Why is it important to involve children in reducing food waste?
Chef, nutrition expert in the preschool network “Dibber” (known as “CreaKids” in Latvia) – Rickard Lundberg
Since the beginning of August, the amount of meat and dairy products has been reduced in preschool menus. Regulatory measures affect not only the volume of consumed products but also the quantity of food waste in schools and preschools. In Sweden, 30% of all food waste is comprised of surplus meals from schools and preschools. While Latvia is relatively successful in addressing this issue, with one child in Latvia generating approximately 25g of food waste per day compared to 40g in Sweden, both preschools and parents at home can engage children to collectively reduce wasted food. To accomplish this, it is necessary to carefully analyse what we put on children’s plates. Equally important is the awareness that the extensive food choices currently available also present various challenges.
How can children’s nutrition be made healthier and more sustainable?
When discussing children’s nutrition, it’s important to understand that achieving a 0% level of food waste and 100% green, natural, and ecological solutions is not feasible. However, children’s nutrition can be made healthier and more sustainable. The first thing we can do is to stop wasting food. Within the family, it’s possible to discuss whether it’s truly necessary to buy fruits, vegetables, or other perishable products for the whole week or if it’s better to purchase them fresh every day. Equally important is evaluating how much food is actually needed and whether it’s better to consume less but fresh and high-quality food, or to buy a lot and then discard a portion.
Children as messengers of healthier habits
We can set an example for our children while also allowing them to initiate various environmentally friendly initiatives. Often, we see that things initiated in preschool, such as weighing food waste to reduce its volume, are suggested by children and they want to continue such practices at home. To promote good habits, it’s important for preschools and parents to collaborate. For instance, if a child is taught at preschool that eating vegetables and fruits is necessary, but parents do not support this at home, the efforts may not succeed.
In Latvia, one child generates approximately 25g of food waste per day.
To understand what and how we can improve, measurements need to be taken and our habits need to be recognized. Just as measuring temperature helps us understand if we are sick, measuring how much food waste is produced in your family per day or week can provide insights. Investigate what makes up the majority of it – whether it’s snacks, breakfast, or perhaps the issue lies in lunch. Armed with this information, we can start seeking solutions. Maybe we discard food because we’re preparing things that children don’t like, or perhaps we purchase and prepare too much? We have conducted such analyses in preschools as well. For example, in Latvia, one child generates approximately 25g of food waste per day, while in Sweden, this amount is higher – around 40g. Overall, in Sweden, all schools and preschools discard around four tons of food every month, which is a considerable amount.
In reducing food waste, it is important to involve children themselves, and this can be done from a very early age, starting as early as one year old. By engaging children in reducing food waste, their skills in reading and counting are also improved. Children enthusiastically participate in weighing, writing things down, and other activities. Older children already grasp sustainability concepts much better and help implement them in their families as well.
30% protein, 40% vegetables, 30% carbohydrates
One way to decrease the volume of food waste is through thoughtful meal planning – both at home and in preschool. Thoughtful meal planning doesn’t mean every meal has to be very nutritious, or quite the opposite – I encourage variation. For instance, if one day’s meal was richer, like with meat, the next day it could be vegetarian or feature lean fish. When planning meals in the long term (at home – on a weekly basis, in preschool – over four weeks), we can ensure that all necessary nutrients are included. The formula for a good meal is simple – 30% protein-containing foods, 40% vegetables, and 30% carbohydrate-containing foods. A simple method for meals for young children is as follows: a handful of protein-rich foods, a handful of vegetables, and a handful of carbohydrate-containing foods. The meal should be healthy but also diverse.
Changes in regulations foresee less meat
The content of meals in preschools and schools in Latvia is regulated by legislation, which is not bad, but it’s important that the products and quantities specified in regulations do not lead to an increase in food waste. Recent changes have been made in Latvia regarding the minimum quantity of food products – meat, dairy products, fruits, and vegetables – in school and preschool menus for a week. In certain age groups, starting from August 1st, the quantity of certain products, such as meat and dairy, has been reduced in preschool menus. To limit the intake of added sugars, the permissible amount of added sugar in foods has been decreased, and the permissible sugar content in freshly prepared drinks has been established.
Preference for homegrown or local producers
When discussing sustainable meals both at home and in preschool, it’s also important to give preference to local producers. The closer the product is grown or produced, the less harm is done to the environment through its transportation. If it’s not possible to purchase products from a local producer, it’s worth considering the next closest supplier. When choosing a supplier or producer, it’s important to remember that buying 100% organic products doesn’t necessarily mean we’re not causing any harm to the environment. For instance, in 100% organic farms, more water resources are often consumed, and a larger amount of food goes to waste due to the quicker spoilage of organic products.
It’s never too late to start changing our habits and introducing healthier and more sustainable solutions into our daily lives. However, changing a child’s dietary habits in the 7th grade will be much more challenging than during preschool years. By promoting the development of these values in our children, we can be confident that they will pass them on to their own children in the future.