Schools introduce “share tables” to reduce food waste and fight hunger

Anyone who has had a kid who was a picky eater — most kids are, at some time or another, it seems — knows that they flat-out refuse to eat certain things you give them. No matter how much encouragement or how many threats you make, the food in question isn’t going down the hatch. While often frustrating for parents, it can at times be comical. What isn’t so funny is that picky eating can easily lead to large amounts of perfectly good food going to waste.

An increasing number of schools in the United States have set up “share tables” in their cafeterias. If a student has packaged food he or she isn’t going to eat, they can leave it on the table, swapping it for something already there, if they want. Meanwhile, students who don’t get enough to eat can take items from the share table without having to leave anything there in exchange. Whatever is left over at the end of the day can be sent home with needy children or donated to a local charity.

Orange County, Florida alone has 20 schools with share tables. According to Pastor Sam Reinemund of the Redeemer Lutheran Church, which receives some of the leftover food, “Without this program, that would literally go in the dumpsters. It really helps us out.”

Share tables also address perverse consequences of the rules that come with the food provided by the National School Lunch Program. Kids have to take the regulation lunch, even if it’s more than they want to eat or includes things they won’t eat. Moreover, leftover food (even if still in its original package) can’t be served again the next day. A share table is a clever end-run around this problem.

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