Day 118: chili (and food waste)

Today’s menu: chili, mixed corn and carrots, tortilla chips, peach fruit cup

The fruit cup was frozen solid. That white thing on top? A pimple of ice. I laughed out loud when I peeled back the foil. Totally inedible in that state. So I let it sit on my desk all day and had it as an after-school snack. Too bad the kids couldn’t take the fruit cups back to the room and do the same. Straight into the trash.

The chili was fine. I ate it using the chips as scoops. The corn and carrots were ok too.


I didn’t take a picture of my trash today because I was interrupted during my lunch and it threw me off. Luckily my shock at an unexpected visitor wore off right away. Most people are only concerned about themselves and not what you are doing. No surprises in the amount of trash though. These are are not waste-free lunches.

I had the chance to journey farther into the school’s kitchen this past month. The kitchen is pretty bare bones from what I little I saw of the space. To change these lunches into waste-free lunches, it would be necessary to upgrade the kitchen and either hire more people or pay the current employees for the longer hours required to wash dishes.

Would the decrease in garbage costs and packaging costs off-set the increased cost of kitchen upgrades and supplies (including real plates and silverware)? Am I wrong to assume that over time the cost would dollar cost average lower and lower? What about landfill space? It will become more expensive to bury this stuff as the years wear on correct?


 In Chicago Chefs come to Chicago classrooms — so cool! I want to see what happens next!


Check out this blog post about School Food News from Ed Bruske. He found that Florida will consider banning all flavored milk in December. Good move.

What do I think about flavored milk? Chocolate milk = white milk + 3 tsps of sugar (and HFCS). It seems obvious that chocolate milk should not be offered daily. Maybe every other Friday or something, but with 1/3 of students being obese, it’s not good to eat an additional 3 tsp of sugar with your lunch every single day. In some ways I wish I weren’t lactose intolerant so that I could drink the milk every day to show you that having an additional 3 tsps of milk every day adds up.


Check out this information about Challenge Day from Notes from the Cookie Jar. I work with younger kids so it doesn’t quite work the same although we do discuss character ed when appropriate. I think that Challenge Day is a great way for kids to learn about difference and understand other people who turn out to be just like them.

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26 thoughts on “Day 118: chili (and food waste)”

  1. More than the non-food waste, I wonder about the amount of food that's thrown away. I'm going to assume that not a single student ate those collard greens several days ago, and I'd bet that if the students are all given oranges, 80% of those are thrown in the trash too (this probably goes for pears and nectarines, too). Then there's the accidentally frozen fruit cups, and the cooked veggies. With the cooked veggies I suppose it may be as low as only 50% of them getting tossed, but that's still a lot of food.

    There really should be a better way.

  2. Think that's a typo at the end about the extra 3 tsps of milk adding up. Me thinks it should be sugar???

  3. I'm so glad you're not making excuses for the array of poor choices students make all the time, Mrs. Q. Normally I'm a strong believer in allowing free choice, but with so many overweight and obese students not only in your school, but nationwide, it's time people started telling it like it is. Kids simply don't need that extra sugar.

  4. I'm curious as to what your perception is of high fructose corn syrup, as opposed to regular sugar. What do you believe is different in terms of human consumption?
    Dr. E

  5. Food waste is a difficult beast.

    If you let the kids choose,(which we have done in the past) they put an amazing amount of food on their trays, which they don't eat and most of it is the unhealthy fun stuff like plain pasta and garlic bread.

    If you "force" the kids to take a small portion of everything (as we currently do at my school)then they're at least forced to look at the piece of steamed broccoli or half banana.

    There is always food waste. It is unfortunate, but kids won't eat everything they're given. If they choose their own food you have to have enough food for each child to have a serving, whether they take it or not…so there is always waste, just sometimes it's behind the doors of the kitchen and sometimes it's in the dining hall trash.

  6. Ugh, there's enough food waste from kids just not liking something without creating it by serving food that's actually inedible.

  7. I remember frozen fruit cups in school. They were actually pretty good, especially on hot days. But, ours weren't frozen completely, they could still be eaten with a spork.

  8. I am not sure of the answer, that is why this is a question. Who would pick up the tab on the extra workers and the cost of the dishwashing equipment? Would it be the school or the school food service company? Where does the financial jurisdiction of the actual school end and the service company begin?

  9. Because you're talking about landfills: Is recycling that uncommon in the US? Or is it too expensive for schools?

    In my school we had 3 different trash cans (paper, organic, non-recyclable) in every classroom and bigger ones for plastic,glass and cans scattered around the school.

