5 Ways To Reduce Your Dining Hall Waste

In the past year, Northwestern Dining has composted over 245.25 tons of waste. This waste is down over 32 tons from 2014, but is a bittersweet number.

Though composting is more beneficial than food waste ending up in landfills, having less total food waste is an even more preferable solution. Campus Kitchens at Northwestern University uses leftover dining hall food to assemble meals for those in need, a solution to decreasing food waste that has more impact than composting. Beyond that, cutting down on after meal waste can save water and energy in the long run by giving an accurate picture of the most efficient servings of food to produce.  

That’s why Northwestern Dining is relaunching Weigh the Waste- a program to help students understand how much they are throwing away during a standard lunch period. Before it’s time to take the numbers, we wanted to give you a few tips on how to reduce your waste in the dining hall.

  1. Take a taste, and come back later for more!     

If there’s a dish in the dining hall that you’re not sure you’ll like, take a small portion size to give it a taste. If it’s just what you wanted- you can always head back for a second serving! And if it’s not quite your favorite, you have less waste to spare.

  1. Ask for smaller portion sizes.

Northwestern Chefs are happy to accommodate your needs. If you want only half a sandwich, or smaller portions on a pre-made plate, let them know! Or even in self-serve situations, don’t be afraid to only take half of a bagel, or a thinner slice of pie. It’s better that you don’t end up wasting the extra food you didn’t want in the first place.

  1. BYOM! (Bring your own mug!)

Our disposable coffee cups in the dining halls are compostable, but no need to take one if you don’t need it! You’re welcome to bring your own mug to fill up with coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. You get to maintain your personal aesthetic and reduce waste at the same time!

4. Share with friends

If you see a tasty dessert but know you won’t be able to finish the whole thing, offer to share it with a friend. You’ll seem like a benevolent and selfless sweets-sharer, and save the treat from a wasteful end.  

  1. Check the menus ahead of time!

Northwestern Dining menus are online. Check to see if there’s a dining hall that has something you prefer, so that you’re less likely to waste food that isn’t your favorite.


By engaging in these practices you can help reduce post-meal waste and contribute to a more sustainable Northwestern. We’re doing our part too, by trying to remove all non compostable items from the dining hall. So don’t forget, if you do have some waste- send it back with your plate so Northwestern Dining can compost it!


Allison Yelvington

Northwestern Dining Sustainability Intern

Earth Week 2016!


This year marks the 47th anniversary of the world-wide event, Earth Day!

While Earth Day is a day to celebrate the wonderful resources our planet supplies to us, its creation was in fact spurred by a massive oil spill off of the coast of Santa Barbara, California, in 1969.

However, the creation of Earth Day was just the first of a whole stretch of environmental accomplishments in the 1970s: the creation of the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act, the Endangered Species Act and numerous other environmental laws, in addition to a greater global recognition of the importance of environmental sustainability.

This week, NU Dining is partnering with groups across campus to help Northwestern celebrate Earth Week and make a positive impact while doing so!

Want to celebrate Earth Week with NU Dining?

On Monday in Sargent, enjoy a lunch of “Real Food,” featuring ethical and sustainable ingredients. Also make sure to stop by the Real Food at NU to learn more about the Real Food movement at Northwestern and why it’s important!

Also, on Monday, become more aware about post-dining hall consumer food waste during our Weigh the Waste event in Allison.

On Tuesday, you can also pat yourself on your back for reducing food waste again with another Weigh the Waste event in Allison.

On Wednesday, stop by Plex and on Thursday, stop by Norris during lunch to show your commitment to the environment and be a part of the campus-wide iCommit photo campaign!

Finally, Friday, enjoy fresh produce from the Norris fresh market and an Earth Day-themed lunch in all dining halls.
Check out the calendar of events below and find more information about these events and others on the Office of Sustainability’s website ! Can’t wait to see you there!

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Happy Earth Week!

giphy (1)

Sustainability: Good for YOU and the planet

This March, National Nutrition Month, NU Dining is excited to help students maintain a healthy lifestyle in and outside of dining halls. We’re also excited to help students do so in an environmentally conscious manner!

