leafy vegetables, such as steamed broccoli, both pre- and post-implementation. Chicken nuggets were the most popular entrée and were wasted the least. Understanding the dynamics of food pairings and providing desirable entrée and vegetable pairings can help reduce waste from school lunches.

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Ishdorj, A. , Capps Jr., O. , Storey, M. and Murano, P. (2015) Investigating the Relationship between Food Pairings and Plate Waste from Elementary School Lunches. Food and Nutrition Sciences, 6, 1029-1044. doi: 10.4236/fns.2015.611107.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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