  10. So sugar in chocolate milk is bad, but jelly on a PBJ is okay? Never mind the sugar in many brands of peanut butter?

    I like what you're doing with your project but I am tired of your hypocrisy and inconsistency. Processed meat (hamburger) from McDonald's is bad, while processed meat (sausage) from butcher is good. Sugar (in milk so they're getting calcium) is bad, while sugar (in jelly) is good. Fruit is good but only if it's in the particular form you want it; for instance, whole fruit is good unless it's an orange. Students should have salad bars where they can make their own lunch, but they can't peel an orange.

    How about more reporting and less hypocritical judgment?

  11. @anonymous 11:23 a.m.

    Maybe you didn't know this, but this is actually a blog, not a news outlet. Mrs. Q is not a journalist –she's a teacher, letting us see into both her school's lunch program, and her own thoughts. You don't have to agree with her opinions, but you don't have to be rude when you disagree with them. I think she's looking for interaction and discussion. Perhaps we all are, and that's why we're reading?

  12. Anonymous @ 1123: What part of blog do you fail to understand? This is Mrs. Q's place and if she wants to be hypocritical and judgmental (not that I think she is) that's her prerogative. If you don't like it there are plenty of other places to be. Finally if you have an overwhelming desire to be a dick to your hostess, at least have the stones to leave a name.

    Mrs. Q: The question about costs has a simple answer. It depends (I said it was simple, not that it was useful). How much the school pays for trash removal, what kind of deal they can get for the renovations and initial purchase, what labor costs are like in your area, etc. There will be a large up-front cost as you purchase the equipment and then a continuing cost for employees and maintenance such as fixing the dishwashers and replacing broken plates. Furthermore there will be periodic recapitalization costs above maintenance costs as dishwashers need to be replaced.

    I don't think trash disposal costs are going to increase significantly over the short to medium term. Even if we start running out of landfill space we'll start to see more use of incinerators and back-end recycling.

    I've mentioned before that for many children (I have no idea the number) eliminating chocolate milk would eliminate milk from their diet. 3tsp of sugar is equivalent to ~20 minutes of walking. I would look to recess as a better weapon in the fight against obesity.

  13. @anonymous @11:23am: There are many reasons that she is not fond of McDonald's, and the processed meat is just one of them. Meat ground by a butcher is all from one animal. If the animal is diagnosed with mad cow, it can be slaughtered. Once it gets blended with the meat from sixty farms and thousands of cows… not so easy.

    Sugar added to milk is unnecessary. Jelly need not have any added sugar to jell. Mine has none- fructose is what makes fruit sweet. Peanut butter also is better without the added sugar. It is amazing how food tastes when we really taste it without additional sweeteners or salt.

    An orange is a great item on a lunch tray… IF the kids have time and ability to peel it. Most don't bother. Can they find time to make a salad at a salad bar and still eat it? I'm not sure about that one, but I don't see hypocrisy there.

    The blog author Mrs. Q is not a reporter. She should have an opinion. Disagreeing with someone's opinion is also fine- it's good when we stimulate discussion! Too many people are afraid of controversy and only watch or listen to opinions that back up their own. But coming in anonymous is just wimpy. I wouldn't dislike you or boycott your blog just because you have a different opinion than I do.

  14. "Anonymous 11:23" back again, this time with a name to make everyone happy. (Never mind that the author of the blog herself is anonymous, or that having a name like "My Kids' Mom" doesn't exactly make one identifiable.) I don't care whether you "dislike" me, and I don't have a blog for you to boycott. I just choose not to leave my name on the internet for the world to see.

    How exactly was I rude? How is pointing out inconsistent and what I perceive to be hypocritical judgments rude? Rudeness, to me, is calling names – like, for instance, calling someone a "dick" or "lacking stones" (thanks, Jeff, for raising the level of discussion!)

    We are all here at this blog because we are concerned about the issues that Mrs. Q has raised. When she makes inconsistent arguments, that hurts her cause with the people whose minds need to be changed. I would like to see Mrs. Q respond herself, but I know she's busy.

    And I'm not naive enough to think that kids are going to eat sugar-free jelly (and fructose is sugar, just not sucrose). I think most food tastes better without added sugar, but unfortunately most kids eating school lunch do not have developed palates and want the extra sugar for taste. Even Jeff agrees that chocolate milk might be the only way some kids ever get milk.

