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An average assisted living community produces about 286 pounds of food waste per day. Ethan Davidsohn, Senior Manager of Culinary Engagement at Incite Strategic Partners, says two kinds of food waste make up this excess.

“There is food waste generated by daily prep, called pre-consumer waste. And then there is post-consumer food waste. The dining team produces one during meal prep, while the other is caused by serving or preparing too much food,” he says.

Many senior living culinary teams are working to minimize food waste. However, adopting sustainable practices isn’t unique to senior living. It is a common goal throughout the food industry as society realizes the negative environmental and financial repercussions of food waste. 

Davidsohn points out a few tips to help dining teams reduce food waste, ultimately bettering the environment and their bottom line.

Get Visual

First, Davidsohn recommends a visual exercise as a great way to involve the entire dining team and increase buy-in. Teams can do this demonstration once or regularly to measure progress.

“One of the most impactful exercises I’ve ever done in a kitchen was collecting the food waste in a big clear bucket. It was displayed where the whole dining staff could see it. We had every cook dump their waste from production into the bucket, and every dishwasher dump the post-consumer waste into the bucket,” he explains. “Everyone on the dining team notices it and can tangibly see how much waste there actually is. It makes a big impact.”

While training your staff, the more visual examples you can give, the better. Think about making a graphic with percentages of kitchen waste that comes from:

  • Spoilage
  • Prep
  • Overproduction
  • Plates

If one category is larger than another, your team may want to focus their efforts there first and tackle the other waste sources afterward.

Have Open Conversations with Your Team

Talking about the environmental and financial impacts of food waste is another excellent way to motivate your team to make better decisions.

“When you explain how food waste impacts budgeting and wages, your employees will probably be more careful prepping food and plating meals,” Davidsohn says. “Also, ask them if they have any ideas on how to reduce food waste. Your staff should feel empowered to implement their ideas and try new strategies.” 

Davidsohn says it is also important to know your staff’s background and address habits they may have formed in previous food service roles. If your team has had experience in restaurants, chatting with them about the difference in portions can make all the difference.

“I spoke to a senior living community that had hired new team members who had previously worked in large chain restaurants. They went into senior living food service because they needed jobs during the pandemic. The new team members were used to putting eight ounces of protein on a plate and two huge scoops of mashed potatoes. That’s why conversations about proper portioning and using the right scoop size are so important,” he says.

Communicate with Clinical Staff

If you’re working to reduce post-consumer waste, dining managers may hear complaints from residents about smaller portion sizes. But, Davidsohn says to keep this feedback in perspective and explore a more personalized approach.

“These complaints may come from two or three residents. If most residents are satisfied with the portion sizes, you’re on the right track. Work with the clinical staff and dietitian to ensure the residents with larger appetites are getting enough to eat. So, a few complaints don’t necessarily mean you need to increase portion sizes for everyone you’re serving,” he says.

Reach Out to Your Purchasing Partner

At Incite Strategic Partners, our member success team helps you find solutions to dining challenges — such as food waste. Davidsohn encourages dining managers and team leads to reach out for support.

“Our member success team brings years of senior living and food service experience to the table. We can help you brainstorm ways to educate and motivate your staff, create sustainable meal plans, and stick to your dining budget,” he explains. “We commend dining teams who are trying to address food waste. I see that it’s not just coming from purely financial motivation, but teams are also motivated by a love for our planet and want to care for our environment, which is inspiring.”