Reducing Excessive Plate Waste in the Holyoke Public Schools Prepared for Catherine Sands and Holyoke‟s School

Food Taskforce by
Jake Hawkesworth, Sarah Kofke-Egger, Kyle Lunt, Ana Velásquez, & Jonathan Ward Public Policy Analysis | PubP&A 603 | Spring 2013 | Professor Lee Badgett Monday, May 6, 2013

Executive Summary This report aims to describe and provide remedies for the condition of excessive plate waste in the Holyoke Public Schools. Too much plate waste jeopardizes the health of Holyoke‟s students, and represents an inefficient use of resources for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), which subsidizes the majority of meals in the district. As many students do not understand the health benefits of eating nutritious food, school districts across the country have studied and implemented tactics that both provide and facilitate the consumption of these foods. Additionally, the current regulations of the NSLP place strict requirements on food-service providers that may be exacerbating the problem of plate waste. Many types of tactics have the potential to increase students‟ consumption of healthy food. Major categories researched include a.) Implementing sales and marketing strategies, such as the use of verbal prompts, b.) Changing food options and presentation, like offering a salad bar, and c.) Modifying school routines and programs, such as switching the order of recess and lunch. Each of these categories includes a variety of individual tactics, of which each are evaluated based on their ability to increase consumption of healthy food, adoptability, implementability, and cost. Ultimately, nine recommendations for increasing consumption of healthy foods by students in the Holyoke Public Schools are made. These recommendations are grouped into two types. “Quick wins” have high feasibility, low cost, and the potential to yield immediate reductions in plate waste. “Larger ideas” require more resources, and are expected to be less feasible without advance traction from benefits realized from the quick wins. Still, these ideas have the potential to bring equal, if not greater benefits, than the initial tactics. Recommendations for quick wins include switching trays to plates, using verbal prompts, instituting „food mentors‟ in the lunchroom, and sending home messaging with students to keep parents updated on this initiative. Larger ideas consist of expanding nutrition content in science and health courses, creating incentives such as prizes for students to eat healthy, holding conferences with parents on healthy eating, switching the timing of lunch and recess, and applying to a national grant program to fund the purchase of a salad bar. Lastly, the overall strategy for increasing consumption of healthy food in Holyoke is structured in a series of phases. First, the quick wins should be implemented in order to build support with students, parents, and the community. Then, the larger ideas should be tried as resources become available after the quick wins are implemented and the political feasibility of these options improves. Next, the amount of plate waste in the schools should be examined, and compared to prior studies to assess improvement. Successes should then be presented to the new U.S. Congressman for Holyoke, the Honorable James McGovern, in order to provide him with evidence for affecting change at the national level for NSLP and other food-policy regulations.

Introduction “Eat your vegetables,” the child was told by her parents, “They‟ll help you grow big and strong.” Next, of course, came her anticipated reply, “But, I don‟t want to! I just don‟t like them.” On any given night, this exchange can be heard at tables in dining rooms and kitchens across the country. So, it may come as no surprise to many that challenges also exist at school with getting students to eat healthy during the day. Right now, many students in the Holyoke Public Schools are going hungry, but this hunger does not stem from a lack of food. Instead, school officials believe that too much of the healthy food available to students at school is being thrown away, if it even makes it onto their trays in the first place. This rejected food represents both wasted nutrition, absent from the stomachs of kids who largely count on these meals to provide them with many of their daily calories, and discarded dollars, provided through the USDA‟s National School Lunch Program.

Defining the problem Low consumption of nutritious foods by students at the Holyoke Public Schools For a variety of reasons, students in the Holyoke Public Schools are not eating enough healthy foods. Some are throwing away much of the nutritious food served to them, and others are simply not putting it onto their trays in the lunch line. Could purchasing these foods simply cost too much? Perhaps for some, but over 80% of students in Holyoke are eligible for free or reduced-price meals through the USDA‟s National School Lunch Program (NSLP), a federally assisted meals program that provides students with fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods. In fact, in some Holyoke schools, less than 5% of students pay anything at all for lunch. Still, school officials have noticed that many students leave school hungry and often frequent

