Offer vs. Serve (OVS) is the provision added to NSLP and SBP with the primary goal of decreasing food waste in school cafeterias. OVS allows students to decline certain food options they would not eat anyways and in turn, reduce food waste. During lunchtime, schools under OVS are required to provide students all 5 of the necessary food components. The components are as follows: meat/meat alternative, grains, fruit, vegetables, and milk. A student must take at least 3 of the 5 components for their meal to reach the reimbursable status. 1 of the 3 minimum components selected must be at least ½ cup of either fruit or vegetable.
After the USDA mandate requiring students to take a fruit or vegetable, research shows food waste in some school cafeterias increased. It’s truly a shame for our children’s food to end up in the trash for many reasons. An estimated 15% of the U.S. population (that’s over 42 million people in America alone) are food insecure. The USDA defines food insecurity as, “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods”.
Furthermore, the chain of operations required to get food on the student’s plate is quite complex. Wasted food leads to wasted money in your school nutrition operation- and we are all aware how extremely tight budgets are in schools. The process all starts with Menu Planners creating recipes and assigning menus to the menu calendar. That leads to the production orders, delivery, and of course the meal preparation by school nutrition staff. That’s a lot of work and labor hours all for nothing. What can we do? Well, there’s great news! Recent research helped determine best practices to follow regarding offer vs. serve and reducing food waste. Better yet, these tips are easy and low cost!
Let’s start by reviewing a handful of issues which can lead to food waste: