How Green Is Your School Lunch?

Students of every age need good nutrition to fuel them through their busy days.
First Lady Michelle Obama, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, and concerned parents across the country have led initiatives to improve the quality of meals served at schools.

Whether it’s dished out in the cafeteria or packed at home, a balanced lunch featuring fresh, whole foods is the best-case scenario.

Say you’ve managed to include plenty of healthy colors in your child lunch. Maybe it’s time to consider how to make lunchtime even greener.
Every day, school cafeterias serve millions of meals on white petroleum-based trays that are used once and then consigned to landfills. (Polystyrene does not biodegrade; what’s worse, the chemicals it contains may find their way into food.) Public schools in New York City, for example, trash more than 800,000 Styrofoam trays a day. In Portland, OR, 40 of 85 public schools serve breakfast and lunch on disposable foam trays. Kids often use and toss plastic cutlery too.
If your school district hasn’t explored reusable trays and silverware, consider advocating for change, and encourage other parents and students to raise their voices. A hopeful fact: Eco-friendly choices may cost the same as the status quo. Polymer-coated paper containers cost about .03 cents each—as much as polystyrene trays. And the School Nutrition Foundation reports that reusable compartment trays had a lighter environmental impact and were more affordable than disposable servingware.
Students and parents can take more strides toward reducing their food “footprint.” Some school communities have moved toward waste-free programs that educate members about reducing or eliminating the trash generated by snacks and lunches. The toolbox is simple: Start by packing food in durable lunch containers, along with stainless steel utensils, reusable drink containers, and a cloth napkin. If you do pack a plastic bag, wash it and use it more than once.
Ask your student for more ideas about ways your family or school can “green” snack and lunchtime. It may start with one classroom, or one day a week, but better food—and less waste—are goals within reach.