Clean-Lunchbox Club

February 22, 1989 1 min read

Four months ago, students at Randall Elementary School in Waukesha, Wis., were apt to throw away uneaten apples, oranges, and sandwiches in their rush to get from lunch to recess.

But since December, they have been cleaning out their lunch boxes--or taking the leftovers home.

The impetus for the behavior change was a new school rule that forbids tossing perfectly good food into cafeteria garbage cans.

George Ruecktenwald, the school’s principal, says that the policy was designed not only to put an end to waste, but also to help students put into practice the lessons that they are being taught in nutrition classes.

Parents, too, are reaping benefits from the new rule, the principal explained. Since students at Randall bring their own home-packed lunches, the necessity of eating all that is set before them has made many give more serious thought to the contents of their lunch boxes. Some children are now asking their parents to provide them with a less bountiful lunch.

Devising an effective strategy for enforcing the no-waste rule was a problem, Mr. Ruecktenwald admits. And students complained, in the first few weeks, that the extra attention to food consumption was eating into their playground time.

But now, the principal says, “we have it refined to where students who can’t finish their food take the leftovers home.” Meanwhile, cafeteria monitors keep a watchful eye out to see that no food finds its way into trash cans.

Of course, Mr. Ruecktenwald concedes, it’s impossible to monitor each child’s lunch consumption. “Those looking for loopholes can easily find them,” he says. “We’re not searching students to make sure they aren’t hiding a pear, nor do we go through the garbage to check for wasted food.”

But those who clean their plates--legitimately--can expect a reward. They are eligible to buy, for 25 cents, an ice-cream sandwich dispensed by the principal, who strolls the cafeteria each day, ice cream in hand, asking his charges if they’ve finished their lunch.--jw

A version of this article appeared in the February 22, 1989 edition of Education Week as Clean-Lunchbox Club