KAPAA — Kauai’s school-aged keiki don’t eat their brown rice.
That is, unless it comes with shoyu or some other kind of sauce or spice, according to Joell Edwards, farm-to-school program manager with Malama Kauai and food access coordinator for the County of Kauai.
Most of that brown rice just ends up in the food waste bins outside school cafeterias, along with some of the other less-favorable items on school menus, like pre-dressed salad.
While much of that food waste is then recycled as food for local farm animals — pigs and goats — schools, through the ‘Aina Pono farm-to-school program, are looking to decrease the amount of food waste coming out of cafeterias on Kauai.
That means serving what kids will eat, while also following nutrition guidelines.
To learn what those favored food items are, Edwards is teaming up with a few other organizations to do a waste audit at schools, weighing the already separated waste from cafeteria lunches and monitoring what gets thrown out and what gets eaten.
From there, schools can refine their menus. Jennifer Milholen, with Kokua Hawaii Foundation, pointed out an example.
“We ntoiced that on apple day, hundreds of whole apples were getting wasted, no bites at all,” Milholen said. “From that simple observation, slicers were introduced to many kitchens.”
Apple consumption went up by 50%.
Monday, Edwards was at Kapaa Middle School, one of four schools that were rolling out waste audits that day on Kauai. The audits last for nine school days, so those counting can get a good idea of what’s regularly eaten and what’s not.
At KMS, 36% of students ate school lunch in November.
Students went through the line and got lunch as they would on a regular day. Monday’s lunch was sloppy joe sandwiches. Then, they separated their waste out into different bins, with spaces for things like recyclables, trash and food waste.
Afterward, partners in the program, including Kokua Hawaii Foundation, Malama Kauai and Zero Waste Kauai, weigh the sorted waste.
“Here I think we’ll see kids don’t eat their brown rice, too,” said Matthew Woods, KMS cafeteria coordinator.
That could be because rice is a grain, one of the items kids are required to have on their plate every day. Woods explained some of the items on the menu are served and others are offered.
“We notice kids won’t eat as much of the vegetables, like broccoli for instance, but that’s offered versus served so if they don’t want it, they don’t put it on their plate,” Woods said.
Once the audit establishes a baseline of waste, a new menu will be introduced to the kids, one that is more fine-tuned to their tastes and will hopefully result in less food being tossed out.
In addition, kids eating cafeteria lunch are being required to fill out an online survey as the waste audit continues, so the school can understand what kids like and what they don’t.
As they went through the line to throw out their leftovers on Monday, some students talked about what they hope to see on the new menu.
“I hope there’s pizza,” said Sienna Yamashita.
Charlice Kenney reminded her that there’s already pizza on the menu. It’s universal favorite on campus.
“Then, I hope they have mangoes,” Yamashita said. “But some people have allergies to those.”
Kenney said she would be excited to see more fresh pineapple on lunch menus.
Woods said the new menu, which will be rolled out by the Department of Education in coming weeks, has things like chicken adobo sandwiches and luau stew.
That and other future menu items can change, though, depending upon the results of these waste audits.
Jessica Else, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or at firstname.lastname@example.org