The chef taking trash out of school lunch

School staff, like the rest of us, are having to adapt to COVID. Many schools are switching up where students eat. To minimize the risk of airborne transmission, some schools are opting for lunch outdoors and/or in classrooms rather than the cafeteria. But bringing lunch to students instead of students coming to lunch can blow up single-use waste. 

Chef Mikael Andersson is the chef at Lincoln Academy in Newcastle, Maine. You might call him a Solutioneer: “I’ve always said, don’t focus on the problems, but focus on the possibilities that problems create.” 

Since 2016, Chef Andersson has taken many steps to reduce waste in the school’s dining program. Pre-COVID, students dining in at the cafeteria were served on reusable plates. He’s moved away from single-use plastic whenever and wherever possible.

Over the summer, when he began delivering lunches to students across the community, he opted for durable  plastic containers that could be used more than one time. Now that school has reopened, he is seeing those same durable containers reused by students bringing lunch to school from home. Other students and their families have shared stories of reusing the summer lunch containers to freeze food and give out cookies throughout the community.

As the summer wore on, Chef Andersson knew life would not be returning to normal in the fall when school re-opened. He dreaded the thought of having to deliver students’ lunches at the school in single-use containers. Inspired by his childhood memories of his father using bento boxes to pack up leftover dinners to bring to work, he began researching sturdy, reusable containers that could replace single-use containers. Opting for a product that he could engrave with the school logo and realize a break-even point by Christmas, Chef Andersson purchased tiffins from a company in Walnut, California. Tiffins are stackable stainless steel lunch boxes which originated in India. 

The reusable tiffins are indeed creating new possibilities for Chef Andersson. They are saving the school money and preventing waste from the landfills. Chef Andersson sees himself as a steward of the taxpayers’ dollars, so this is a win-win-win for the school, his community and the environment. As a bonus, he’s serving lunches to students in clean, toxic-free containers with a little school spirit to boot. 

It turns out, his decision to move to reusable tiffins is a huge teachable moment for the community. Students are now experiencing a new normal to go along with the pandemic’s new - albeit temporary - normal. Often the upstream solutions and possibilities are right in front of us and in my case, right in my community.