Schools in England throw away 80,000 tonnes of food each year, a new study has found.
Cooking meals to order, creating a calm and peaceful eating area, giving pupils more time to eat and even offering kitchen tours could all help counter this waste, WRAP (the Waste and Resources Action Programme) has said.
WRAP came up with these suggestions after its study found that food was wasted not just because pupils didn't like it, but for a variety of reasons.
These included kitchens over-catering to ensure all pupils had options, inflexible portion sizes, rushed meal times and even pupils being unable to cut up food with the cutlery provided.
Researchers analysed bin contents and discovered that fruit and vegetables were the least popular types of food, whereas the item least likely to be thrown away was dessert.
Three trials were run in schools. In one, pupils were asked to choose their lunch at morning registration. Their choices were recorded and passed on to kitchen staff by 9.30am, and pupils were given a coloured wrist band identifying their choice to avoid confusion at lunchtime.
Seventy-one per cent of respondents found that this process reduced waste.
In the second trial the dining experience was improved, and a third focused on activities that encouraged children to try rather than reject unfamiliar foods through watching them being prepared and holding 'taster' sessions.
All interventions helped raise awareness of the issue of food waste, but the cooking-to-order intervention was most successful possibly because the other two ideas needed more time to plan.
Judy Hargadon, chief executive of the School Food Trust, said: "Even small-scale experiments we've carried out in schools suggest that the dining environment is particularly important for food waste in that area - with the average child throwing away far less food when simple changes were made."