Food waste in primary schools : Evidence from peri-urban Viet Nam

Nguyen, Trang; Berg, Marrit van den; Nguyen, Minh


Schools are a major source of food waste and an important setting for achieving dietary improvements. Few studies explore the links between food waste and nutrition. This study measured individual plate waste of about 1700 primary school children in peri-urban Viet Nam, adding to evidence on school food waste in low- and middle-income countries. We used survey data to explore whether food waste is associated with personal characteristics such as sex, knowledge and attitudes about nutritious foods. Qualitative interviews and focus groups with teachers, parents, food providers and children helped identify potential causes of food waste. The average student wasted 23% of the food served (approximately 85 g) during lunch, which roughly equates to 15.3 kg of food in a school year. Vegetables were wasted most: children left almost half of their portion unconsumed. Boys wasted less food than girls. Better knowledge and attitudes about fruits and vegetables are associated with less waste of these foods. A large portion was associated with a higher share of wasted food, suggesting the potential trade-off between efforts to cut food waste and efforts to increase consumption of nutritious foods. Students were dissatisfied with the quality of the dishes, especially vegetables were evaluated as undercooked, served too cold and too oily. To reduce food waste, it is critical for schools to prepare food in line with students’ preferences. Food waste reduction could be treated as an intermediate step towards ultimate policy goals such as healthier food consumption.