Teacher ideas: the food we eat; the food we waste

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What you need

Writing materials, scrap paper, calculators, or access to a spreadsheet application

Teaching focus

As a take-home activity, students explore characteristics of the foods their families eat such as packaging, shelf life and storage. Have students recommend the best purchasing options.

What to do

As an introduction, review and discuss the implications of the research that indicates Australian households throw away about 20 per cent of foods that are spoilt or past their use-by date.

Discuss reasons why food is often wasted at home, at food stores or places where food is prepared and sold.

Discuss the dilemma of packaging. It contributes to waste, but is often essential to store the food and keep it safe for human consumption.

Prompt students to think about food and issues related to food wastage by asking questions such as:

  1. Why is food wastage a common issue?
  2. How do people dispose of food waste and packaging?
  3. What guidance is given to food storage and use?
  4. How often each week should we shop for food?

Their challenge is to identify the best strategy for their family to purchase healthy foods at the same time taking into account the need to reduce wastage and make the best environmental choices.

Many foods are packaged in different ways. For example, peas can be seasonally purchased fresh, packaged and preserved in cans, frozen and freeze-dried.

As a class exercise, ask students to describe what they regard as the benefits of each of the four ways of purchasing peas. What are the drawbacks? Which taste better? Which of the four ways of buying peas is least likely to result in the peas being thrown away because they are no longer suitable to eat?

As a class, make a list of at least 25 essential food items that families are likely to purchase. List the food item, but not the processing and packaging. For example, write 'peas' rather than 'frozen peas'. Do not include takeaway foods on the list.

Ask each student to select one or two food items from the list to research as a take-home task. Students are to research all aspects of the different kind of processing, packaging, storage, shelf life, packaging waste, food waste and relative cost of their food items.

Once students have completed their table, they can make recommendations outlining the costs and benefits of each method of packaging. Is there a 'best' way of purchasing their food item taking into account waste, health and convenience and home storage? This could be done as a class exercise, as a group presentation or as an individual report.

There are many food purchasing and food storage alternatives. Inform students there is no best practice for environmental and health purchasing and storage choice for a family. Students will need to compare choices and decisions.

Extension 1: developing and analysing information about food

Use the student research findings about their food items to contribute to a class spreadsheet. Ask students to consider which the fields to use and a relevant coding system within each field. Students may need guidance to set up a useable spreadsheet.

As an alternative, to create a class spreadsheet where the use of a spreadsheet is modelled. Students can then input their data from their food item table into the class spreadsheet.

Once the spreadsheet is completed, students can search through the information to find trends within the data. Encouraging students to develop researchable questions to frame their search is an important step in the research process.

Extension 2: using the AGC

Once students have completed the take-home and follow-up activities, they should have the background to fully explore the Waste and Food and shopping sections in the Australian Greenhouse Calculator.

These sections have been designed for a broad audience and are relevant to adult purchases, for example alcohol consumption. Explain to students that the 'you' in the questions refers to their families and that the best way to collect the information is to discuss the questions with their family.

Extension 3: food that gets recycled

Supermarkets, bakeries and restaurants throw out ingredients and food items on a daily basis. In recent years 'food rescue' programs and organisations have been set up to collect fresh edible food that would be going to landfill and turn it into meals for disadvantaged people.

  • Students investigate what happens in their own community to the food that their local food shops and restaurants throw out.
  • Students are to find out how the organisations operate and whether they rely on community volunteering.
  • Students research the question: What are the social and environmental benefits for a community that uses food recycling programs?


Student activity sheet: The food we eat; the food we waste (Word, 66 KB, pdf, 20 KB)