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Green Canteens: How Teen Eating Habits Impact the Environment (2024)

Today we have a large selection of food readily available to us, which is a positive moment of globalization, but there is also a negative one. Our eating habits have changed. Due to lack of time, we are increasingly choosing fast food.

That particularly affects the nutrition of our children at school. School canteens are not always healthy. Unhealthy snacks, cookies, sweets, fast food, and sugary drinks, which are so loved by children, cause a lot of problems with their health in the future. Teenagers have an increased risk of being overweight, having a stroke, or developing obesity, diabetes, and cancer in the future.

School cafeterias and the food they serve can also negatively impact the environment in various ways.

And, of course, something needs to be done about that – we need to take care of the health of future generations and change the eating habits of our children, as well as the nutrition system in school canteens to protect the environment as well. 

We need green canteens!

Let’s take a look at why:

How Does the Food in School Canteens Harm the Environment?

Eating trends have a very important role in keeping the environment healthy. The thing here, of course, is not just about schools. The food sector as a whole is a major player when it comes to environmental problems

But we want to focus on dining in schools. Harmful cooking methods deplete natural resources, lead to the loss of biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as cause problems with drinking water. Food impacts the environment more than we can imagine.

Take a look at this video by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to learn more:


Also, a huge problem is the amount of waste and food waste in school canteens. Plastic food packaging and leftovers pollute the environment. 

Reusable dishes and lunch boxes from home will also help reduce the use of plastic, as will schools cutting back on individually wrapped, ‘single-serving’ items.

And a transition to a healthier diet at school doesn’t always make the problem smaller – when fruits, vegetables, and juices are uneaten and thrown away, and the food waste causes major climate impacts. 

Now that we have a general understanding of how school canteens impact the environment and the health of our children, let’s talk about how we got here and how to change the situation for the better by switching to green canteens:

Why Have Teenagers’ Eating Habits Changed?

Over the last few decades, food and the home environment have changed quite a bit. Dependence on food consumed outside the home and food prices have increased. Advertising and marketing have also done a lot to promote certain (usually unhealthy) products.

In addition, there are more and more families with both parents working, and a lack of time for cooking daily meals. There are a lot of ‘heat and eat’ and ready-made meals available, which are super convenient and often inexpensive.

However, they’re not the best in terms of nutrition, and they’re certainly not the best for the environment – think of all that packaging alone!

Green Canteens vs Plastic wrapped TV dinners: Image of a microwave meal in plastic with a hand removing the cellophane sheet off the top

Portion sizes have also increased over the past two decades, as has the availability of added sugar and fat per capita.

With puberty, children’s eating habits change. In adolescence, their bodies experience a significant growth jump. Therefore, they often feel hungrier and start eating more. Extra calories give them extra energy and nutrients to support this growth and development.

As teens grow and become more independent, changing their diet is one of the first decisions that they make on their own. 

Unfortunately, not many will consciously choose healthy food. Adolescents usually do not care about the recommended daily amount of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and they often choose processed foods that are high in sodium and saturated fat and beverages high in sugar.

If a teenager suddenly gets unsweetened fruit juice, a banana, and salad in the canteen, instead of the usual french fries and Coca-Cola, it usually goes straight to the trash!

Take a look at this video by ABC News to see how some students reacted to new healthy food programs:


Teens may begin to change their eating habits from experiments or under the influence of friends and media personalities. However, adolescents usually want to be part of a certain social group, and often, in order not to stand out, they will eat what the majority eats.

What is the Problem with School Meals?

Back in 1993, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that school lunches in most cases exceeded national guidelines for fats, saturated fats, and cholesterol. Similar observations were made a few years later in the nutrition program proposed in the National School Lunch Program and the National School Breakfast Program.

In recent years, with the increase in obesity and overweight in teens, the debate over the quality of school canteen menus has resumed. In many schools, lunches contained 38% energy from fats and 15% from saturated fats, as well as half the sodium content.

Schools also differ in their methods of delivering food to children. Some have only cafeterias that provide National School Lunch Program (NSLP) meals, while other schools offer à la carte food and convenience stores for students. You can find more information and well-researched health promotion paper samples. You will be surprised by how well researched and interesting the topic is.

Another big problem is the packaging of school lunches. Many products are served in individual packages per serving, and the amount of such plastic per student is increasing every year. This can be convenient for transportation and distribution, but it is a serious problem for the environment.

School lunch tray with leftover food, empty plastic water bottle, empty plastic condiment containers and plastic utensils

Not all school canteens sort garbage and hand over plastic for recycling, and even those that do are only able to recycle a very small percentage of the plastic they’re discarding. Most of this waste goes to one common landfill.

The problem can be solved by reusable dishes in the dining room or that students can bring from home. As well as sorting garbage in schools and teaching children and parents how to properly handle the waste. 

However, these initiatives need to come from the schools themselves and will involve the school adopting a green canteen approach. 

Risks of Unhealthy Eating Habits in Teenagers

When students order a la carte meals, they usually eat more than one product. And quite often, this leads to more fat consumption than in the dining room or lunch brought from home, and often to fat consumption that exceeds the recommendations.

Another problem is that healthier options, such as fruit, are often more expensive, so when children are buying their meals, they opt for cheaper junk food options. 

