Gauging Food Waste Faster and More Accurately in School Lunchrooms and in Cafeterias
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School lunches are becoming increasingly healthy as more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables appear on the lunch line, but are kids actually eating these healthy options? To determine if these foods are winding up in kids’ stomachs or in garbage cans, schools need to be able to measure food waste quickly and accurately. Though weighing cafeteria tray waste is the most precise method of measurement, it is time consuming and costly, which gives fast and simple visual methods of waste measurement the advantage.
At the Cornell Center for Behaviral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs (home of the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement), researchers Drew Hanks, Brian Wansink and David Just put several visual methods to the test to determine which would provide the most accurate waste measurements quickly and inexpensively, relative to the weighing method. They examined tray waste from 197 elementary school students using three visual methods:
One of the main benefits of the visual Quarter-Waste method is time. According to the researchers, weighing food waste took about 30 seconds per tray, while the Quarter- and Half-Waste took about 1/5th of the time. This difference in measurement time is most apparent when measuring the trays of a large student body.
When performing your own tray-waste observations, the researchers recommend keeping the measurement process as unobtrusive as possible. Instruct students to leave trays in inconspicuous locations in the cafeteria to avoid drawing attention to the measuring process. If students ask why researchers are present, general responses such as “We are collecting information on your cafeteria” can provide students with an answer without biasing their food consumption.
Waste measurement via the Quarter-Waste Method can be a quick and reliable way to evaluate how students react to nutritional interventions, new food products, or lunch line rearrangements by measuring how much food they devour or discard!
For more about the Smarter Lunchroom stategies, visit: smarterlunchrooms.org
• Download paper from the SSRN (the Social Science Research Network)
Hanks, Andrew S., David Just and Brian Wansink. (2014). Reliability and Accuracy of Real-Time Visualization Techniques for Measuring School Cafeteria Tray Waste: Validating the Quarter-Waste Method. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 114(3), 470-474. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2013.08.013
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