Reducing food waste as part of sustainable consumption

  • City of Espoo
  • Youth Work
  • Teaching and instruction
6.9.2022 4.41Updated: 13.9.2022 4.09
Schoolchildren on their lunch break.
Young people influence the creation of menus by indicating what food they want to eat and by developing recipes.Photo: MySome

Reducing food waste is always on the agenda of day-care centres, schools, upper secondary schools and youth centres. Schools and upper secondary schools have been working to reduce food waste for years. Similarly, young people are taught to cook delicious meals from waste food in youth centres.

Early childhood education and education have succeeded in reducing the total amount of food waste by approximately four per cent every year. Meal service providers are obliged to measure the amount of bio-waste and to indicate what measures they have taken to reduce food waste and what the results of these measures are.

"Currently, the rise in food prices is very topical in households, as well. In meal services organised by the City of Espoo, food prices have always been monitored closely, but now more and more people are probably wondering what kind of food to buy and prepare. Food also has a great deal of environmental impact and therefore people should pay attention to how they eat and what the consequences of food waste are," says Minna Ahola, Food Service Director of the City of Espoo.

Tasty food will prevent food waste

“Healthy nutrition is important for learning and remaining energised,” says Harri Rinta-aho, Director of Growth and Learning. “It would be good for children and young people to eat food every day in day-care centres, comprehensive schools and upper secondary schools.”

And when the food is tasty, there will be less wasted food. In schools in Espoo, pupils have many opportunities to influence their meals. 

In spring 2021, a school meals project was started in lower secondary schools aiming to make pupils eat more school food. Four Finnish-language schools and one Swedish-language school were selected for project workshops.

One of the topics in the school meals project was how to increase the appreciation of food in order to eat the food taken and reduce food waste, i.e. so-called plate waste.

The data collected in the workshops has now been analysed, and the next step is to pilot various proposed measures. If the pilots prove successful, the practices can be adopted in other schools and upper secondary schools as well.

A more peaceful and pleasant mealtime

One of the most interesting findings of the school meals survey was the impact of the comfort of the cafeteria. According to feedback from the pupils, waiting times in school cafeterias may be long and the eating area may be noisy. The project explores the possibility of making the line more efficient, which will shorten waiting times and allow the pupils to start eating more quickly. In addition, more attention can be paid to the comfort and noise reduction of eating areas in the construction of new schools and the renovation of old schools.

Comprehensive and upper secondary schools may also set up customer and meal panels. The aim of the panels is that the participants discuss meals with the kitchen staff and teachers' representatives. The customer panel will consider the ways in which we could work together to improve food and meal times.

“We are happy to cooperate and encourage the establishment of panels and the development of their activities. I’m under the impression that the pupils are happy to participate in the panels,” Ahola says.

Development while taking nutrition recommendations and the educational perspective into account

Food recommendations by food and age group are observed in the planning of school menus. Not all available foods necessarily suit everyone’s tastes. In this case, it should be remembered that school and day-care centre meals always play a significant educational role, i.e. an opportunity to taste new flavours and dishes.

Year after year, favourite foods for children and young people are fish sticks, spinach pancakes, carrot patties, meat balls, traditional meat macaroni casserole and certain porridges, and these are, of course, included in the menu.

New meals are offered several times to see if children and young people want to eat them. If the food in question is not liked resulting in food waste, the food should not be kept on the menu.

Vegetarian food is available every day in comprehensive schools and upper secondary schools

Vegetarian food is provided as an option every day, but pupils would like it to be tastier. Home economics classes have participated in recipe competitions to develop vegetarian food, and the best recipes have become part of school menus. This has allowed pupils to participate in the development of their school meals themselves.

The Food Waste Week reminds people to only take as much food as they can eat.Photo: MySome

Only take as much as you can eat

The national Food Waste Week is observed in all schools 12–18 September 2022.

Meal service providers will be planning their own events for the Food Waste Week. The aim is to provide more information on reducing food waste and making sustainable food choices. Children and young people are also reminded that you should only take as much food as you can eat onto your plate.

Some schools and educational institutions use bio-waste scales in their cafeterias. This allows pupils to see how much bio-waste is generated after their meal times.

It is important to monitor the number of people eating

In order to reduce food waste, it is important to be able to estimate the number of meals. Fortunately, meal service providers have good practical knowledge of this, as the evaluation has been carried out for years. According to Ahola, approximately 90–100% of primary school pupils eat school meals because they are supervised by their teacher during meals. The numbers decline among lower secondary school pupils and upper secondary school students.

Schools and educational institutions will inform their own meal service providers of changes in the number of pupils in advance. In the spring, for example, pupils may be away on excursions or in camp schools, and it is also beneficial to review exam weeks together at the beginning of each school year, because not all students will be eating at school during exam weeks in upper secondary schools.

The method of invoicing has also been changed. In the past, most meals were invoiced to the City according to the number of pupils, regardless of whether everyone was eating. As of the beginning of 2022, the City will pay all meal service providers only for meals consumed, i.e. invoicing will be based on plates. The new invoicing method will further help reduce food waste, as it will provide more accurate statistics on the number of meals. 

The reform only applies to comprehensive schools and upper secondary schools. There are greater variations in the number of children at day-care centres, meaning that food is invoiced on the basis of advance orders. It is therefore important that the guardians notify the day-care centres of any absences well in advance, if possible. This will allow for the food to be prepared in an appropriate quantity for the children present, and food waste is not generated.

Extra food donated to charity

If food is left over, it can be donated to charity.

During the worst times of the COVID-19 pandemic, some pupils were in distance education, allowing them to pick up food bags from schools and educational institutions. The food bags that were not collected were then donated to operators providing food aid.

Young people are taught to cook from waste food in youth centres

Some of Espoo's youth facilities utilise waste food from shops, the best before date of which is about to expire or which has been removed from sales, despite still being edible.  

For example, the Suvela youth centre has agreed with the local Alepa store that they can enquire after any waste food or groceries approaching their expiration date on Fridays. 

Susanna Heinälehto, youth counsellor at Suvela youth centre, says that the youth centre has received waste food as a donation a couple of times a month. The shop has usually been able to provide fruit and vegetables, but sometimes also bread.

Heinälehto says that young people have been excited about cooking together and have prepared many different dishes. Potatoes, for example, can be roasted on a frying pan, but fruit has often been eaten as a snack as is.

More than a hundred young people visit the youth centre on the busiest nights, so waste food is quickly eaten up by rapidly growing young people.

  • Sustainability
  • General Upper Secondary Education
  • Basic Education
  • Youth Services
  • Early Childhood Education