Let's be honest; we've all been there. You're running late to class, and that piece of pizza on your plate just doesn't look appetizing anymore. You shove it in the trash can and walk out of the dining hall, utterly oblivious to the impact of what you just did. 

I'm not here to chastise any of you in that position. College students are constantly under pressure: in classes, social circles, and extracurriculars. You might be thinking, "How do you expect us to have time to worry about food waste?"

Well, my friends, what if I told you there was a way to enjoy your food and be much less wasteful? To help you out, I've created a third environmentalist guide to simplify food waste reduction techniquesLet's get started!

The Low Down on Food Waste

Before we dive in, I want us to understand why food waste is harmful. It damages the planet, our health, and our well-being and wastes resources. By throwing that piece of pizza away, not only are you wasting the food itself, but you are wasting the labor, resources, and energy that went into producing it. So, while it may seem like nothing, it is a much more complex story than that. For a more in-depth explanation of why we should stop food waste, consider reading this article by WWF.

Next, we'll go over the places where you can work to reduce food waste and how you can do so.

#1: In the Dining Hall

Now, this might sound obvious, but only fill your plate with what you know you will finish. When we first move to college, we are greeted by a myriad of food choices: a salad bar, a dessert bar, and everything in between.

Initially, it can seem overwhelming, and you may be tempted to overload your plate with a little bit of everything so you can try it all. Unfortunately, not all food tastes as good as it looks. What I have learned from experience is to serve yourself small portions first, and if you enjoy the taste, you can always go back for seconds. 

One way to reduce food waste in this instance is by taking a lap around the dining hall before you start loading up your plate. Often, they may have things that cater to your tastebuds at other food stations. By exploring before you eat, you can choose foods you are more likely to finish and avoid wasting.

Additionally, you can kindly tell your server how much to serve you when it's your turn in line. There is no harm in saying you don't want something or that you want a little bit of it instead of a huge spoonful.

If a situation arises in which you overloaded your plate and can't finish it, try not to throw it all away. Share it with friends, or bring a takeout box so you can take it home with you. That pasta may come in handy for some late-night studying! 

#2: In Your Dorm 

We often waste food in our dorm because we forget about it. When we make grocery trips, we buy extra items; some are impulse or discount purchases, but we don't have any actual use for them.

In such situations, it is important to remind yourself what you have in your dorm. Putting a small dry-erase board on the fridge is a great way to ensure you remember what you have. Then, you can find recipes and creative ways to consume the food.

Also, try to avoid purchases that you know you won't consume. They may sound great at the grocery store, but be realistic with yourself. If you waste something repeatedly, add it to an "anti-grocery list," which you can keep on hand to ensure you avoid buying it on your next trip. 

Another way to make sure you clear out your fridge is the First In, First Out Rule. Label the foods with the date purchased, and try to prioritize consuming the older ones before opening anything new. This is an easy, simple way to avoid keeping foods for too long and letting them spoil in the back of the fridge. Keeping older foods at the front also reminds you to consume them faster. 

#3. In Your Kitchen 

Meal prep, meal prep, meal prep! For those of you lucky enough to have a kitchen, use it! Making food is a great way to avoid food waste because you can adjust recipes to your taste buds and always freeze or give away leftovers. Meal prepping is simple and only requires a little planning for your weekly meals.

Start by choosing what you want to make and only buying enough for that week. Make sure to check the discount section at the grocery store to see if anything is expiring soon. That way, you can save it from getting thrown away. Not only are you saving money, but you're also helping grocery stores manage their food waste.

My favorite day to meal prep is Sunday. Have a lazy morning, and start meal prepping in the afternoon to give yourself ample time to buy groceries and set up your workspace. Use good quality Tupperware containers to store meals for the week in the fridge and heat up accordingly!

Avoid meal-prepping salads and very perishable foods as they may spoil by the end of the week. For example, rice dishes, pasta, and stews are great meal prep dishes. Check out this guide to zero-waste meal-prepping ideas if you need more inspiration. 

#4: In Restaurants 

It is very easy to overorder food at a restaurant, but not impossible! Try asking your server for food recommendations based on your dietary needs. By trying something that is well-liked by restaurant staff, there is a higher chance you will enjoy it and, more importantly, that you will wipe your plate clean!

It also helps to understand the portions served at the restaurant either using pictures from the menu, pictures online, or by asking your server. That way, you can decide whether you want your own plate or whether you want to split your plate with someone else.

Don't feel like you have to order a ton of food. If you're not super hungry, start with small plates and ask your server to leave a menu with you. You can always order more later! Avoid filling your stomach with free bread, chips, and appetizers, and focus on the main course. If you're already full before the entrees come, you won't do justice to them! 

Another easy food waste fix is bringing a reusable Tupperware container when you dine! While most restaurants are happy to give you a takeout container, they are often made of single-use plastics, which are toxic to your health and the environment.

Additionally, takeout containers are not always microwave-safe, so you'll end up throwing them away in a few hours when reheating. If you end up with extra food at the end of your meal, pack it up in your reusable Tupperware, and pop it in the fridge for later. You can have it as a late-night snack or for an easy, hassle-free lunch the next day. That way, you stop food waste, reduce plastic usage, and save money by reusing the leftovers. 

I hope this article taught you a little more about how to combat food waste. The next time you eat a meal, try thinking about filling your plate with only what you can finish, or make sure to bring some friends with you. Together, I believe we can combat food waste for a more sustainable, waste-free world. 

Happy waste-free living!