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107. ‘Lunch Mom’ Turns Cafeteria into Conservation Classroom

107. ‘Lunch Mom’ Turns Cafeteria into Conservation Classroom

Home Newsroom 107. ‘Lunch Mom’ Turns Cafeteria into Conservation Classroom

We’re excited to share a special guest post this Earth Day, written by Barrington mom to three girls and ardent conservationist, Jennifer Kainz, of the Onion Pub & Brewery.  Jennifer is making great strides toward educating Barrington 220 students about the importance of  lunchroom recycling to prevent food waste.  She is the driving force behind a new series of cafeteria waste audits at Barrington 220 schools, including one earlier this year at Barrington Middle School Prairie Campus.

Students at Prairie sorted their lunchroom waste into four different containers including liquid, recyclables, food scraps and true garbage. This resulted in 105.5 pounds of compostable materials, 51 pounds of liquid, 40 pounds of recyclables and 29.5 pounds of garbage. There were also 22 pounds of uneaten food.

Waste Audit at Barrington Middle School Prairie Campus - Photographed by Jennifer Kainz
Waste Audit at Barrington Middle School Prairie Campus – Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Kainz

The goal of Jennifer’s school lunchroom audits is to help students identify ways to prevent or reduce waste and improve recycling efforts in our schools.

Jennifer explains her motivation, with her own words, in our Earth Day guest post here at…


Mindful Waste

by Jennifer Kainz of the Onion Pub & Brewery

You can learn a lot by having lunch with your child in his or her school cafeteria. You get a better sense of how much time is allotted for eating, what the hot lunches look like, and how much food kids are actually consuming.

The day I dined with my fourth-grade daughter, I also learned an eye-opening truth: There were no recycling bins in the cafeteria. I watched students dump all of their trash into one single container. Full milk cartons, juice boxes, half-eaten sandwiches, and whole apples were all mixed together, headed to a faraway landfill. I realized at that moment that we were filling garbage dumps rather than our kids’ bellies.

From Lunch Bags to Landfills
From Lunch Bags to Landfills

The rate at which Americans are filling landfills with food is staggering. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, we buried more than 36 million tons of food waste in 2011, making it the single largest material to be landfilled. Forty percent of that food was uneaten, according to the National Resource Defense Council.

The problem with organic material breaking down in landfills is it releases methane gas, which has 23 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide.

Not surprisingly, a significant source of waste comes from school cafeterias.

A typical student generates 67 pounds of lunch waste every school year; most of which is leftover or unwanted food.

Part of the challenge has arisen from our efforts to encourage kids to eat healthier foods. Under new guidelines, the National School Lunch Program requires students to put a healthy food item on their tray. However, students are not required to eat it.

Waste Audit at Barrington Middle School Prairie Campus - Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Kainz
Waste Audit at Barrington Middle School Prairie Campus – Photographed by Jennifer Kainz

Part of the solution to food waste is to better manage what and when students eat. Under the USDA’s optional “Offer Versus Serve” program, students are allowed to refuse certain food items, which has reduced plate waste significantly. Studies have shown an increase in food consumption and reduction in food waste when students eat lunch after recess and have 30 minutes to eat as opposed to 20. Rewarding children for eating their fruits and vegetables has also proven successful in many elementary schools.

Barrington 220 "Tasty Tuesday" Healthy Eating Initiative - Courtesy of Barrington School District 220
Barrington 220 “Tasty Tuesday” Healthy Eating Initiative – Courtesy of Barrington School District 220

The first step toward reducing food waste at your local school is to perform a waste audit. This provides a better understanding of what type of garbage is being generated. It involves sorting and measuring different materials found in the waste stream to identify what can be reduced, recycled, or composted. A waste audit is an educational activity that can be a catalyst for change resulting in a more sustainable school. In addition, it can provide many opportunities for teachers to incorporate scientific inquiry into a lesson on minimizing waste.


Jennifer’s “Mindful Waste” lunchroom food audit initiative is the latest in the Kainz family’s ongoing efforts in sustainability, starting with their work at the Onion Pub & Brewery.  CLICK HERE to read more about their initiatives, including their restaurant waste reduction efforts, hop farm and wormery on the family’s Onion Pub & Brewery property in Lake Barrington.

Jennifer and Mike Kainz at The Wild Onion Brewery’s Hop Farm & Wormery – Photographed by Julie Linnekin
Jennifer and Mike Kainz at The Wild Onion Brewery’s Hop Farm & Wormery – Photographed by Julie Linnekin

But, WAIT…

Just in time for Earth Day, Jennifer has also enlisted the help of some local lunchroom experts to offer easy advice to reduce, reuse and recycle when it comes to cafeteria cuisine.

And, for added emphasis, BHS-TV students passionate about the cause produced this fun video focused on ways to be more mindful with our lunchroom meals.

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