ISU dietetics interns reduce school food waste

July 5, 2019

Briana Larson walks down the hallway of the school she attended years ago as a student, this time in a new role. She is a dietetic intern whose main priority is to decrease food waste. Larson conducted a pilot study to implement a pre-order form for breakfast items provided in the classroom at an elementary school in Washington.

Dietetics intern in school kitchen.
Briana Larson helped reduce breakfast food waste at a Washington elementary school.

She says the amount of food wasted in school lunch and breakfast programs was a big surprise. “With the goal of [these] programs being increased access and food security for students, waste of this magnitude completely undermines the program’s intent,” she said.

In response, Larson developed a procedure for teachers to pre-order breakfast items for their classrooms. This resulted in a significant decrease in waste of the main entrée and milk during her pilot.

Reducing waste in NJ

In New Jersey, Natalie Polanco experienced a similar situation with a program called Breakfast in the Classroom. She did a food waste audit and determined that more than 740 pounds of food went to waste each week in the high school where she completed her supervised practice. She engaged her stakeholders and came up with a system to return unused items, such as cereal boxes, to the food service department. 

“I was surprisingly pleased with the amount of support and positive feedback I received from the school administration, faculty that assist with breakfast distribution and students,” Polanco said. She estimates that her intervention could save the high school $27,000 annually.

Stop wasting food poster.
This sign was part of a food waste reduction campaign in New Jersey.

Larson and Polanco completed these food waste activities as dietetics interns at ISU. Through the internship program, they participated in the Sustainable, Resilient and Healthy Food and Water Systems curriculum of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation. ANDF has recognized the ISU dietetics internship as a “champion site” for this program.

ISU a “champion site”

“We’re thrilled to be a part of the Champion Site initiative,” says Erin Bergquist, senior clinician for ISU’s dietetics internship. “The curriculum allows our interns to gain hands-on experience and develop solutions to promote the four principles of a sustainable, resilient and healthy food and water system.” These principles are:

  • nutrition and health;
  • social/cultural/ethical capital;
  • community wealth; and
  • environmental health.

ISU operates an accredited dietetic internship for its accelerated six-month program for future dietitians. Participants can choose to complete their rotations in Iowa or nationwide, with options for international rotations. To learn more, contact Erin Bergquist.