8 tips to reduce food waste in canteens

8 tips to reduce food waste in canteens

The out-of-home food industry is responsible for 12% of all food waste in the EU. Yes, that’s an unfortunate reality, since food is a major contributor to climate change (about a third, to be precise). But more than an unfortunate reality, it’s an opportunity to change. We’ll tell you how. Let’s become waste warriors and fight food waste!

The number of out-of-home meals consumed has been growing steadily over the past decades. Stats differ per country, but on average every one out of five meals in Europe is eaten out-of-home: in restaurants, hotels, canteens, and others.

Whereas fighting food waste at home is already difficult, out-of-home it’s even more difficult. That’s because there is a fine line between the messages ‘Sorry, we’re sold out’ and ‘Sorry, our trash cans are full of wasted foods’. Neither is a message you like to convey.

We’re here to help, with the following tips.

How to fight food waste as canteen management

There are two main points where canteens can influence food waste: at the source (that’s the canteen management and staff) and at the endpoint (the food consumer). When you’re canteen management, the following tips may help. When you’re consumer, you can request or demand your canteen management to implement them.

  1. Track your data, analyze and adjust

If you keep close track of how much you purchase, what proportion of that actually reaches people’s plates, and how much ends up in the trash can, you can adjust your strategy to this. Also track how many people use the canteens every day. If you do this long enough, you can start seeing trends.

Some insights you can untangle using data:

  • What days of the week, weeks of the month or months of the year less people use the canteen, and thus require less food purchases?
  • How much food gets wasted in the canteen fridges and meal preparation? I.e. what’s the difference between the amount purchased and the amount on people’s plates?
  • What foods and dishes end up in the trash can more than others? Both in the kitchen and in the canteen.
  1. Serve smaller meals

Can it be that simple? Actually, yes! Research of the World Health Organization shows that most on-plate food waste is a result of portions simply being too large.

There are a few things you can do:

  • Have people decide their own portions, by letting them scoop up themselves. If they have to pay for their food, charge them per weight to prevent them from taking too much and wasting it after.
  • Offer different portions of the same meal: let people choose between a small and a large option.
  • Give everyone the same – somewhat smaller than usual – size portion, but offer (free) refills for people who would like some more.
  1. Get creative: not all seemingly-waste is actual-waste

A lot of food waste that ends up in the trash can, could actually have been useful. Epiphany: it’s called a trash can, not a trash can’t!

Some examples:

  • Overripe, mushy bananas are the best banana bread ingredient
  • Overripe tomatoes are great for soups and sauces
  • The thin dill like leaves of celery make great garnish for your dishes
  • The stem of broccolis and cauliflowers are perfectly edible, tasty and nutritious. Are you making cauliflower soup? Throw in the leaves as well. Also whole oven-grilled cauliflower tastes better with the leaves still on.
  • Peeling (sweet) potatoes is time-consuming and not necessary. Most nutrients (and a fantastic taste) can be found in the peel.
  • Also forget about removing the outside of a pumpkin when making pumpkin soup. Just throw the whole thing in! (In cubes, that is)
  • Don’t throw away the green parts. The leaves of carrots, radish, beetroots, and turnips are great when sauteed!
  1. Use a reservation system

Perhaps your location already has a system that keeps track of how many people are present each day. For example a shift planning system, a desk reservation system or a school schedule. This helps you plan the required amount of food each day or week.

If this doesn’t exist already, consider implementing a canteen reservation system. This way, it’s easier to purchase the right amount of food.  

  1. Follow the Food Recovery Hierarchy

The tips above fit perfectly within the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Food Recovery Hierarchy. But there’s more!

  • If you have leftover foods, donate it to food banks, soup kitchens and shelters.
  • Your scraps and waste can be perfect animal food. Make arrangements with – for example – a pig farmer in your surroundings. The pigs will love your waste. Or feed your own animals: a worm hotel is a great way to compost your scraps on-the-spot. Give the compost away to canteen users that have a garden, or fertilize your own veggie or herb garden with it.
  • Always separate your waste oils from other food scraps.
  • View the trash can as a last resort only.
Food recovery hierarchy
Source: Hello Energy, based on United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

How to fight food waste as canteen user

Food waste is highest at the end of the chain: with the consumer. That means there’s a great potential to reduce food waste. First of all, you can request canteen management and staff to change their behavior according to the tips above. Secondly, you can change your own behavior. Let’s see what you can do:

  1. Listen to your stomach

Just when you thought restaurants and canteens waste so much food, turns out that it was you and your fellow consumers all along. When you’re eating out-of-home, only order or take what you can actually eat.

Every time you throw something in the trash can, take a moment to realize that next time, it’s better to take less to start with. You can always go for a round 2.

  1. Talk with each other about food waste!

When you see a colleague on their way to the trash can with some food still on their plate, what do you do?

  1. Run! Maybe you will make it in time and catch those fries before they fly into the trash can
  2. Start a conversation about food waste, in order to de-normalize this behavior
  3. Share this article via email and invite the person for a discussion
  4. Not my plate, not my responsibility

If you answered either A, B or C: good on you! Be aware of your tone-of-voice in discussions with others. A patronizing or disapproving tone is often not appreciated. Remember that not everyone is ready to become a waste warrior just yet.

  1. Show some love to the misfits

As we’re in the era of human body positivity, let’s extend this to food appearance positivity! Just as a person with a crooked nose can be just as beautiful (inside and outside) as anyone else, a crooked cucumber tastes exactly the same as all other cucumbers. Still, a huge proportion of food is wasted purely on looks.

Be food inclusive and choose the crooked one. Because if you don’t, it may end up in the bin being very sad.

To summarize:

Food waste can be tackled both at the source (the canteen management and staff) and at the endpoint (consumers). For the former, using data to track trends, offering smaller portions, being more creative with your food and using a reservation system can go a long way! Fighting food waste as a consumer, you can also reduce your portion sizes, talk with each other about wasting food and choosing the misfits, help a lot.

With these tips, you’ll become a waste warrior unlike ever seen before!

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