Cameron is an MCH Nutrition trainee at Colorado State University. He is currently completing his Masters of Public Health in Physical Activity and Healthy Lifestyles with a focus on adolescent nutrition. This post entails the research that he conducts on the National School Lunch Program and the associated food waste.
Improving NSLP Programs Through Food Waste Data Collection and Food Systems Education
The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is one of the most influential food delivery programs for adolescent and child health in the United States. Providing food for approximately 30 million children every day around the country is no small feat. To help support that program, the USDA, along with many other organizations, conduct research to improve program efficiency, child food acceptance, and nutritional standards. The research I have had the privilege to work with throughout my master’s program involves the selection, consumption, and waste of foods provided in the school meal program. Improving what goes on the plate is the first critical step to improving nutrition in schools; however, the next significant step is improving student consumption of those foods.
The goal of the research project I work with, Healthy Planet Healthy Youth, is to investigate, implement and evaluate strategies for food waste reduction and food recovery in Northern Colorado public schools while concomitantly improving student diet quality. I have had the opportunity to interview kitchen managers, nutrition services directors and other team members with influence on the management of the NSLP at the local level. We have conducted observations in schools to assess waste levels and to determine opportunities for improvement as well as sharing techniques and best practices that decrease food waste in schools. We are also conducting a student educational intervention to see if food systems education will influence student diet quality and/or waste volume in middle schools lunchrooms. Lastly, we are also investigating the use of share tables as a means to reduce landfill disposal of food and address child food insecurity.
Working on this research project has provided me with many skills that I plan to use in my career, including creating opportunities for community collaboration in data collection and research. We recognize that the populations we work with are the actual experts and that first-hand opinions and experiences with the problems are critical for making effective programs and enacting positive change. I look forward to utilizing these skills and the knowledge gained in this research to improve programs for our most vulnerable populations, most specifically, of course, our MCH populations.
-Cameron Herritt, MCH Nutrition Trainee, Colorado State University