It has been a few years since the New Richmond Middle School last had a Share Table during the student lunch periods, but the program has been brought back this school year by the middle school and Supervisor of School Nutrition Bobbie Guyette.

“The main goal for New Richmond Middle School's Share Table’ is to reduce waste,” Guyette said. “My goal is to start "Share Tables" district wide. The middle school had the best environment to start the program and work out any issues we may run into, so that is why we wanted to start testing the program there first….The Middle School does not particularly have an issue or concern with waste, it was just the best option to start the program.”

Share Tables, according to Guyette, is a station where students can return whole foods or beverage items they choose not to eat, but only if it is wrapped, sealed or a fruit with an inedible peel. The tables are located in the same area where students put their trays when they are done with lunch.

“Items dropped off on the ‘Share Table’ can be picked up by any student who may want it,” Guyette said. “The table is in compliance with Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction regulations as well as Wisconsin Food Code, and is monitored by School Nutrition staff. Any items left on the ‘Share Table’ after all students are done with lunch are then recovered back by the School Nutrition Department.”

Although it might seem like a simple task to get the Share Tables up and running in any cafeteria, Guyette said making sure the program followed all the rules in regards to holding food in a new location wasn’t an easy task.

“I had to develop a Standard Operating Procedure and spend time training the staff on how to implement the program,” Guyette said. “There are a lot of food safety and program details to work out with holding food in a new location.

“My short term goals include implementing the program district wide as long as we are able to follow procedures. Every school site is different and may be more difficult than others. The main point of difficulty is finding time for my staff to adequately monitor the ‘Share Tables.’”

Guyette feels like implementing the Share Tables at all the schools is important for students to know to make sure that whole, uneaten items are not thrown away and wasted. It also allows students who might have forgotten their lunch or are still hungry after eating their regular meal to get something to eat.

“Waste in terms of what is put on the ‘Share Table’ is minimal. From the first week of implementation we are only recovering about five milks on average,” Guyette said. “A better example would be the pre-made and wrapped peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which are very popular in all schools throughout New Richmond School District.

“To make this sandwich qualify for enough protein at the higher grade levels it comes with a pre-wrapped string cheese. If a student selects this as their entrée they may get to the table and realize they didn't want the cheese. This is something that may then end up on the ‘Share Table.’”

One of the main reasons Guyette finds for students not eating all of their lunch is that students are allowed to select at least three components to make up their lunch, but every school offers at least five options. For example, the district offers both a hot and cold vegetable daily, so a student can choose to take one or the other or both of the vegetables. However, if the student doesn’t eat both of those vegetables, then those items end up in the trash since they are not wrapped or sealed.

“Overall, I am looking at all menus to determine what meals students like and dislike. If we continually have low numbers on a certain item we will likely discontinue it or further develop the recipe,” Guyette said. “We found a couple of these unpopular items at the Middle School and have been gradually changing the menu. We have a couple new items now available that the students enjoy and therefore decrease our waste.”

So far, Guyette has only positive things to say about the job the middle school nutrition staff does with the presentation of their lunch items.

“Making sure items are displayed in an appealing way greatly increases the number of items we sell,” Guyette said. “We offer many alternative meal options such as salads, yogurt parfaits, fruit plates, and smoothies that must be kept in stock and displayed well to cater to the students who may dislike what the main menu is serving or like more of the grab-and-go style of meal. Trying our best to fill the desires of our students is what helps us keep waste low.”