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Zachary Siemieniak

Andrews University Dietetic Intern

October 26, 2017

Plate Waste Study Report

The purpose of this investigation was to analyze food preference differences among 6-
12th grade students using the plate waste study method at Eau Claire Middle and High School.
Plate waste can be defined as a measurement to better understand food loss, eating habits, and
specific targets of nutritional programs in schools. As both the middle and high school were
investigated, it is important to note that the ages of students who participated in the study are
known to make undesirable food choices (choosing chips over fruits and vegetables, for
example), are typically picky-eaters, and do not like to experiment with new and unique foods.
The main objective of the study was to observe and analyze the incidence of food waste, food
preference trends, as well as fruit and vegetables consumption. High school students grade 9-
12th will consume the greatest amount of food compared to the 6-8th grade aged students.

The development of the plate waste study consisted of observation of lunch flow, creating
an effective plan, and then documenting the collected data by hand to record the percentage of
food consumed. The theme of the day was Chinese. Food items were categorized as follows:

 Fruit (Bananas, Apples, and Mandarin Oranges)

 Vegetable (Pre-made salad, carrots, broccoli, peppers, tomato, and cucumber)
 Protein (Orange Chicken and Spring Rolls)
 Starch (Fried Rice and PB&J Sandwich alternative)
 Milk (Skim Regular and Chocolate)

Plate waste was evaluated at each of the three lunch hours (11:13-11:45 A.M., 11:47-
12:15 P.M., 12:17-12:45 P.M.), all being a different grade level: 6th, 7-8th combined, and 9-12th
combined. The researcher initially gathered data by standing in line while students placed food
items onto their trays, and later stood by two waste bins and evaluated the percentage of waste
from each food item category, by looking at student’s trays as they approached said garbage
bins, as well as asking students their opinion of the food provided (to assess meal acceptability).
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Fruit Vegetable Protein
<25% 50% 75% 100% <25% 50% 75% 100% <25% 50% 75% 100%
6th 2 4 5 5 1 3 5 7 1 3 5 7
7-8th 3 8 10 30 4 8 10 28 5 5 15 26
9-12th 1 5 3 20 1 10 5 10 0 10 3 15
Total 6 17 18 55 6 21 20 45 6 18 23 48

Starch Dairy Ate

<25% 50% 75% 100% <25% 50% 75% 100% 100%
6th 1 3 2 10 0 10 1 5 35
7-8th 10 12 22 31 5 6 10 25 60
9-12th 0 5 5 20 2 5 2 15 75
Total 11 20 29 61 7 21 13 45 167

Total students accounted for: 281

Seventy nine percent of students consumed 100% of the fruit they received with their
lunch. Roughly 91% of students consumed >25% of the fruit on their tray. The fruit provided
included bananas, apples and mandarin oranges, all of which are common fruits, and highly
enjoyed among the students. During the observation, many students would trade some of their
food from home or undesired food from their tray with the fruit belonging to other students, as
the limit to pieces of fruit at the school was 1 piece.

Seventy five percent of students consumed 100% of the vegetables they received with
their lunch. Roughly 90% of students consumed >25% of the vegetables on their tray. Eau Claire
provides a large variety of vegetables for students to try, as well as pre-made salads for those
who didn't want the main entrée being provided for the day.

Seventy seven percent of students consumed 100% of the protein rich foods they received
with their lunch. Roughly 91% of students consumed >25% of the protein on their tray. Orange
chicken and spring rolls were a massive seller, and many of the students would pay extra money
to get back in line to get extra servings, or trade their food for more. Based on this category and
starch alone, proves that the Chinese themed meals are very popular in this demographic. As the
grade of students increased, the less waste of this category of food resulted.
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Eighty one percent of students consumed 100% of the starch they received with their
lunch. Roughly 99% of students consumed >25% of the starch on their tray. Fried rice and PB&J
sandwiches were the starch choices provided and were highly accepted by the students. Majority
of the students interviewed really enjoy the fried rice provided for the Chinese themed days. The
main reason 100% of starch was not consumed was because of satiety. Students consumed more
of the Orange chicken and other options as opposed to the rice/sandwich, thus preventing them
from being able (without stomach discomfort) to finish the remainder of the food on their tray.

Seventy five percent of students consumed 100% of the milk they received with their
lunch. Roughly 87.5% of students consumed >25% of the milk on their tray. Skim milk was the
only variety offered at the facility, available in regular or chocolate flavors. It was difficult to
assess the overall milk consumption of students as the container was opaque. To obtain results,
the researcher spoke with a multitude of students and the data was documented correspondingly.
For those who were not able to spoken with, the remainder of the tray was evaluated, and the
consumption of dairy was assumed to be 100%. There was no specific trend in milk consumption
with age, as the highest percentage of dairy consumers was the 7-8th grade students.

Ate everything:
This category was reserved for the students who clearly consumed everything they put on
their meal tray for lunch. This was an important category to add, as it would be impossible to
stop every student to either ask them if they consumed all the milk and other food items on their
tray, as well as to visually inspect if everything was consumed/wasted.

The greatest barrier to providing an accurate study was evaluating the plate waste in an
efficient manner, with large groups of students approaching the waste bins at high volumes. To
make matters worse, many of the students were in a rush to get to class and hastily threw away
their trash, making it more difficult to assess food waste/consumption. Speaking with the
students about food acceptability and their opinions of the food provided at Eau Claire public
schools was challenging for the same reasons mentioned before; many were in a rush and didn't
have the patience to speak. To improve the efficacy and validity of the collected results, it would
have helped to have been able to assess plate waste and consumption on more than one lunch
period; the sample size wasn't enough to accurately portray the eating patterns and trends of said
school. Some of the tallies recorded by hand may have been slightly off as well, as monitoring
food waste with such a large volume left much room for error.
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Overall, in all categories, the 7-8th grade population of students consumed the greatest
gross amount of food. This was either due to researcher error, or the appetite of said population
was highly present in this plate waste study. The hypothesis of the experiment was a failure, as
high school students were not the greatest consumers of food on the particular day. Based on the
information compiled from this plate waste study, Eau Claire's foodservice director may continue
to cycle the Chinese themed lunch for weeks to come, as minimal food waste occurred. Having a
team of researchers would make ease of food waste assessment much more efficient. Due to only
having one researcher, the margin of error was much greater. Adjustments such as informing
students to discard their food in a more reserved manner would prove to much more beneficial in
providing an accurate representation of food waste/consumption in this particular demographic.
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