neighborhood fast-food restaurants. Not only is this behavior questionable for poor students whose families have scarce financial resources, but it also demonstrates a lack of understanding by the children regarding the value of eating healthy food. Students may not understand what foods are healthy, the connection between a person‟s diet and their health, or an array of similar topics that are quite familiar to most adults, but beyond the subject matter common to many young people. When students choose to go hungry, despite having access to many no- or lowcost meals during the day, their current and future health is placed in jeopardy, and scarce financial resources that could otherwise be used to improve health outcomes are wasted. When hungry students choose not to eat healthy food, their behavior might be described as irrational. After all, eating healthy food, like carrots or broccoli - vegetables packed with vitamins, minerals, and other key nutrients - can do the body good. Eating healthy foods can reduce the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and even help protect against cancer (“Health and Nutrition Benefits of Vegetables” 2013). School lunch alone typically represents one-third of a child‟s recommended daily allowances for many nutrients, so a half-eaten meal can quickly lead to hunger. When children are hungry, they are also prone to making more unhealthy decisions for what to actually eat, such as buying snacks from vending machines or going out for low-quality fast food. Also, hungry children generally have difficulty paying attention at school, and therefore get less out of their time at school than children with full stomachs. So why then, with all the benefits of eating well, are children not eating all the good foods available to them at school? Perhaps they are simply served too much food, or there is not enough time to eat. Maybe the food tastes bad, or looks unfamiliar to the students. After all, over 75% of students in Holyoke are Latinos, yet food is rarely prepared with consideration to this culture. Students

rejecting healthy food is particularly troubling for a community like Holyoke, where over 25% of households earn less than $15,000 per year (“School Food Story” 2012). Many students in Holyoke tend to not only eat lunch at school, but also eat breakfast, two snacks, an after-school meal, and meals during summer break. So many of these students count on the school cafeterias for a substantial portion of their daily calories, yet the food served is not meeting their needs. In fact, the NSLP may not be meeting the U.S. taxpayers‟ needs either, especially in terms of the money wasted represented by the food that goes into the trashcan.

Inefficient federal regulations for school food Plate waste from just the NSLP costs taxpayers over $600 million annually (Buzby et al., 2002). This waste raises the question of whether these resources could be used elsewhere to make students and taxpayers better off, without making anyone else worse off. In this way, plate waste in Holyoke can be seen as resulting from a government failure regarding the provision of demand-side subsidies for school lunches through the NSLP. Although current NSLP standards may indeed provide the guidelines for how to serve healthy meals, they have trouble ensuring that those meals are tasty, convenient, and actually eaten. Since the NSLP sets the requirements for which foods, in what quantities can be served to students receiving free or reduced-price meals, and then subsidizes those meals, there is an opportunity to make adjustments to the program in terms of facilitating their consumption. In fact, the National School Lunch Program was created in 1946 “after an investigation into the health of young men rejected in the World War II draft showed a connection between physical deficiencies and childhood malnutrition” ("National School Lunch Program" 2010). Recent studies have also pointed to poverty as a major

factor in the onset of Type 2 diabetes in a person, especially when access is limited to healthy foods ("Poverty a Leading Cause of Type 2 Diabetes, Studies Say" 2010). Today, excessive plate waste and the general rejection of many foods served at school is not a problem confined to the city limits of Holyoke. Throughout the United States, school administrators have become increasingly concerned with how much and what sorts of food are thrown out each day. In a city like Holyoke, where the vast majority of students participate in the NSLP, and count on the government for many meals each day, the ramifications of this government failure are magnified. The NSLP rules, although not the sole cause of the plate waste or rejected food, may have actually made the problem worse since the program‟s standards were made stricter in early 2012. Now, seemingly more so than before, school meals are failing to efficiently feed and to promote the health of the nation‟s impoverished children. New regulations have restricted the ability of students to eat the food they want to eat, although the food served to them is technically nutritious. Even though the level of plate waste in schools could possibly be ameliorated by modifying the NSLP rules, there exist many downstream and immediate alternatives for Holyoke in confronting excessive waste. The time to take action is now, and although pressing for changes to the NSLP rules may be a fruitful approach in the long term, Holyoke‟s schools need simple solutions that they can implement with little time, money, and other resources. Fifteen years have passed since the last changes were made to the NSLP, so relying on the federal government to fix this problem may not be the most timely solution. Instead, the Holyoke Public Schools must act at the local level to implement simple and effective solutions, like changing the way school meals are presented, marketed, and structured within the school day, in order to increase the consumption of healthy food, and to reduce plate waste.

