Schools in Los Angeles are using share tables to combat food waste

Share tables may be an effective way for schools to divert food waste from the trash while also providing an additional source of food for kids who may want or need more.

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A girl entering the line for lunch.

Schools in South Los Angeles have recognized the problem of food waste and are taking steps to help address it. Santee Education Complex and Thomas Jefferson High School are among the growing list of schools that have implemented share tables – specific locations at school where kids can drop off uneaten or extra food from their lunch, and other kids can take this extra food to supplement their lunch or have as a snack for later. The beauty of share tables is that they divert good food from the trash while providing free food for other kids who might need or want more. 

This is an important way to address food waste in schools because of the way the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is set up. The NSLP is one of the main combatants of food insecurity in America. This federally funded program serves 29.6 million lunches every school day to kids across the nation. It offers free and reduced price lunches for kids from lower income families, and many schools have a School Breakfast Program as well, which children rely heavily on for around half of their daily food intake. The NSLP has specific guidelines for the types of food that can be served in schools to make sure that participating students eat nutritious and balanced meals. While this is an effective way to make sure kids learn proper nutrition, it also means that sometimes kids have to accept food that they don’t have any intention of eating. This increases the amount of food that is wasted in schools because kids don’t have the option to decline mandated foods. This food waste is expensive, damages the environment, and teaches kids poor habits relating to food and waste, which is exactly what these Los Angeles schools and others across the country are trying to combat. 

The Los Angeles school districts have seen success in their use of share tables. To help spread awareness and to inspire other schools to do the same, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has created a Share Table Implementation Guide. It is full of comprehensive tips to help schools create their own successful share table programs. 

To get involved with solutions to food waste in schools, you can ask your local school board to start a share table or take other measures to address food waste. You can also check out this guide for tips on how to reduce food waste in your kid’s lunch!  

Orion Goodemote

Food Waste Intern, PIRG Education Fund

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