Share Tables Save Food in Schools

According to Feeding America, “For the more than 12 million kids in the U.S. facing hunger, getting the energy they need to learn and grow can be a daily challenge.” At the same time, a lot of food goes to waste during school lunch periods. Feeling hungry can make it hard to pay attention, and that doesn’t make for a good afternoon of learning.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) also recognizes the usefulness of share tables. In a memorandum to directors of child nutrition programs, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service informs that  “‘Share tables” are tables or stations where children may return whole food or beverage items they choose not to eat, if it is in compliance with local and state health and food safety codes. These food and beverage items are then available to other children who may want additional servings.”

Here’s how it works. A share table allows students to give away uneaten, unwanted, unopened or sealed food. It can then be enjoyed by another student or it can be donated to a food pantry or charity. Want to start a share table at your local school? Here’s how it works:

• Establish rules for the share table. All food must be “unbitten.” Things that can be shared include unopened packages, such as milk cartons, cheese sticks, yogurt, crackers, and cereal bars. All packages must be sealed. Unwrapped whole fruits with peels you don’t eat, like oranges and bananas, can also be given away.

• On a small table, set a clear box or wire basket and a food share sign with examples of food that can be shared. Have students place items into the share basket before recycling and throwing away trash.

• Be sure that cold items, like milk, go into a refrigerated cooler or are placed on an ice bath so they stay at 41 degrees or below. Other food left out at room temperature for less than three hours can be shared or donated.

• A staff member must supervise the food share table to keep food safe and remove food that has been opened or altered. After meal service is over, staff should inspect and sort the food. Some food may be donated if it meets health department rules. A volunteer will be needed to deliver any donated food at least once a week.

Food is a valuable resource and saving edible food from the waste stream is an important way to reduce waste. If you like the idea of a share table at your school, contact your child’s teacher or the school principal to see if you can help start the program. To read more about share tables, check out Good Housekeeping’s magazine article about them. For more details about setting up a program, check out this Stop Waste brochure.

Photo credit: SolStock | E+ | Getty Images

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