Background National School Lunch Program guidelines The best national estimate available indicates that about 12% of calories from food served to students under the NSLP go uneaten. The problem seems to be even worse for students receiving subsidized lunches, as one study found that 14.6% of free meals and 14% of reducedprice meals were thrown away, but only 10% of full-price meals went uneaten (Buzby et al., 2002). In the past year, the amount of plate waste has gone up throughout the country. Many signs point to the new NSLP standards set by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, as the major culprit for a recent increase in this waste. These stricter rules, released by the USDA in January 2012, have changed the composition of school lunch menus, and added administrative tasks for food-management companies that serve schools, like Sodexo in Holyoke. For instance, schools must now serve fruits and vegetables every day, with specific daily and weekly reporting requirements. At the same time, the law also increased the federal reimbursement rate by $0.06 to an average of $2.86 per free meal, even though some schools have indicated a net loss, explaining that the new requirements may have actually increased their costs by more than this amount. Although well intended, NSLP standards appear largely ineffective to both the program‟s stated goal to “safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation‟s children,” ("National School Lunch Program" 2010) and to the taxpayer‟s ideal of spending resources efficiently.

City of Holyoke Beyond plate waste in the public schools, Holyoke, Massachusetts, a city of 39,900 with all the challenges of a large metropolitan area, is simultaneously confronted by a plethora of

other poverty-related issues. Holyoke was once the center for the global paper industry, but is now the poorest city in the Commonwealth, with a median household income of $33,911 compared to $64,081 in Massachusetts ("Holyoke, Massachusetts" 2012). The issues Holyoke faces include general food-security concerns, environmental degradation and pollution in poor neighborhoods, inadequate infrastructure, lack of green space, and unemployment rates of up to 31% in Holyoke‟s Lower Wards. In 2012, Holyoke‟s violent crime rate was 51% higher than that of Massachusetts, and 862% greater than the national benchmark. In addition, 26% of Holyoke‟s children live in poverty ("Holyoke, Massachusetts" 2012). For all of these indicators, Holyoke is constantly a target for „projects,‟ and the Holyoke Public Schools, in particular, are now being watched carefully due to the corresponding poor performance of many students.

Categories of Alternatives Through researching tactics that have been successful in reducing excessive plate around the country, three major categories of alternatives were identified. Each category includes numerous tactics, nine of which are later presented as specific recommendations for increasing consumption of healthy food in the Holyoke Public Schools.

Category #1: Implement sales and marketing strategies Through treating the children in the lunchroom as consumers, the food service provider and the Holyoke Public Schools can use private market principles to encourage food consumption by making food more appealing to children, and improving their lunchroom experience in a way similar to what a private company might do. For example, if McDonald‟s was in charge of the lunch room, what would they do to make the children eat? Certainly, the

company would have many standards for customer service, including specific verbal prompts or help in selecting a particular meal, each intended to improve the diner‟s experience. In general, these marketing tactics change the way food is perceived and, as a result, have the ability to increase consumption through designing an experience conducive to healthy eating, and making the connections between food, fun, and health.

Category #2: Changing food options and presentation This category involves changing the food itself in sensory characteristics, such as shape, color, appearance, taste, flavor, and so on, and otherwise modifying other aspects of its presentation, including how it is served and on what the meal is eaten in order to increase consumption of healthy food. Other tactics may include serving sliced apples instead of a whole apple to increase convenience, adding a salad bar to enhance variety, and preparing cultural recipes.

Category #3: Modifying school routines and programs This category involves making logistical and curriculum-related changes at school in order to increase the students‟ appetites, consumption habits, and mentalities towards healthy eating. Potential alternatives include switching the order of lunch and recess, adopting incentive programs for kids, and strengthening parental involvement.

Evaluative Criteria As a multitude of individual options are included under each of these major categories of alternatives, it is crucial to narrow these alternatives and evaluate each choice based upon the

following criteria, listed in order of importance: increased consumption of healthy foods, adoptability, implementability, and cost.

Increased consumption of healthy foods When plate waste is reduced through increased consumption of food served, more nutrients are likely taken in, and healthier students result. Due to the high poverty in Holyoke, children are already suffering from poor health outcomes. Hampden County, where Holyoke is located, is ranked the worst county for health outcomes in the entire state ("Health Outcomes in Massachusetts" 2013). Therefore, alternatives that are likely to increase consumption of nutritious foods, and consequently the health of children, deserve primary consideration.

