Lunch Pre-Ordering System

The daily food wastage of $9.7m in US schools led me to create a system that would decrease it by giving students enough time to eat lunch.

Photo of Vishakh Arora
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Date You Started Your Project Started


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan for the future)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

$1.7 billion worth of food is wasted in US schools annually. The Harvard School of Public Health found that lunch consumption reduces by 12% when eating time is reduced by 5 minutes. A University of Washington study found that shorter lunch periods account for 16.5% lunch waste. Furthermore, school cafeterias discard any leftovers. This food wastage can be diminished by automation saving up to $200 million annually and reducing carbon emissions.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

To increase eating time, my solution will focus on building a low-cost lunch pre-ordering system. The system will enable students to order their lunch ahead of time, allowing meals to be pre-packaged and resulting in a shorter serving time, increased revenue, and reduced food wastage. If this solution is able to reduce the serving time to 25 seconds from 34 seconds, students will receive their meals faster, leading to an eating time of approximately 20 minutes, which will meet the national recommendation. Additionally, the low cost of the solution will encourage adoption by the school district. Furthermore, given that the cafeteria only caters to 12% of the student population, 88% of students at DVHS do not purchase school lunch. If the system is able to increase student participation, higher revenues may provide extra income to provide for more nutritional food. The student adoption rate can be further increased by streamlining the human-system interaction. This could be accomplished by providing personalized lunch recommendations.

3. Using STEM as a force of good: Please specify how are you using STEM to solve for an environmental challenge you are passionate about.

The current ordering process is manual and takes time, leading to reduced eating time. Further, the school cafeteria prepares food based on past trends. Any remaining lunch items are discarded. While meal offerings change daily, the menu is determined a week ahead of time. Thus, students can pre-order school lunch for an entire week through an online platform. Due to its scalability, low cost, and customizability, a Google Form was used for this subsystem. A summary of the orders, generated and sent via email on a server, notifies lunch staff of the exact demand. Students receive an email the day before their fulfillment date with a barcode representing their meal. During lunch time, students simply scan their barcode on a low-cost computer (Raspberry Pi) via a CCD scanner and their order is displayed, streamlining the fulfillment process, reducing ordering time, and increasing eating time for students. To increase participation, machine learning algorithms suggest meals to students based on their past orders, enabling single-click ordering. Thus, technology helped automate the lunch ordering process, increasing eating time and reducing food wastage.

4. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

As I saw my peers struggle to eat their lunch before the bell rang and walked past trash cans filled to the brim with fruit cups and vegetables, I took the opportunity to investigate the source of the problem. After waiting for 10 minutes in line, I first hand experienced the wastefulness of the ordering process by having to repeat my order several times due to the amount of background noise only to wait for up to 1 minute to receive my meal. This led to me only having 10 minutes to eat, and eventually I too had to throw away a portion of my food. Thus, I wanted to use my background in STEM, and specifically computer science/electrical engineering, to create a hassle-free way for students to order lunch.

5. Video (Keep it simple, a video made on a hand-held phone is great): Please upload a 1-minute video to YouTube that answers the following “I am stepping up to be a Changemaker because...”

6. Please highlight the key activities you have carried out to bring your project to life.

I first gathered lunch ordering data in school and analyzed the ordering process. Based on the findings, I pitched an automated solution to my school administration in Mar 2018. Over 2 years I iterated several technical proposals to my school district administration to reduce serving time and food wastage. I finally got approvals from the School administration, the district Technical Director and Lunch Administrator. The pilot went live in Mar 2020. A 71% increase in participation is expected.

7. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

Existing products, such as PrimeroEdge’s ExpressPoint, have developed untethered POS systems that allow students to be served faster on-the-spot, however no solutions have been created that allow students to forego on-the-spot packaging in addition to pre-ordering meals. Furthermore, other solutions are sold to districts for thousands of dollars, as reported by my district’s child nutrition director, while my solution is sold at $200 per unit + an $8 monthly operating cost and thus is flexible based on the number of lunch serving windows per school.

8. Impact: In the last three months, please detail the impact your project has made?

In Feb 2020, the system received final approval from the district to implement the solution at my school. In Mar 2020, the pilot launched with 40 volunteers without pre-packaging due to logistics difficulties regarding meal storage. The pilot results show an 11% reduction in serving time and a 6.7% increase in eating time. If the district adds resources to enable pre-packaging, the projected reduction in serving time is 37% with an increase in eating time from 15 to 19 minutes, meeting the national recommendation.

9. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

In order to scale the project and make it more robust, I will implement it across my school district, and state. I hope to bring the pre-packaging feature to fruition by working with my district to increase storage space in the lunchroom. Additionally, to make the human-system interaction more fluid, I will create a machine learning model that will provide students with personalized recommendations to allow for one-click ordering. In order to ensure that students are less inclined to throw away their food, I will encourage and work with my district’s child nutrition director to create healthier and more appealing menu items that still meet national requirements.

10. Please share how you have influenced other young people to get involved in your project and/or care about environmental sustainability.