    I agree that the term "reporting" was not the right word to use, and I regret using it, as it seemed to detract from the substance of my comment. I would just like to see Mrs. Q choose her battles wisely, working to get greasy processed chicken parts off the lunch trays rather than the oranges.

  15. Our school pays $15/day and has MTWTF trash pick up. Weekly recycling costs $780/year. Think of the money that could be saved if schools recycled more and wasted less. The savings would easily cover the cost of recycling and still have savings left over for more important things.

  16. I don't see how the sugars in the milk, or jelly, or whatever are that bad. These kids are not used to eating sugar free, non-processed junk. The healthy stuff probably tastes terrible to them. I'm happy that the students are getting nutrition…

    I guess, as a physician, I see the horrible crap that people do to their bodies. Eating some sugar, or even a lot, or high fructose corn syrup, is not the worst thing. This is my second career- before I went to med school I was an elementary school teacher. It made me SOOOOO angry that the free breakfast program at the school I taught at served "Super Donuts" every day. It counts as a grain, you know. But I came to realize- the horrors of these kids' home lives make a Super Donut seem like a silly thing to worry about. I'm not sure what the solution is here.

    I love this blog. I read it when I can..

    Dr. E

  17. The mix of carrots and corn seems odd to me.

    But I wish that schools could see the benefits of going back to using real trays and silverware. If I were a student it would make me think that they cared more about what I was eating. Slapping slop on a styrofoam tray or handing me a preheated premade package of mystery food makes me think that you don't care. To me food that has been cooked in a big pan and needs a scoop to serve it is more like getting food from mommy or nana…full of love and nutrition.

  18. Susan, I don't think anyone and Esp. Mrs. Q. wants to get rid of the oranges…but, cutting them would be nice, because with a 20 minute lunch period, once the kids get though line and sit down they don't have time to peel the orange, if it was sliced in wedges to eat in the lunch room or if they could take the whole orange back to the room for later that would be great. Unfortunately, that isn't what is happening so the oranges are trashed.

    I also think you have a point, about the sugar. The sugar in the jelly the peanut butter the fruit cup and the flavored milk are all bad.

    What happened to sugar being a treat?
    Why do we have to bribe children to eat with sugar and HFCS?

    Thanks for getting the discussion going Susan.

  19. Thank you for all the comments. I've been following the comments, but I literally just put my son down so I have a moment to respond before I start writing today's post.

    I'd like to say I don't have all the answers to some of your really great questions. I am human and not perfect so nothing I write should be "gospel." Dr. E, I do believe there is a difference between real sugar and HFCS. Google it – there is a wealth of info.

    Regarding recycling, it's really state by state, county by county. There doesn't seem to be good federal legislation about recycling. Some things should be left up to the states, but recycling seems like the kind of thing everyone should do one standardized way.

    And to Anonymous/Susan — Thanks for your comments. Yes, 3 tsps of sugar in chocolate milk every day seems to be way more than what would be in a paltry amount of jelly on bread. Get out the measuring spoon in your drawer and have a look at 3 tsps sugar. It's a lot.

    Now, my dad gave me chocolate milk as a kid. He would mix it up at home. My sister and I loved it and it was a special treat as it should be. Did we drink chocolate milk every day? No way!

    Anonymous Susan, I hate to tell you this, but there are other ways to get your calcium aside from milk:

    Anonymous Susan, one of the great things about blogging is that people change and you get to see snapshots of my beliefs over time and how they evolve. I get a lot of positive email from people who enjoy being "along for the ride." You are not one of them, which is fine.

    I have changed completely as a person by doing this "experiment." My experience with food has changed and I've documented this journey here.

    So yes, sometimes it appears that I say one thing one time and then say something else. I'm learning about food, I'm not perfect, and I am a completely different person than I was even one month ago.

    That's why I never kept much of journal when I was growing up: I would look back at it and scoff "who was that? I was so dumb." I was critical of myself and how stupid I seemed. In reality when my 8th grade self made fun of my 5th grade self, it was only because I was little and was just learning.

    I will tell you that I dislike McDonalds because they are a corporation. I like buying sausage from a small-time butcher because I trust them and it's a fun experience. However, since then I have watched Food, Inc I am committed to eating even more organic, which I'm not sure I can get at the butcher…

    Also a little fruit sugar in jelly in a PB & Jelly doesn't stack up to a daily dose of 3 tsps of sugar in chocolate milk.

