How to Cut Down Food Waste with Kids

How to Cut Down Food Waste with Kids

Don’t you hate cooking a meal and then feeling like you are throwing too much of it away after dinner? Food waste is a big problem for many of us! In childcare, we have required numbers/amounts of food to put on kid’s plates. This creates a lot of waste. What do you do to cut down on the amount of food you throw away?

How to cut down food waste with kids

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Cut food waste by serving family style

One way you can cut down on food waste with your kids is serve your meals family style. Place serving dishes on the table and allow kids to fill their plates with how much of what they want. They will tend to choose what they want to eat.

Don’t shame or cajole kids or make them feel guilty for not eating everything on their plate. I know it’s hard to do this when you were raised that way. Eat everything on your plate because there are starving children in Africa. How many of those kinds of statements have you heard?

The truth is a happy plate does not lead to healthy thinking about food. Kids who are made to eat all the food on their plates tend to end up with eating disorders. Many kids who don’t eat enough do so because they are constantly nagged to eat. It makes them nervous and uncomfortable and they don’t feel like eating anymore.

Ways to prevent food waste by serving choices of sides and letting kids choose

I like to offer kids a variety of side dishes. In childcare, we are required to serve two fruits, two vegetables, or one of each. I tend to put several choices, usually 3-4 on the table and ask the kids what two they want on their plates. They tend to waste a lot less food this way. I still just make one main dish, but I might roast some broccoli and then have carrot sticks and apple slices as well. Kids can choose two of the three. They feel in control and more comfortable this way too.

Cut down food waste by knowing your serving sizes

Many times, the sizes we think are a serving (think an order of kid fries at Mc Donald’s or chicken nuggets from Chick-fil-a) are way more food than a child needs. Click here to see what serving sizes kids need. A serving of fruit or vegetables for young children will fit in a muffin tin cup. A serving of bread is half a slice (how many servings is in a child’s hamburger from a restaurant?) A serving of meat is just a couple of ounces, which would just cover the bottom of that muffin tin. Think half an egg to a whole egg.

We think kids are going to starve because they don’t eat anything, but really, they are eating what they need. I promise you, a child will eat when they feel hungry.

Cut down food waste by limiting snacks and drinks

Don’t let kids eat snacks right before a meal. They might already get full. Also, remember that letting them have a lot of juice, milk, cool aid, or soda before a meal or with the meal can make them full and not want to eat any of the food on their plates.  A serving of milk is 4 oz. for a child under 2. For 2-4-year-olds it’s 6 oz. The sippy cups for kids can hold several servings of drinks.

Kids don’t need any juice or sugary drinks. These are just empty calories. They are also full of artificial flavors and colors that tend to cause behavior problems. Kids need lots of water. If they are thirsty, let them drink as much water as they want.

Cut down food waste by adding a little food to their plates at a time

If you are serving a meal at home, just put a few bites of each item on your child’s plate. They can ask for more. It’s better to give them seconds and thirds of small amounts than to fill their plates, overwhelm them with too much, and end up throwing a lot of it away.

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Cut down food waste by serving lots of raw foods

Serve lots of raw fruits and vegetables. Leftovers can be cooked into a different dish the following day. You can take your leftover carrot sticks and roast them for dinner the next night. Make an apple crisp out of your leftover apples. There are many ways to reinvent foods into something else to avoid wasting it.

Not all kids will like all things raw. I remember serving a veggie tray to my kids one time. I had a girl enthusiastically ask for cauliflower and when I gave it to her, she took a bite and said, I sure wish this was hot. Ha ha. She meant she didn’t like it raw. She was used to me roasting it for her. The next day I roasted all the leftovers from the tray and they gobbled them right up.

Save food, stop waste by keeping foods simple

Make simple things like ham sandwiches, cheese and crackers or pretzels with peanut butter. Kids tend to like plain and simple food better than a gourmet meal.

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Reduce food waste by making it more fun to eat

Kids like to eat with their hands. It’s easier for them. They get more sensory involvement than they do with silverware. Serve some things they can eat with their hands to satisfy this desire. Homemade chicken nuggets, carrot sticks, bananas and other things that can be picked up and eaten help kids feel more relaxed and finish more of their food for less waste.

What are some of the most popular foods for kids? Hamburgers, fries, corndogs, hot dogs, nuggets, pizza. What do they all have in common? You eat them with your hands.

Think about it and be creative with what you serve. You can find ways to waste less food once you start practicing some of these. You will probably even think of more yourself.

I like to take all the bits and pieces of leftovers and cook them into a stir-fry, soup, frittata, spaghetti sauce or casserole to get more life out of them in a different way. Give it a try and you’ll be a pro in no time.

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How to Cut Down Food Waste with Kids


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  1. Yasmin says:

    Great post and very helpful. I work at a child care facility and food wastage is a topic that keeps bothering me. This article provided helpful tips. Thank you

  2. Yavonna says:

    Some Great Ideas … I was shocked at how much milk i served and how much they need. No wounder they are not hungry for food, to much milk.

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