I enjoy learning & educating students on technology/entrepreneurship. To share my passions, I founded two clubs - Makerspace and LaunchX. In Makerspace, students learn the basics of electrical engineering & microcontrollers, and in LaunchX students study founding a startup from ideation to pricing. Through these 2 clubs I’ve introduced students to my project and am mentoring them on implementing technology solutions and founding startups to solve environment issues.

11. Please share ideas of how you can partner with other changemakers to make a difference?

The school food wastage across the nation can be tackled in multiple ways. I am looking for changemakers that can help me do that. Some ideas that I have are to introduce low-effort automated hydroponics in school gardens. This enables farm to school initiatives to provide fresh and nutritious produce at all times. Apart from this initiative, I’ve extensive background in applying technology to solve community problems. I would love to engage with others to solve global warming.

12. How would you engage others who have never heard about your project to get their buy-in?

With a high return on investment of 33%, low cost, and scalability of the system, schools and districts have an incentive to purchase the solution to increase their revenues in the long run by selling more meals per lunch period as well as decreasing their school’s impact on the environment. Additionally, the solution enables schools to meet social distancing requirements in the current pandemic challenged environment.

13. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Mentors/advisors
  • Donations between $100-$1k

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others
  • Email
  • Word of mouth

Evaluation results

6 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

Yes, absolutely! - 16.7%

Probably - 66.7%

Maybe - 16.7%

Probably not - 0%

No - 0%

2. CONNECTION to Environmental Sustainability

5 - Absolutely! It is totally clear that the solution is contributing directly to environmental sustainability and/or addressing climate change - 33.3%

4 — Yes, it establishes a connection to environment/ climate change but could be stronger - 33.3%

3 — Somewhat, the entry speaks to this environmental sustainability, but the direct impact is not well established - 33.3%

2 — Not really, the connection to environment/ climate is very weak - 0%

1 — No. The entry does not have a reference the solution’s impact on environment and/or climate change - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%

3. Is this entry CREATIVE?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 66.7%

4 - Yes, I think so - 16.7%

3 - Maybe - 16.7%

2 - Probably not. - 0%

1 - No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Does this entry demonstrate a COMMITMENT to changemaking?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 0%

4 - Yes, I think so - 100%

3 - Maybe - 50%

2 - Probably not - 0%

1 - No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Does this entry value CHANGEMAKING through collaboration with other stakeholders in its approach?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 16.7%

4 - Yes, I think so - 33.3%

3 - Maybe - 33.3%

2 - Probably not - 0%

1 - No - 0%

No Answer - 16.7%

6. Is this entry VIABLE financially and operationally?

5 -Yes, absolutely! - 25%

4- Yes, I think so - 50%

3- Maybe - 0%

2- Probably not - 25%

1- No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

7. FEEDBACK: What are the strengths of this project?

CONNECTION: You have a great understanding and personal connection to the problem - 100%

CREATIVITY: You have researched existing solutions, and have developed unique, thoughtful new solutions to aid environmental sustainability/combat climate change - 100%

COMMITMENT: You have a thoughtful plan for growing your business, and your founding team has a strong combination of leadership and knowledge-based skills - 100%

CHANGEMAKER QUALITY: You value thinking around how to activate other changemakers and empower them to care about your cause. You also have a clearly defined plan on how to collaborate across multiple stakeholders - 100%

IMPACT MEASUREMENT: You use specific numbers and evidence to describe what your project has achieved so far (or plan to achieve in the future) and you have a plan for measuring impact - 0%

VIABLITY: You have given a great deal of thought to not just the idea itself but how to make it work from a financial perspective in the present and future - 100%

Other option - 0%

8. FEEDBACK: What are some areas for improvement for this project?

CONNECTION: Why you care about the environment/ climate was unclear – It would be great to elaborate on what this solution means to you, personally and how it affects you and/or your community. - 0%

CREATIVITY: Be more specific in your description of the research you have done into the past solutions to this problem and focus on how your solution is unique and innovative - 50%

COMMITMENT: Your plan for growing the organization can benefit from more specifics. How can you round out the various skills of your current leadership team to make the project a long-term success? - 50%

CHANGEMAKER QUALITY: Try to provide more insights into how you are activating changemakers and empowering them to innovate through your product or programming. How will they care about environment/climate if they currently do not? Think about how to create value for all stakeholders, not just immediate beneficiaries - 0%

IMPACT MEASUREMENT: Provide specific instances of your social impact and how you plan to measure impact – it may be helpful to describe the beneficiaries, products and programming, and provide evidence of (or plan for) how to measure impact - 100%

VIABILITY: Make sure you have provided descriptive information about your financial sustainability plan. Where do the funds come from now and do you have a concrete plan for future sustainability? - 50%

Nothing – I thought everything was great! - 0%

Other option - 50%

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Attachments (2)

Lunch Preordering System 12_10.pdf

Presented this to my district and school administration to receive approval

Change Makers.docx

An overview of the implementation.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Jennifer Winget

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