School Officials ‘Dumpster Dive’ To See What Kids Eat


GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — Gwinnett County Schools is taking on the age old battle on how to get students to eat healthy food items. But district officials are doing it in an unconventional way that, at times, can be a little dirty.

Chicken nuggets covered in whole grain breading, pizza made with black beans, Brussels sprouts, a full salad bar — lunch at school certainly has changed over the years.

“At school, we’re able to offer the kids a lot of variety that’s really hard to pack inside of a lunchbox,” said Karen Hallford, Gwinnett County Schools Coordinator of Nutrition Support and Procurement.

Hallford is behind the effort that now shows school lunches are healthier than the ones brought from home.

Question is, how do they know what students want, what they’ll eat, and how to creatively present healthier foods?

Everyone’s heard of dumpster diving and the phrase “someone’s trash is someone else’s treasure,” — and it’s a little something like that.

“We know what our kids take when they come down the serving lines, we have a really good picture of what’s put on the tray, but we want to know what they’re actually consuming,” Hallford said.

Last school year, Hallford and her staff came up with a study where they analyze the garbage and get to the root of it.

“We randomly select trays as kids are finished with their meals, put them off to the side and then analyze,” she said.

Hallford said they found some surprising trends. Students take whole fruit, but they do not eat it. They decided to wedge it, slice it, to see if it will work.

They also found students are throwing away cheese stuffed crust, so they got rid of it, saved money, and are buying foods kids will eat instead.

“We want to keep it exciting and refreshing and you know get them into our cafes,” Hallford said.

Gwinnett is still analyzing and waiting on the results of more tests.

There are 176,000 students in Gwinnett County Schools. It’s the largest district in Georgia. Hallford told 11Alive 120,000 students eat cafeteria lunch instead of a brown bag lunch.


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