Poster Theater Flash Session
Nutrition Education and Behavioral Sciences
The purpose of this formative study is to understand food waste behaviors of elementary school students and guide the development of a nutrition promotion program that emphasizes reducing food waste without compromising the goals of school meals through mindful selection and consumption.
Using a mixed method design, 3 elementary schools were recruited and 5 focus groups (n=50) with 3rd-5th grade students, 15 in-depth interviews with staff, and 9 cafeteria observations were conducted across the schools to 1) explore students’ perceptions about and understanding of topics related to food waste and mindful eating in order to identify motivating factors and barriers related to reducing food waste while increase produce intake, 2) examine the feasibility of program logistics and potential for integration into the school wellness program, and 3) understand the cafeteria atmosphere and its possible influence on student behavior.
Students and staff report that vegetables comprise the largest proportion of food waste during lunch. Focus group feedback indicated that students poor limited acceptance of vegetables caused by perceived limited autonomy in selection and that they are motivated to reduce waste when considering moral implications. Interviewees described efforts by schools to offer backpack pantries to increase access for food insecure students but staff expressed concerns regarding healthfulness of foods provided. Cafeteria observations highlighted an opportunity to update cafeteria menus, signage, and sharing tables to improve student intake and reduce waste. Targeted training for cafeteria monitors could encourage produce intake. Recovering uneaten foods to supplement school-based food pantries is an engaging strategy to address nutritional concerns and divert foods from landfills. Strategies can be coupled with mindfulness education to encourage vegetable consumption.
Results are being used to plan a quasi-experimental controlled pilot intervention that seeks to increase elementary student vegetable consumption and reduce food waste through mindfulness-focused food system education. This program has the potential to increase the healthfulness of students’ diets, meet the needs of food insecure students, and reduce the environmental impact of school nutrition programs.
Funding Sources : University of Maryland, Department of Nutrition and Food Science