Schools and Children

Parkside Aims to Cut Down on Cafeteria Food Waste

By Clare Gordon

To coincide with Earth Day, Parkside Elementary launched a new program to cut down on food waste. The Panda Pantry aims to reduce cafeteria waste while giving kids more nutritious food to eat. The initiative came about when Assistant Principal Melissa Hugh-Girdhari saw how much untouched food was thrown away on a daily basis and expressed an interest in figuring out a way to address the problem.

Parkside’s Garden and Wellness co-chair Suzanne Welander along with help from the school’s GSU wellness intern Anastasia Carter started researching and determined that a share table was going to be the easiest to implement and was already having success in other schools around the country. “We learned it was already approved by the Food and Nutrition Service of the USDA, so it made sense for us to go with the share table concept.” stated Suzanne, “We got buy in from our principal, Mr. Foster and then approval from the APS Nutrition Department. We are thrilled to be the first APS school to try and reroute what would have been food waste back to our kids.”

The Share Table concept is simple. A table is placed in the cafeteria where students can leave unopened packaged food such as carrots and crackers as well as thick skinned fruit they don’t want from their school lunches. Any student can come to the table and take what they want.

Parkside students even got to name the table themselves. Before the official launch date, kids voted on potential names for the table. The resounding winner was The Panda Pantry. The table has only been up for a few weeks but the school sees the initiative as a success. Staff have noted that students are becoming more conscious of the food they don’t eat as food someone else might want and kids are taking the food on the table, leaving it almost empty every day.