Adoptability Ease of adoptability is critical. There are multiple actors responsible for the policies and procedures in Holyoke Public Schools, including the food-service provider, school officials, teachers, students, and parents. Each entity has reason to feel resistant to change, be it losing a contract, drawing negative attention from the state, or exacerbating the plate waste problem in the lunchroom. Changes also require at least minimal effort from these stakeholders, which can create a feeling of inertia. Further, if a policy is not adoptable, it cannot be considered a viable alternative regardless of its impact on pate waste. Holyoke schools are underfunded and unfortunately suffer from lackluster performance across the board. As a result, the district has been threatened with state takeover, so any new or significant initiatives recommended for the schools must be handled delicately. Even previously menial decisions are now highly scrutinized, so change tends to move slowly and with conservative opposition. As risky ideas are

unlikely to be successful in the current political climate, considering adoptability is critical in our evaluation.

Implementability The ability of an alternative to be implemented on the ground in the Holyoke Public Schools is also crucial to success. Even the most well-designed tactics will fail if no one is willing or able to implement them. The current culture of top-down decision-making by school officials in Holyoke may limit the robustness of alternatives, specifically with regard to their ability to be flexible in the face of obstacles. Additionally, corporate limitations, specifically around the way meals are prepared by the food-service provider, and a lack of on-site cooking facilities at schools that preclude most food preparation methods beyond simply heating and serving meals, challenge any options involving the modification of menus.

Cost After labor and overhead, the food-service provider at the Holyoke Public Schools has approximately one dollar per NSLP meal to spend on ingredients. While purchasing higher quality ingredients or changing preparations may do much to affect consumption, many such options are not feasible under current fiscal constraints. Additionally, due to the general economic situation of Holyoke and the large amount of projects in need of the city‟s limited resources, any significant expenditure for school lunches is sure to be viewed critically and weighed heavily against a competitive abundance of alternative options regarding where else that money should go.

Recommendations Because political and operational feasibility is such a relevant factor in the success of any alternative selected, two categories of recommendations are presented: quick wins to reduce plate waste, requiring minor effort and expenditures; and larger ideas, which may potentially be even more beneficial in the long-run, but likely require momentum from early successes to improve feasibility.

Quick Wins 1.) Switch from trays to plates: Though it is commonplace for children to be served on trays in the cafeteria, children do not see food presented this way outside of the school environment. Trays have the characteristic of dividing the meal into smaller compartments of individual categories of foods. This presentation can create the impression that a meal is incomplete, that the vegetables and the meat should not be eaten together but are instead two compartmentalized options to choose between. Studies have experimented with using plates, not trays, in college dining halls as “a potential strategy for decreasing food waste in foodservice operations” (Thiagarajah et al., 2012). Another study in a college dining hall found that an education program to create awareness of plate waste “led to a 25% reduction in plate waste” (Kim et al., 2010), but the combination of that educational strategy plus replacement of trays with plates “led to a 54% reduction from baseline,” especially of solid foods (Thiagarajah et al., 2012). This research concluded that “going trayless in a buffet-style setting is a useful way to reduce solid plate waste.”

Trays are likely to need occasional replacement in school cafeterias, so the purchase of plates could be gradually integrated into routine replacement operations. The concept also seems to appear sensible, direct, and relatively riskless, all factors that improve adoptability of this option. Of course there may be unknown challenges with equipment in the cafeterias, such as return racks and cleaning devices, which may require some additional consideration, but are not expected to preclude this option.

2.) Use verbal prompts, and offer versus serve: The environment in Holyoke Public School cafeterias is already such that students and lunch room staff interact with one another. This alternative suggests that the lunch room staff engage with the children to present choices relating to the food, thereby accentuating the child‟s ownership of their selection, and likely increasing their eventual consumption of that food. An example of a verbal prompt would involve a cafeteria staff member asking a child something like, “Would you like fruit or juice with your lunch?” One study of first and third graders in 26 schools from 2000 to 2002 that was aimed at increasing fruit and vegetable consumption found that verbal encouragement by food-service staff was associated with positive outcomes (Perry et al., 2004). Feasibility of this option is high because this is also a very cost effective measure, since only minimal training and monitoring would be required to institute verbal prompts. When given the option to choose fruit, “The average percentage of children who took a fruit serving was 60% in the control school and 90% in the intervention school” where prompts were used (Schwartz, 2007). Therefore, the use of verbal prompting in the Holyoke Public Schools is anticipated to produce similar improvements, while also improving communication and the overall experience for the students in the serving line.

