We live on a big planet, and this planet is facing a big problem: climate change. Sometimes it's hard to feel like we as individuals can do much to fight it. Sometimes it feels like to actually have an environmental impact, we'd have to adjust our lifestyles in ways that are too drastic to realistically commit to.  

The truth is, every little thing we do to minimize our environmental impact on the planet helps a little bit. Together, these little things and little bits add up to a lot.  And especially when our government isn't fighting to stop climate change, it's all the more important that we as individuals do.

Not sure where to begin? Not sure which small actions will do the most good?  Here are some easy, simple, little dietary changes you can make that have a hugely positive environmental impact:

1. Replacing meat with vegetable proteins

beans, vegetable, pasture, legume, cereal
Jelani Moore

From the trees cleared out to provide grazing space for livestock to water the animals consume to the methane they produce, meat is one of the worst foods for the environment.  But you don't have to go vegetarian to minimize the damages from eating meat. According to the Environmental Working Group, if you ate one less burger each week for a year, that would be like taking your car off the road for 320 miles or line-drying your clothes instead of putting them in the dryer half the time. If everybody in the U.S. went without meet and cheese one day a week for a year, that would be like not driving 91 billion miles.  Vegetable proteins such as beans, nuts, and tofu can be just as filling and delicious (and are often cheaper) – try these recipes or these ones if you don't believe me.

#SpoonTip: If you absolutely can't go vegetarian for even a single meal, then keep in mind that all meats are not created equal – try lower-impact meat like fish and poultry instead of higher-impact meats like beef and pork.

2. Replacing out-of-season produce grown far away with local, in-season produce

pepper, pasture, vegetable
Chris Fethke

Fruits that are out of season, or that don't grow in your area regardless of season, need to be shipped in from far away – as far as 1,500 miles or even more. According to Rich Pirog of the C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems, conventionally produced food is responsible for five to seventeen times more CO2 production than local foods. Buying local can keep that excess CO2 out of the atmosphere – and because it's fresher, local food often tastes much better, too.

3. Replacing dairy milk with a non-dairy substitute

beer, coffee, milk
Lara Schwieger

Like the meat industry, the dairy industry has a huge environmental impact. According to Dr. L.E. Chase of the Animal Science Department at Cornell University, the dairy industry is responsible for 2% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States – and that's a lot. Dr. Chase also found that for every gallon of milk consumed, 17.6 pounds of CO2 are released into the atmosphere.

There's some debate over which dairy alternative is best for the environment, and it can vary from case to case – coconut milk may not be so great for the environment if you live thousands of miles from the nearest coconut tree. That said, pretty much any non-dairy substitute has less of an environmental impact than milk. Learn more about some of your options here.

4. Replacing disposable plastic water bottles with reusable ones

tea, coffee, water
Lauryn Lahr

In 2006, an estimated 17 million barrels of oil and 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide were used to produce all the disposable plastic water bottles consumed in America. It took 3 liters of water to produce every 1 liter of bottled water.

This is a lot of resources consumed no matter what, but the most frustrating thing is how totally avoidable it all is. Reusable water bottles eliminate all this waste and keep you from spending money every time you want something as basic as water. Plus, these days you can get super cute bottles, like these or these.

5. Replacing threatened and overfished seafood with non-endangered, sustainably acquired fish

mackerel, sardine, seafood, fish
Dea Uy

According to the World Wildlife Fund, 85% of fisheries in the world are at or past their biological limits. Not only does this threaten the species we fish and eat directly, but the loss of those species threatens all the other organisms in their ecosystems.  This chain reaction amplifies the damaging effects of overfishing.  That said, seafood can be great for both you and the planet – you just have to choose wisely which fish to eat.  Guides like this one from the Environmental Defense Fund can help.

6. Not buying more food than you can eat

Lexi Nickens

Food waste is a huge problem in the United States and the world at large, and that's a shame for several reasons, as this UN study shows. It's a shame because food that doesn't end up getting eaten adds 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere each year. It's a shame because the economic costs of this wasted food add up to an estimated $750 billion each year. It's a shame because hundreds of million people go hungry every day, yet a third of the food we produce gets wasted.  

While completely eliminating food waste isn't realistic, we still need to be conscious of what we can realistically consume. Whether you're considering the number of pizza slices you can eat in an evening or how many heads of lettuce you'll go through before they get soggy and wilted, it's important to try not to overestimate by too much. 

7. Composting leftovers instead of throwing them away

land cress, lettuce, herb, vegetable
Ellen Gibbs

This change doesn't actually require changing what you eat at all; rather, it's about changing how you deal with the food you don't eat. In 2014, Americans only composted 5.1% of the 38 million tons of food waste we produced – the rest went to landfills and incinerators. In fact, food makes up 21.6% of our solid discarded waste, more than any other single material we throw out. If you can't prevent all your food waste in the first place, then at least dispose of it responsibly by composting – not only will you be keeping waste out of landfills, but you'll actively be helping to create healthier soils.

Not sure where to begin with composting, especially as a college student? Check out this great article to get started.

So next time you find yourself craving a mango in February in New England, or you're tempted to order sushi made with tuna that's been unsustainably fished, remember that we have a responsibility to think about more than just our own tastes and our own health when it comes to making food choices. We have a responsibility to protect the planet that we and so many other species live on. Luckily, we can take care of our taste buds and our planet at the same time.  

For More Ways to Save the Planet, Check Out:

7 Food Products That May Be Killing The Environment

- How to Make an Environmental Difference After You Die

- Why the Paleo Diet is Actually Hurting the Environment