“Share Tables” at Schools Reduce Food Waste and Keep Hungry Kids Fed

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In order to combat childhood hunger and food waste, several Florida schools came up with an innovative idea: share tables. Now, instead of throwing food items they don’t want into the trash, kids leave them on communal tables in their cafeteria. If they like, they can pick up other items they like better. At the end of the meal, any food left behind on the table is given away.

According to The Orlando Sentinel, approximately 20 schools in Orange County, Florida, have adopted these “share tables” in the past two years, and they seem to be helping a lot. School lunch rules state that kids who go through the lunch line have to take a certain number of items, including a fruit or a vegetable. As many parents know, that means a lot of unwanted produce gets tossed in the trash.

School lunches also have to be the same size for all the kids, so kindergarteners are getting the same amount of food as the fifth graders. That means some kids are getting way too much food, while others might not be getting enough.

Everything placed on the share table has to be sealed, but most of the fruits and vegetables coming through the cafeteria are individually packaged anyway. Kids leave behind orange slices, apples, raisins, and more. On one afternoon at Aloma Elementary School in Orange County, one little boy dropped off a container of orange slices, because he just doesn’t like oranges. (He loves carrots, though.)

Another little girl swapped her milk for a second yogurt. And kids can pick up extra milk, cheese, fruit, or other items from the table. That really helps kids who might not get enough to eat at home.

Regulations prohibit any uneaten food from being re-used by the cafeteria at future lunches, but the schools have different ways of handling whatever is left on the table at the end of the day. One school sends the leftovers to a nearby church, which uses the food to feed homeless people and says the program has been a tremendous help. Other schools send the food home with kids whose families don’t have enough food.

That’s all food that would otherwise end up in the garbage, and now it’s doing a lot of good. Hungry kids are getting more food, and less good food is being thrown away and wasted. Custodians say the share tables have even cut down on messes in the cafeteria, because bored kids aren’t messing around with food they don’t plan to eat. That sounds like a victory for everybody involved.