Berkeley Schools use creative measures to cut wasted food in caf - WCBD-TV: News, Weather, and Sports for Charleston, SC

Berkeley Schools use creative measures to cut wasted food in cafeterias

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The numbers are staggering. It is estimated that one out of every five children in America face hunger. South Carolina is 11th in the nation in "food hardship" with more than a quarter of our children at risk of daily hunger.

Here's a little more "food for thought." 40% of food in this country is never eaten and is simply thrown away. In 2010, discarded food accounted for the largest component of solid waste in the United States. Experts say that if we wasted just 5% less food, it would feed 4 million hungry Americans.

"You should never have a hungry child in America -- never," Linda Fairchild said.

Fairchild is the Child Nutrition Director for the Berkeley County School District.

"That's my goal. To get these babies to eat. They've got to eat," she said.

Feeding children has been the life mission of Fairchild and Sherrie Cockerham, who is the manager of the lunchroom at Devin Forest Elementary School.

"I am here to feed the kids and seeing them throw away their food and not touching it is not what we want," Cockerham said.

And feeding children across the district is quite a task.

"In the first 15 days of school we served almost 49,000 meals," Fairchild said.

In school districts across the nation, wasted food has become an issue. Uneaten school lunches cost billions in taxpayer dollars every year. But, beyond the budget, some students depend on that food for survival.

"We found pockets of kids in Goose Creek and Summerville who were living without electricity. In the Summer they came and met our vans. It didn't matter what the weather was. They knew at 12:00 we were going to be there and they were standing out there waiting on us," Fairchild explained.

If the students are throwing the food away they could be leaving school hungry.

"So this may be their only meal and they're not going to let you know that. We have a proud community in Berkeley County so our goal is to make sure they get fed everyday," Fairchild said.

The Berkeley County School District saw the waste and went to work.

"We've had parents withdraw some of the kids at times because the kids were coming home not eating and they were having headaches," Cockerham said.

"We're looking at the way we serve the food. This is going to be the emphasis across the county," Fairchild said.

"In child nutrition, our job is to feed the kids and if you're not feeding them, you've got to back up and regroup and see what you are doing wrong," Fairchild continued.

They have changed the way they serve food, making playful designs to get the younger set to eat. It seems to be working on even the most picky eaters.

Cockerham recalled one particular moment when she and her staff were able to get two students to eat.

"They never ate... Got their tray, sat down and looked at it. When I went out there to check on them Friday, the teacher looked at me and said -- 'this one and this one' have never touched their tray.' I got goose bumps," Cockerham said.

Cooks are utilizing a batch cooking strategy for the older students. They basically cook on demand in smaller batches of what's moving off the food line. If something proves to be unpopular, the waste is minimal.

"It has brought waste way way down. Because you are not cooking the items way in advance. You are cooking them to order," Fairchild said.

"It's been trial and error. We are adjusting recipes. We are having to meet the guidelines with those too. But, we are watching the trash to make sure. It doesn't do us any good to prepare the food if the children aren't eating it," Fairchild continued.

Fairchild is a firm believer in monitoring the trash cans to gauge what is being thrown out.

"The most important person in your cafeteria is your dish washer and your janitor, because they can tell you what is in the trash cans and what is coming back through those dish rooms," she said.

Fairchild gave an example of a typical discussion about unpopular food items.

"What happened to the macaroni and cheese today? It all came back to the trash can. Did we follow the recipe? Do we need to tweak that recipe? What was the issue with the macaroni and cheese," she explained.

Cooks across the school district meet regularly. Along with sharing recipes, they discuss strategies that are working at their schools and what's not working.

"I have a monthly menu from last month and I have beside it how many ate this and that," Cockerham explained.

"If they are not consuming it, we've got to change. We've got to find ways to make it work," Fairchild said.

Berkeley County school officials say they have significantly less waste with their creative initiatives. They are taking pleasure in seeing a change in consumption and keeping kids well-fed and healthy.

"We're not where we need to be by no means, but it's getting better. If we were going another direction I would be worried, but we're not. We are getting less and less and less," Fairchild said.

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