Similar to the concept of verbal prompting, the use of offer versus serve as a tactic to increase food consumption in the lunchroom is also recommended. Offer versus serve describes a transition to letting students choose the kinds of food they want to eat, instead of providing them with „pre-loaded‟ trays, in order to create a desire to consume the food that is specifically chosen. One study about the elderly in nursing homes found that “having multiple items available on a salad or dessert cart once or twice a week will enhance residents‟ sense of independence and may increase their intake because of the desire to eat items that [are] personally chosen” since it is human nature to be more likely to want to do something when one feels as though he or she has made a choice, rather than having that choice imposed on him or her (Huls, 1997). This effect is expected to be similar in a school lunchroom. Certainly, there always exist concerns about whether or not children might be able to make the right choices in order to get the nutrient intake they need. Another study revealed that “there still are concerns that the nutritional quality of the [NSLP] meal as consumed could be compromised if children are allowed to refuse two [out of five available] items” (Baik et al., 2009). However, a previously mentioned study found that offer versus serve “reduced waste significantly without a significant reduction in nutrient intakes” (Buzby et al., 2002).

3.) Implement food mentoring: Based on observations during the course of this research in two of the lunchrooms in Holyoke schools, the incorporation of an adult „food mentor‟ as a structural part of lunchroom operations is recommended. As children do not always make rational nutritional decisions, it is reasonable for teachers and other staff to serve in a parental-type role assisting children in making healthy choices on the ground, right at the point where these choices are made. In the observed lunchrooms, there were apparent correlations in what foods individual

students were leaving the line with depending on whether there was a teacher or other adult present in the lunch line. In our experience, when there was no teacher, students were leaving the line with only lasagna and milk. When a teacher was present, children were leaving the line with salads, as well as lasagna, and selections of available fruit and vegetable sides. Although the presence of fruits and vegetables on students‟ trays does not necessarily ensure consumption, the effects of any encouragement or guidance given in the line by a food mentor are likely to create beneficial outcomes. After students have received their lunch, food mentors would also have the ability to act as a positive influence on kids‟ consumption habits after they have sat down and begun eating, giving further explanation about what certain foods on their plate are and why they are good for them. Since teachers and other adults are often already present in the lunchroom, this is a readily feasible and implementable option. Further, any efforts by these food mentors should be coordinated with food-service provider and staff initiatives in order to amplify the effects. Minimal training would be required for these mentors since the message to select and eat healthy foods available to students is relatively well understood by educated adults and can be delivered in many ways.

4.) Send messaging home to parents: Empirical evidence has shown that when nutritional education is combined with parental involvement, the combined benefits are greater than the sum of the two individual parts (Perry et al., 2004). Studies have also found that lower income families tend to eat fewer fruits and vegetables at home, making parental engagement particularly important for a city such as Holyoke (Just, 2011). Kids tend to eat the foods that they are familiar and comfortable with. To get kids to eat healthier at school, policy changes have

been made on a federal level by increasing health standards on what can and cannot be served; however, to increase effectiveness, these changes also need to be accompanied by a plan to extend healthier eating habits into the home. Holyoke‟s Kindergarten Initiative has already begun to try to address this problem by doing things like holding healthy cooking demonstrations for kindergarten families and sending home recipes and nutritional information to kids who have had the opportunity to visit local farms through the program (“Kindergarten Initiative and Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program” 2012). This is a great start, and lends support to our recommendation that Holyoke should widen the scope of parental involvement by sending students of all ages home with promotional materials and messages that supplement the nutritional information the kids are receiving while at school. Half the battle here is simply getting all the different players in these kids‟ lives to be able to identify and acknowledge the problem of plate waste together--only then can they begin to solve it. Sending notices home is a low-cost, easily implementable option to get parents informed and on the first step of the ladder of engagement. Therefore, these materials should be targeted to communicate three main points to parents: (1) “There is a food waste and nutritional problem in Holyoke and this is what that problem looks like;” (2) “Here‟s what we, at the school level are doing to solve this problem;” and (3) “Here‟s what you can do as a parent to help at home by having conversations with your kids about healthy foods, educating yourself, and serving these healthy options whenever you can.” The recommendations listed above represent quick wins for the Holyoke Public Schools, and if implemented effectively, will lend traction to the overall effort to get healthy foods into the stomachs of students who need them, and not into the trashcan. Additional tactics, which may require more resources and be less feasible initially, but have also been shown to effectively

reduce plate waste and have the potential to create an even more dramatic benefit in the lunchroom, are described in the next section.