    Certainly, I can't say anything bad about your being anonymous as I am too! No shame there! LOL But I'm going to have to unveil myself at some point in 2011.

  20. I just stumbled across your blog because of something that I saw on Jamie Oliver's site. I have been reading posts for about a half an hour now and it makes me want to cry! I can't believe the type of "food" that we are serving in our schools–packed and processed and void of nutritional value. I'm glad that you are spreading the word. Keep it up!

  21. As far as the fruit "issue" goes. I pack lunch for my girls and they are more likely to eat an orange if it is already peeled and sectioned. They like apples that are already sliced at school but will eat a whole apple at home.

    I also discovered that they will eat more fruit if it is presented in different ways. I packed mini fruit kabobs on toothpicks and they both requested that again.

  22. Mrs. Q, this is why you are probably a good teacher – you know how to handle problem students like me 😉 Thanks for your kind and well-thought-out responses to everyone.

    3 tsps is a tablespoon, which is coincidentally the serving size that Smucker's lists on its nutrition label. (It also lists HFCS, but I wanted to use as an example a nationally recognized brand that local schools and probably many parents are using.) That tablespoon of jelly is 20 grams, 12 of which are "sugars." Assuming that sandwich makers stick to that serving size, that is going to be about 60% of the sugar in the chocolate milk, which would be fine … until you add the peanut butter. I love the idea of having schools use no-sugar-added jelly, but I'm not sure kids will eat it.

    And I agree with you on the other calcium sources, but we have to consider whether kids will get enough of it that way. I'm a big fan of calcium-fortified orange juice, but it's processed.

    Statements like "I dislike McDonald's because it is a corporation" are where you lose me and a lot of others. Corporateness is not what makes McDonald's bad. Stonyfield Farms is a corporation, but you probably wouldn't tag them with the same label. That's because Stonyfield Farms is responsible. Corporate status is not inherently bad or good. I dislike McDonald's because I think their food is gross – I don't like their meat-handling procedures and I don't like their marketing methods. However, I also don't like it when companies like Annie's market sugar-and-calorie-laden cookies as "healthy" because they are all-natural. You have such a good message to convey, and I don't like to see that message get lost in distractions.

    Keep up the good work!

  23. Susan, I think a serious issue (and in my opinion, a matter of poor ethics) with McDonald's is that they market so heavily to children who are ill-equipped to understand just how unhealthful McDonald's foods are. You and I are capable of realizing the potential detriment eating McDonald's poses to our health because as adults, we have the emotional and intellectual capacity to know better. That's not to say that all adults use this capacity to resist McDonald's but at least the capacity is available to them.

    I saw a McDonald's ad on another school lunch reform blog this afternoon that lowered my opinion of the company even further. I'm not going to identify the blog because it was one of those automatic ads not controlled by the blogger. I'm sure I got it because I've been researching nutritional info on their site recently. Anyway, the ad was about their breakfasts and it appeared to be targeted at adults. The message was that you should start eating a McDonald's breakfast every day because they're just like the ones mom used to make. The ad pictured their biggest breakfast which, in my neck of the woods (CT) has scrambled eggs (I estimate 2 eggs), 3 pancakes (each about 3x the size of the pancakes my mom made), a rather large biscuit, a generous sausage patty, and hash browns. Let's not forget the butter, syrup, jelly, and ketchup that most people would likely add to all of that, and some sort of beverage like coffee with cream and sugar as well as an oversized orange juice. Why not just shove a cork in my aorta at the 2nd window of the drive-thru and get it over with? Oh and thanks, McDonald's, for saying such a "nice" thing about my mom who I'm sure rolled over in her grave when she saw that ad. She was more of a shredded wheat or oat flakes with fresh fruit and 2% milk sort of gal. Where are your ads promoting THAT sort of menu to our country's naive children?

    Based on Mrs. Q's commentary in past blog entries, I think she dislikes McDonald's not simply because they're a corporation but because many of their coporate policies and business practices are considered by some to be socially irresponsible.

  24. Susan, thanks that was really sweet of you! I guess I distrust most corporations because the profit motive makes them dangerous. I also don't like McDonald's foods. I should have mentioned that as well.

  25. I'm not really sure what is wrong with frozen fruit cups. I used to eat fruit cups when I was younger, and I always froze them and ate them that way. I've found that the juice doesn't really freeze solid and you can dig the pieces of fruit out with a spoon. I never really liked the juice in the fruit cups and found that it wasn't as offensive when it was frozen. Different tastes…

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