So one way to improve the diet of teenagers would be to provide additional choices of healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, in student stores at a reduced cost. Or the complete abolition of these stores, in favor of only healthier options being provided and the children having no option but to take them. 

When students have only a school cafeteria, where they are offered fruits, juices, and vegetables, their consumption is at a satisfactory level. When the school still has a snack bar where you can buy high fat and sugar snacks and desserts, the consumption of healthy fruit and vegetables decreases.

Another factor is the price. When the prices of low-fat or healthy foods go down, They start buying them more often. That said, this is not the only reason for high rates of obesity among adolescents. Low physical activity and a lot of time watching TV or phone time are also important.

Why Do We Weed Green Canteens? Why it’s Important to Encourage Healthy, Eco-friendly Eating Habits

Of course, this will save teens’ health and the environment. But not only. Healthy eating from green school canteens and at home has a number of other benefits, which will impact teenagers particularly. A healthier diet:

  • Reduces the likelihood of becoming overweight 
  • Improves skin condition and reduces breakouts and acne
  • Improves focus, attention and keeps blood sugar levels steady for longer
  • Higher energy and performance in sports.No matter what kind of physical activity a student likes to do, proper nutrition will give the energy and strength for physical activity.
  • Improved immunity 

Perhaps most importantly, establishing healthier patterns in adolescents will help them develop useful habits for adult life. Once they start living on their own, they are more likely to make smart choices when it comes to buying food and considering the impact on the environment too. 

Green Canteens: How to Encourage Healthy Eating Habits in Teenagers

Schools can adopt green canteens to protect the environment, and help teens develop good eating habits:

  • Develop a general school nutrition policy that is balanced and contains all the necessary elements and the modern variety of food.
  • Involve students and their parents in guiding the school’s food policy, empowering them to make changes and maintain healthy eating.
  • Offer affordable, healthy food in school cafeterias and campus shops.
  • Assess and change nutrition in the school canteen vending machines.
  • Provide parents with information about proper nutrition and an active lifestyle.
  • Start growing your own school vegetable garden.
  • Offer students snacks with fruits and vegetables.
  • Create a pleasant environment for eating, which encourages positive social interaction.
  • Develop recycling initiatives and encourage students to take an active role in them.
  • Actively prevent food waste by donating excess food to local food banks. 
  • Develop composting programs on school grounds to take care of unavoidable food waste without sending food to landfill
  • Use less meat, especially beef, in school meals. 
  • Choose local suppliers 
  • Lead by example

Teachers are in an ideal position to set a positive example for students and parents to follow. However, you need to be careful here because any difference between your words and your actions is quickly noticed. Therefore, students can quickly become disillusioned with you. They learn by observing and copying the behavior of others, so make sure you’re ‘walking the talk’.

A teacher who eats properly and exercises regularly can have a good effect on the health of students, others, and most importantly, on their own.

How specifically can a teacher set an example:

  • Have a healthy lunch and take the time to eat it.
  • Maintain physical activity during and after school.
  • Explain to students their interests in physical activity.
  • Talk to students about how human actions impact the environment. 
  • Encourage environmental responsibility and awareness in the classroom. 
  • Provide factual information to help students make their own decisions about eating in ways that are less harmful to the planet 

Adolescence is a vulnerable stage in which students’ eating habits are formed. If they are bad, it can lead to the development of eating disorders, obesity, and diet-related diseases in the coming years.

These formative years are the best time to lay down healthy habits and build a strong foundation for better future habits. Human health is closely linked to environmental health, and this is the perfect setting in which to demonstrate that – along with the individual’s ability and responsibility to take care of both. 

Final Thoughts on Green Canteens

The best way to get rid of bad eating habits is to eat healthy foods that contain all the necessary nutrients and not skip meals. These small steps will help teens get the balanced diet needed for proper development, strengthen healthy eating habits, and are necessary in order to become healthy adults.

The best way to lessen the impact of school meals on the environment is to adopt a green canteen approach and choose to do things in ways that maximize the health of students while minimizing the damage done to the environment. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How to reduce the harmful effects on the environment from school lunches?

Less beef in school canteens. It is the production of this meat that accounts for the largest amount of carbon emissions. You can also give preference to organically grown products and monitor the number of yields. Organic products are also harmful to the environment. Decomposing, they emit methane, which is a greenhouse gas. Check out the full guide to learn more.

How to make school meals healthier?

Schools need to introduce more healthy menu items, such as fruits, vegetables, or juices. Make the school canteen menu more diverse. You also need to work with teachers and parents, talk about the benefits of healthy eating and encourage them to switch to it. Check out the full guide to learn more about healthy school lunches.

How to reduce the amount of plastic waste in school canteens?

First, you can use more reusable dishes. For example, students may bring special lunch boxes from home. You can also reduce the number of individual packages in favor of more general. Distribute those portions to children in reusable dishes. Also, schools can sort waste and dispose of plastic for recycling. Read the full guide for more.


Forbes: Back-To-School Includes Free Lunch For Everyone This Year

K12Drive: Report: U.S. School Food Waste Nears 530K tons Annually

Let’s Talk Science: The Environmental Impact of Wasted Food

Livestrong: The Effects of Children Eating Unhealthy School Lunches

The Conversation: Why are School Lunches Still so Unhealthy?

USDA: National School Lunch Program

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