Additional Tactics: Larger Ideas 5.) Emphasize nutrition in course curricula: One of the projects that has been successful in Holyoke and can serve as inspiration moving forward is the Kindergarten Initiative‟s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program. This program is a comprehensive early childhood nutrition education program designed to influence healthy eating habits of very young students while they are still open to new tastes and concepts, and has resulted in 19 additional tons of fresh produce served to Holyoke children (“Kindergarten Initiative and Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program” 2012). The K.I. has created a kindergarten curriculum centered around good nutrition, farms, and understanding where food comes from. The children take field trips to area farms that introduce them to their food sources and farmers. Then, fresh fruit and vegetable snacks are served at least twice weekly, with these snacks coming from local sources whenever possible. The children also take home produce packages for their families from area farms, including recipes and nutrition information. Families are also invited to participate in healthy cooking demonstrations that feature locally grown produce. Finally, a school garden complements the program to support the curriculum and the good eating habits promoted throughout the initiative. Though this program is externally funded, it serves as a powerful example of how a successful curriculum-related program can be implemented within the schools to encourage healthy eating.

Evidence from studies elsewhere echoes these findings. A number of studies show that integrating nutritional programs into educational curricula is an effective approach, and has had a modest yet consistent positive impact on fruit and vegetable consumption (Perry et al., 2004; Gortmaker et al., 1999; Delgado-Noguera et al., 2011). As an example of the effectiveness of bringing nutrition into the classroom, one study showed that using an interactive computer-based program about food during school increased fruit and vegetable consumption, while reducing or eliminating the price of lunch did not (Delgado-Noguera et al., 2011). More coverage of nutritional material in the courses that young students are already enrolled in will only enhance and provide a solid base for the mentoring our previous recommendations suggest that kids should be getting both at home and during lunch. The limitations of this option, however, lie within the structural difficulties involved with altering course curriculum.

6.) Create incentives for students to eat healthy: Studies have shown that young kids respond very well to incentives. One study finds that incentives such as entering students into a raffle to win a toy or prize increased the fraction of kids who ate fruits and vegetables by 80% and reduced waste by 33%. The same study indicated that these incentives could be as small as a nickel and still be effective, demonstrating low potential costs of such an incentive scheme (Just, 2011). Another low-cost example of prize incentives are things like homework passes. Furthermore, incentives were shown to be particularly effective for children of low-income families, making this option especially attractive for a city such as Holyoke. Research also indicates that children are more likely to eat junk food than healthy food when available, but if junk food is not available, they are likely to simply eat less (Cullen, 2004). One incentive option we endorse is giving kids “snack food credits” whenever they eat their

fruits and vegetables. If eating healthy food can be a way for kids to obtain snack food, there is reason to believe that they will eat more of the healthy food on their plates It may require a significant amount of effort to design an incentive program appropriate for Holyoke, but with the help and momentum from the quick wins, such a program could be effectively implemented.

7.) Hold conferences with parents on nutrition: As discussed previously, increasing parental involvement in the nutrition education process is a fruitful pathway to change. One study compared schools that included parents in the efforts to reduce plate waste with those that did not, finding that the results were significantly more potent when more were involved (Perry et al., 2004). Once parents have received the messages described in the quick wins section (recommendation 4), the school can work further engage them. Discussion of nutrition matters could be integrated into standard parent-teacher meetings, or presented in a more communal forum. Ultimately, the key is to present the children with the same messages surrounding the benefits of healthy eating at school and at home. Consistent and continued engagement with parents is critical to reach this goal.

8.) Switch timing of recess to before lunch: Some schools schedule lunch after recess to reduce plate waste. A study in Illinois showed a reduction in plate waste from 35% to 24% by having recess first (Getlinger et al., 1996). As recess is typically one of the highlights of a student‟s day, they tend to be less focused on eating than socializing and playing with friends. Scheduling recess first allows students to work up an appetite as well as get their fun in before lunch so that they are more focused when they are eating.

