How to control food waste & drive down school catering costs

7th November 2022

Did you know that schools produce 13% of all non-domestic food waste in England? With a combined cost of around £250million?

While current food and energy price increases are continuing to squeeze caterers and even impact pupil wellbeing, putting measures in place to minimise food waste will help mitigate those cost impacts, alongside supporting Net Zero targets. 

Food waste is estimated to account for almost half of the waste, by weight, from primary schools in England and almost a third of waste, by weight, from secondary schools in England. Clearly more needs to be done.

  • An estimated 80,382 tonnes of food waste are produced by schools in England per (40 weeks) school year, of which 63,099 tonnes (78%) are avoidable (WRAP) 
  • Calculating the greenhouse gas emissions of this waste through production and agriculture, processing, transportation, storage and disposal, avoidable food waste in schools equates to 253,000 tonnes per year – or the same carbon produced by more than 80,000 cars (WRAP) 
  • Schools produce 13% of all non-domestic food waste in England, with a combined cost of around £250million (ecoACTIVE).

Why is so much food wasted in schools?

There are a number of factors contributing to the issue of food waste in schools. Remember, food waste covers overordering produce, preparing too much food and uneaten plate waste, with multiple opportunities to make savings throughout.

Students regularly report unappealing food options or a lack of menu variety, as well as low quality ingredients and large portion sizes. Feedback from WRAP and local authorities also highlights the importance of the dining environment – with lengthy queues and loud, overstimulating dining rooms contributing to food waste too.

Top tips from Civica

Our Civica Catering Management (formerly Saffron) and Civica Cashless Catering software help organisations monitor, measure and reduce food waste, using innovation in technology to help drive operational improvements. These solutions enable pre-ordering to support better food choices in schools, whilst accurately recording previous food choices to help identify seasonal fluctuations. Accurate, dynamic stock management through Saffron also reduces the risk of perishable foods going to waste. That’s not all school catering teams can do to help cut food waste. Drawing on Civica’s expertise in the education sector, here are our top four tips to reducing food waste in schools:

  • Create appealing menus. Civica’s Cashless reporting tool shows the most and least popular food options, giving the kitchen greater insight to plan menus accordingly and reduce the risk of unordered products. In addition, Civica Catering Management provides menu engineering and recipe support, which makes it easier for catering teams to keep menus fresh (and optimised) on a regular basis.
  • Promote menus in advance. Our CivicaEats pre-ordering app enables students to see what’s on the menu in advance and pre-order it via mobile or tablet. With this information, kitchen staff can produce items to order and reduce the risk of product going to waste. 
  • Speed up the lunch queue. Lengthy queues eat into important playtime, so make the most of technology that can reduce bottlenecks and prevent plate waste. With CivicaEats, students can pre-order and pick-up food from central points as part of a ‘grab and go’ operation. Or ask about touch-free technology that makes paying for school meals safer and faster. Both technologies enable quicker transactions to reduce the impact of noisy environments on childrens’ eating.
  • Track improvements. Civica Catering Management offers an all-encompassing view of operations to drive efficiency, support compliance and enhance visibility. It accurately measures and records waste and can report on this in terms of a percentage of revenue, percentage of consumption or total CO2 value of waste, linked to CO2 values for individual ingredients and menu items. This helps school caterers to take the right steps to minimise the amount of food wasted.

Our complete solution for catering in schools ensures providers can meet the challenges of rising food costs and sustainability head-on.

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We’re focussed on creating solutions that support the visions of our customers. So many schools and colleges are looking at how they improve their sustainability credentials which includes reducing food waste. I’m really proud that Civica products are supporting this important objective.