A smartphone app aimed at ensuring no applesauce, mashed potatoes, or carrots go to waste in cafeterias could make its debut in San Antonio schools this fall.
A pair of University of Texas at San Antonio alumni founded CafeEDU, an app available for Android and iOS devices, that allows students – and teachers – to choose from a daily menu and select which items they would like to eat.
The orders are then transmitted to the cafeteria, which not only receives a more precise head count of how many students are eating lunch that day but also has a better idea of how much to prepare of certain items. For example, if users order more pizza than burritos, cafeteria staff will make more pizza.
Over time, the data from these selections could help schools make better choices when it comes to procuring food, and instill in students a sense of importance on making wise dietary choices, said Matt Galvan, CafeEDU co-founder.
"Yes, our app is going to eliminate food waste in the preparation process in the cafeteria, but more so it’s a mindset we want to establish about food waste in general," Galvan said.
According to a 2013 study of the National School Lunch program, $1.2 billion of food is wasted every year in American schools.
Galvan and business partner Miles Lerch are in talks with the San Antonio, Northside, and Edgewood independent school districts as well as districts in the Dallas area, El Paso, and the Rio Grande Valley regarding using the app.
Galvan and Lerch will start this fall with a free trial run in the respective districts' high schools. The CafeEDU co-founders said they plan on demonstrating their technology in six-week pilot periods. If the districts want to move forward, they would then negotiate a contract with CafeEDU.
High school students should provide a good sample group as they are tech-savvy and more self-reliant than their younger peers, Lerch said. However, once CafeEDU secures contracts with districts, the technology would be rolled out from kindergarten to 12th grade.
To use the app, students will log in using their student ID. From there, the app's dashboard will appear. Tapping on the menu icon takes students to the daily items from which they can select. For lunch, students must select at least one protein, a vegetable or fruit, and milk or orange juice.
Lorie Campos, a parent at SAISD's Lamar Middle School, said her eyes were opened in September to how much food was going to waste as she began volunteering at the school to help serve breakfast.
"I saw unbelievable amounts of perfectly good food going into the trash," Campos said, adding that she observed about half of the food served going to waste.
In addition to the potential cost-cutting benefit of reducing food waste, she said the app would help parents and students become more informed about nutrition in schools.
Caloric value, protein content, and other nutritional details are provided in the app.
"We’re really trying to bring awareness for our students because if we can start this at a younger age, maybe as they grow older they’ll still pay attention to this, eat healthier, and live a healthier life," Lerch said.
Prior to coming up with the idea for CafeEDU, Lerch and Galvan started conceiving a food delivery service concept for colleges in their entrepreneurship class at UTSA. The two were close to agreements with a few universities until they began to look at the overhead costs for operating a delivery service. Food waste, in particular, was going to be a pain point.
One pivot led to another, and the young entrepreneurs arrived at a concept for reducing food waste in college cafeterias. But they decided to focus on K-12 schools where they felt the need was much greater.
Change won't happen overnight, but the CafeEDU c0-founders hope their app is the start of a shift toward a more responsible relationship between schools and food.
“The app is just trying to make that first step to make people aware of that," Galvan said, "and then impact change from there when it comes to food preparation, the food waste, and the nutritional content."