Other evidence on timing strategies for lunch and recess suggest that holding lunchtime too early in the day tends to create more plate waste, as kids are not hungry because they may still be full from breakfast (Buzby et al., 2002). Moving recess before lunch allows more time between breakfast and lunch, which may also help to reduce plate waste. Although the evidence appears to be convincing, most public schools in the country still hold lunch before recess. In 2000, only about 18% of schools scheduled recess before lunch for the majority of their students (Getlinger et al., 1996). Modifications to school schedules would require at least moderate effort for implementation, although once the schedule is changed, adoptability is predicted to be quite high since only the order, rather than the behavior itself, needs to be changed.

9.) Apply for grants to fund salad bars: Salad bars have long been promoted as a tool to engage children in eating healthy. Literature and different publications present mixed results for such intervention. One 2005 study found that “merely providing a self-service salad bar is not a sufficient intervention to improve elementary school children‟s fruit and vegetable intake,” yet “salad bars with more variety were associated with higher [nutritional] intakes” (Adams et al., 2005). This study describes a causal relationship between the variety of foods available at a salad bar and nutritional intake. Successful plate waste reduction through salad bars, then, requires variety in offerings. Currently the Let‟s Move Salad Bars to Schools program is offering funding and technical support to install and operate salad bars in school districts across the country. Today, grants for 2,445 salad bars have already been awarded, but there are still 3,500 more grants to claim. If Holyoke could obtain grant funding to install salad bars at the elementary schools,

nutritional intake would likely increase. It is important to note that the use of salad bars under the NSLP is permitted, as long as the point-of-sale comes after the student has selected from the salad bar, and their choices can be monitored by the cafeteria staff. Other anecdotal evidence reports great successes with salad bars. For instance, a school principal in Florida reported that at the beginning of the school year “we had hardly any kids [using the salad bar].” So, the school staged a “tasting day,” and found that once students tried the salad bar, “they liked that they could control which items went into the salad.” After that particular intervention they now have about 250 out of the school‟s 650 students regularly using the salad bar (Dorschner, 2013).

Strategic Considerations In a phrase, the overarching strategy for increasing consumption of healthy foods in Holyoke is “Make a difference now. Then, go big!” The quick wins should be tackled first. Trays can gradually start to be replaced with plates, while the cafeteria staff and teachers train on verbal prompting and food mentoring. These tactics are recommended for their high adoptability and implementability, track records of positive results, and low costs. Once the Holyoke Public Schools can demonstrate to themselves and their community that these minor operational changes can improve health outcomes and reduce waste, the political climate is expected to give way for larger, more resource-intensive ideas, such as augmenting nutrition content in course curricula and switching the order of lunch and recess. Throughout the implementation of the quick wins, involvement from parents should be emphasized through materials delivered to the home by the students. Additionally, success should be celebrated within the community to build further support, especially with the Mayor,

in order to highlight plate-waste reduction strategies in the Holyoke Public Schools as high-yield social investments for the limited funds available. In the end, once a set of tactics are accepted and implemented, another study at the Holyoke Public Schools is recommended to assess the new level of plate waste, to follow up on the benchmark study that will conclude at the end of the 2013 school year. If improvement is realized, there is an additional opportunity to engage U.S Congressman James McGovern to push for policy changes at the federal level. The argument would be that not all schools should have to spend time planning, designing, and implementing their own ideas to reduce plate waste when modified policy—whether in the form of increased reimbursement rates for NSLP meals, funding for nutrition curricula, incentives for food-service providers to consider consumption beyond serving, and so on—could affect positive change across the country. As the representative for the 2nd district in Massachusetts, which includes Holyoke, and with much of his work focused on ending childhood hunger in America, McGovern could be a powerful local ally for affecting change in the battle with plate waste at the federal policy level.

Conclusion Excessive food waste is an urgent issue in Holyoke schools, and the School Food Task Force should address this problem as quickly as possible. Heavy constraints preclude many potential chances for improvement; however the recommendations herein represent feasible alternatives for Holyoke to accomplish its goal of reduced plate waste. Children are leaving school hungry, and many of these government programs are simply not doing their job. It is crucial that Holyoke is able to provide its children with the nutrition that they need, and do so as soon as possible.

The progression of small operational changes to larger initiatives is expected to significantly reduce excessive waste in Holyoke, considering the benefits of similar strategies already enacted nationwide. Any lessons learned should be shared with U.S. Congressman James McGovern to push for change at the policy level that will positively affect Holyoke and other school districts confronting similar challenges.

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