Assignment: Education – Update: Food Waste Study

Onalaska High School Students Research School Lunch Food Waste

You cannot skip out on your fruits and vegetables when going through the school lunch line this year. Federal law now requires students to take one-half cup of one or the other.

Critics feared how much food would be wasted as a result of the law. A few Onalaska High School AP Statistics students confirmed this fear after nine months of research on the lunchroom habits of kids at all five of the district’s schools.

“It was maybe surprising to see how many students wasted. I can’t remember the exact proportions, but I know it was maybe 50% or more,” said Maria Bertrand, Onalaska High School AP statistics student.

Maria and two of her classmates were a part this food waste research project called Off the Tray into the Student (OTIS) to fullfil a requirement for their AP Stats class.

“We looked at just trying to find trends in waste. And just looking at just any particular combinations of fruits and vegetables that led to a lot of waste,” said Megan Brewer, Onalaska High School AP statistics student.


The student’s research was the first time the district had ever studied the amount of wasted food in their lunchrooms.

“We were never required to have the fruit and vegetable on the tray as a component which was really was the catalist for this,” said Kerry Johnson, Onalaska School District nutrition director.

Now this research is giving the district a starting point as they try to reduce the amount of wasted food during an era where children are required to take a fruit or vegetable they may not want.

“It [also] gave us some information on favorites and least favorite fruits and vegetables which gave us good information for our menus next year,” said Johnson.

The students also had an interesting finding in the amount of food waste after communicating what one-half cup of a particular food looked like.

“She put the signs up and started collecting data after that, and that’s when we  noticed the amount of waste decreased,” said Brewer.

Another key finding? The placement of a favorite fruit like apples on the salad bar.

“It’s our thinking from the information in the study that we need to put the most favorite fruits and vegetables first so that they’ll take the portion required of that fruit or vegetable that’s a favorite and then move on down the salad bar and maybe add a few extra items to round out their tray but they won’t be taking least favorites thinking I’ve got to get all of this food on my lunch tray,” said Johnson.

And while the district learned some valuable information…

“I think they have started a really good thing,” said Johnson.

The AP Statistics students learned some valuable lessons.

“I was standing by a trashcan during most lunches which is kind of embarrassing, and watching people take fruit,” said Bertrand. “And I’m sure that they gave me a few looks. You just have to be confident while you’re collecting that data and it taught me that I think.”

“This is one of the more involved projects I’ve done in high school,” said Brewer. “It’s very interesting to take everything we do in the classroom and then apply it to real life situations.”

A classroom requirement that is anything but wasteful.