Real Or Plastic?

The question comes up from time to time on whether or not Fargo Public Schools Nutrition Services should use silverware or plastic utensils with their food service meals. So the department decided to run a trial study at one of the District’s schools.

By Cindy Hogenson, Fargo Public Schools Nutrition Services Director

Currently, all cafeterias within the Fargo Public Schools (FPS) provide plastic utensils with their food service. Periodically, the question comes up regarding the sustainability and cost of using plastic utensils in FPS cafeterias. The answer requires careful consideration of many aspects, and FPS Nutrition Services felt that now was the appropriate time to look more closely at the issue.

On February 1, Nutrition Services began a trial study of using “real” silverware (versus plastic utensils) in the Hawthorne Elementary School cafeteria with the school’s second graders.  While this pilot study was conducted with only one grade and for a limited time, discussions are underway to continue the study at Hawthorne and expand it to the entire school.

woman standing in front of storage bins, trays, and cartsThe trial study began by having Katie Panagis, a Concordia College Food Services Management dietetic intern who is completing a rotation with Fargo Public Schools, visit the Hawthorne second grade classrooms to discuss the lunch room change with the students. Katie explained the benefits of using silverware and got the students excited about the trial. Katie brought props to the classroom to prepare the students for the changes they would experience in the cafeteria.

Next, the lunchroom was stocked with real silverware in easy-to-reach containers, and second graders began to use the silverware during their lunch runs. The lunch trays LOOKED great with the shiny silverware!

The second grade students did a great job making sure the used silverware got into the correct bin as they cleared their lunch trays, so the silverware could be washed and utilized again.

The Hawthorne students had the following great things to say about using silverware versus plastic utensils with their noonday meals:

“They are really nice because you can renew them and not waste.”

“Now they won’t break when you eat.”

“I was wondering when we would get new silverware.”

“The food tastes better with silverware. I only tried my mashed potatoes, but I’m sure everything would.”

In addition to initial investment costs for utilizing silverware when serving meals (silverware, containers, dishwashing racks, storage bins, cost of replacements), the Nutrition Services department is also monitoring work flow, labor costs, and water and chemical usage as part of the trial, in comparison to plastic utensil costs.

This silverware trial study is a good faith effort at making an informed decision as to which is better – silverware versus plastic utensils – for the District as a whole, as well as the individual schools. I don’t know what the future holds for using silverware long term in the Fargo Public Schools, but I am grateful to have this opportunity to measure the impact of using silverware versus plastic utensils.

A special thank you goes out to Hawthorne Elementary Principal Rebecca Folden, the teachers, kitchen staff, and, of course, the students for the opportunity to run this trial at their school.


All photos provided by Cindy Hogenson.