University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Preventing food waste with prep and service

In the preparation and service steps of your operations, several strategies can be used to prevent food waste.


  • Make sure kitchen staff are trained on proper food trimming and preparation methods. It’s important to maximize the amount of edible food that can be used. For example, melons should be cut as close to the rind as possible.
  • Use the right equipment for the job. For example, hold items that are meant to be crispy in a warmer with dry heat. Otherwise, the moist heat will make breading soft. Students may end up throwing out their food because they find it unappealing.
  • Whenever possible, prepare dishes in small batches to limit overproduction.


  • On the service line, consider trying Offer versus Serve in your elementary and middle school program (OVS is mandatory at the high school level). OVS cuts food waste by letting students choose what they want to eat. Students can decline 2 food components, but they do need to have at least ½ cup fruit or vegetable. Here is more information on OVS.
  • Another idea is to offer a salad bar. Whole fruits can be challenging for kids to eat, so offering them pre-cut on the salad bar can increase the amount they eat. To encourage use of the salad bar, other items can be included, like yogurt. Interested in starting a salad bar? Here’s a great resource from Salad Bars 2 Schools.