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March 17, 2013

More food goes to waste under new guidelines

Students throwing out fruit, vegetables

METHUEN — Students have been throwing out more food uneaten this school year, when new federal lunch rules led to the required serving of more whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Wayne Vespa, the director of school nutrition services, said the amount of food waste doubled at the start of this school year in September, when the new rules limiting calorie, sodium and fat intake for school lunches went into effect, compared with the end of last school year. The amount has tapered off since.

“I would say it was somewhat overwhelming at first,” Vespa said of the extra trash. “We spent a couple months trading back and forth, trying to come up with new ideas and getting feedback not only from managers at the schools but the (cafeteria) line staff.”

Students have been throwing away the fresh fruits and vegetables untouched, Vespa said. Additionally, the kids will eat the burger or sandwich meat but throw away the whole grain bun.

The volume now is not as high as it was last fall, but it is still higher than last year. “We still find an excessive amount of waste because it’s not something the kids traditionally eat at home,” he said. “With everything, there’s a learning curve, and the acceptability factor for raw vegetables, or cooked vegetables for that matter, and fruit is somewhat low.”

Nutrition services has been keeping an eye on what the students choose, and what they will eat, to make decisions on a menu Vespa said is still being fine tuned as the school year progresses. He said they keep the most popular items and have gone through a trial-and-error process to figure out the kinds of fruits and vegetables the students will eat.

However, the changes have been expensive. Compared with last year, the School Department this year is buying twice as much fresh fruit and vegetables, Vespa told the School Committee in December.

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