Food waste and plant-based took center stage this Earth Month

Foodservice operations have celebrated the month by highlighting or expanding their eco-friendly initiatives. Here’s a look at what they did.
tree growing on hand.
Many foodservice operations highlighted their food waste reduction efforts this Earth Month. / Photo: Shutterstock

April is Earth Month, a key time for sustainability-minded foodservice teams to highlight their eco-friendly initiatives. And this year, spotlighting plant-based options and food-waste reduction efforts took center stage.

Here’s a dive into what dining operations did to celebrate Earth Month this year.

Highlighting plant-based options

Many dining teams took the opportunity to experiment with or showcase their plant-forward creations.

All month long, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln has hosted educational programming called Earthstock, with the goal of bringing attention to climate change. The university’s dining team has been doing its part by highlighting plant-based options every Thursday throughout the month.

Similarly, West Virginia University's three dining halls celebrated Earth Day on April 17 with plant-forward fare. The special menu was served for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and included honey-glazed roasted tofu, Incogmeato BBQ tenders and gardenburgers.

Lafayette College’s dining services has been celebrating all month with “Less Meat Mondays,” during which students can indulge in a variety of meat alternatives at the college’s all-you-care-to-eat dining halls. The school also served a special lunch that highlighted the versatility of beans. In addition, it hosted an Earth Day celebration called Earth Fest, which featured food trucks and local vendors.

plant-based meat. Dining teams got creative with vegetables and plant-based meat products this Earth Month. / Photo: Shutterstock

School districts across the country have also been promoting plant-forward options. Los Gatos Union School District, Goleta Union School District and Chesapeake Public Schools, located in California and Virgnia, are showcasing Rebellyous Food’s plant-based chicken and offering educational materials around plant-based eating.

Rebellyous Food's plant-based chicken. Rebellyous Food's plant-based chicken nuggets. / Photo courtesy of Rebellyous

Metz Culinary Management celebrated Earth Day on April 21 by highlighting an unexpected ingredient: lentils. The foodservice provider served up creative recipes using lentils due to the ingredient's climate-friendly nature. One highlight of the menu? Summer Lentil Salad.

Reducing food waste

Another big focus of Earth Month efforts has been food waste.

Foodservice provider Compass Group is once again taking on food waste with its annual Stop Food Waste Day, being held this year on April 26. The annual event was launched in 2017 to raise awareness about food waste. The company celebrates in several ways, but most notably through in-person events in the company’s cafes.

Compass also creates a Stop Food Waste Day cookbook—this year, it featured recipes like Leftover Bread Casserole from Austria and Wonky Vegetable Enchiladas from Mexico. In addition, Stop Food Waste Day asks consumers to take a Stop Food Waste Pledge and share it via social media.

Morrison Healthcare, the healthcare division of Compass Group, uses Stop Food Waste Day to spark conversation among associates, according to Lisa Roberson, Morrison Healthcare’s national director of wellness and sustainability. She said Morrison uses a platform called Nudge to facilitate comments from associates on timely topics, and in April, the company sees its highest participation rates on the platform.

Associates are often excited to share creative ways they’ve reduced waste in their kitchens or recipes where they’ve used upcycled ingredients, she said.

food falling out of a trash can. Reducing food waste has been a major focus of Earth Month this year. / Photo: Shutterstock 

Pennsylvania State University went trayless for a week in April at one of its dining halls to help encourage students to take only what they can eat. The Penn State Student Sustainability Advisory Council has plans in the works to make the trayless initiative a more permanent part of service, according to the school's student newspaper.

Meanwhile, Lafayette College has been inviting students to participate in Leopard Leftovers, a new program that lets them pick up leftovers from catered events free of charge.

Boston University also has robust Earth Month programming through its Earth Day 365 platform, which runs from March 18 to April 27 with the aim to showcase the importance of sustainability year-round. This year, as part of the program, Boston University’s sustainability team is holding three waste audits, according to the university’s student newspaper. Team members sorted through trash at one of its dining facilities to track the amount of compostables and recyclables that were put into the wrong bins. The team hopes to use the audits to better support students with sorting waste.

In addition, the University of California at Merced hosted Food Waste Prevention Week, an annual event that spreads awareness about food waste. Event highlights included a pledge and a video contest with cash prizes. The pledge asked students, faculty and staff to submit three ways they plan to reduce food waste in their personal lives. Participants were also asked to share their own ideas for reducing food waste.



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