Decreasing Time Burden of Plate Waste Studies in School Cafeterias


Impact Statement: 
The Maricopa County Department of Public Health (MCDPH) SNAP-Ed (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program–Education) team used rapid-cycle PDSA to make the school lunch “plate waste” process more efficient and more accurate and updated it to cause the least disruption to the students and staff.

SNAP is part of the U.S. domestic hunger safety net and provides economic benefits to eligible low-income people and their families for food purchases. SNAP-Ed is the nutrition promotion and obesity prevention component of SNAP. In Maricopa County, the SNAP-Ed team provides nutrition and physical activity technical support and resources to school staff, teachers, and students and their parents at more than 200 schools. Among other services, the team can assist in lunchroom design ideas that promote healthier food purchases and consumption. A common tool used in this process is a plate waste study wherein the amount of food left on plates is captured and quantified to assess the actual consumption of different food offerings. In May 2017, MCDPH’s SNAP-Ed team conducted a quality improvement (QI) project to find the most time-effective way to complete a plate waste study while getting good data and not disrupting the school day. Key goals for the project included conducting the study in less than 15 minutes per lunch period while achieving an accuracy level of 5 on a 1–5 rating scale where 5 represented all plates being successfully captured. A qualitative assessment of disruption of the normal school routine was also considered as a balancing measure. After five PDSA cycles, an improved process achieved both goals: a 35% decrease in time (from 20 to 13 minutes) and a 40% increase in accuracy (from 3 to 5).

Organization that conducted the QI initiative: 

Henry, B. Public Health Quality Improvement Exchange. Decreasing Time Burden of Plate Waste Studies in School Cafeterias. Fri, 08/31/2018 - 22:10. Available at Accessed July 25, 2024.

Submission Status: 
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