Just as certain food practices can be harmful for one’s body, they can also be harmful for the planet. For example, the United States’ food production system uses about 50% of the total land area, 80% of the fresh water, and 17% of the fossil energy used in the country.1 The international livestock sector emits the equivalent of 14.5% of all human greenhouse-gas emissions.2 Furthermore, the amount of lost and wasted food each year is greater than half of the world’s annual cereal crops (over 2.5 billion tonnes), which wastes valuable natural resources.3

Luckily for us, we can be simultaneously better the health of ourselves and the planet. How can we do that? Here are a few places to begin…

1) Eat more fruits and vegetables

We all know that fruits and vegetables are good for us–they contain essential nutrients we need to live a healthy lifestyles! According to campus dietician Karen Sechowski, together, they should comprise ½ of our diet. While fruit and vegetable production can have harmful environmental implications, choosing organic eliminates the use of ecosystem-disrupting pesticides and choosing local greatly reduces the amount of emissions involved in transporting those crops. In our dining halls, try the local rainbow chard!

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2) Eat more whole grains

According to Sechowski, grains should make up another half of our diet, and ideally, a large portion of those should be whole grains! Whole grains are particularly important sources of fiber, B vitamins, minerals, and proteins (especially compared to products made from refined grains, like white bread, which can lack those nutrients and also contain sugar and high fructose corn syrup). Meanwhile, while one calorie from beef or milk requires 40 or 14 calories of fuel, one calorie from grains requires only 2.2. calories of fuel, making grains an environmentally conscious choice.1 Try our dining halls’ organic barley to increase your whole grain consumption!

3) Eat less meat

Livestock production causes great environmental impacts, with its intensive land-use and large amount of greenhouse emissions. Regardless, meat is a fundamental part of many of our diets, as it provides us with protein, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, and iron. However, there is also a correlation between unmindful meat consumption and adverse health effects. For example, numerous studies have identified processed meat as a carcinogen (a cancer-causing agent). Cutting down on meat consumption can also reduce one’s intake of saturated fat and cholesterol. Try choosing plant-based protein alternatives, like whole grains, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans, and peas. Our dining halls’ organic peanut butter is a great choice to get a good amount of healthy fat and vegan protein in place for your usual cold cuts a few days a week!


4) Eat mindfully

In addition to being mindful in choosing what you eat, approach each mealtime in a mindful manner: Take the time to eat when you’re hungry, savor your meal, and enjoy it with friends! That way, you will be paying attention to what your body most needs, in addition to eliminating food waste.

Ultimately, there’s no one nutritional regimen that will best support the health and preferences of each individual, but thinking about both yourself and the environment when choosing your meal can be a great way to embark on a more wholesome, enjoyable, and  environmentally and health-conscientious diet.

Happy National Nutrition Month!


  1. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/3/660S.full.pdf+html
  2. http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/resources/en/publications/tackling_climate_change/index.htm
  3. http://www.unep.org/wed/2013/quickfacts/
  4. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/news/news/world-health-organization-says-processed-meat-causes-cancer
  5. http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-a-livable-future/projects/meatless_monday/resources/meat_consumption.html


Dining Hall Waste Reduction: Are We Doing Enough?


While we’re pleased to announce the completion of our third Weigh the Waste event of the year, our progress in reducing dining hall food waste remains ambiguous.

Over the span of two lunch periods, 668 Sargent visitors produced 173 pounds of waste. (Curious as to what weighs 173 pounds?)

While on Wednesday, we saw a 0.02 pound reduction in average waste per person (compared to the events last quarter), on Thursday, the average waste per person increased by 0.08 pound.

That averages to 0.26 pound of waste per person, which is the same as the average waste per person last quarter.

As a Sustainability Intern, I view the insignificant change in dining hall waste this year as a call to what more intensive and frequent waste-reduction initiatives are needed.

We may have been slow to make progress so far, but with each event, more and more students become aware of what can be done! For example, over 2/3rds of students we surveyed had never been present at a Weigh the Waste event before; as we continue to spread awareness of how significant dining hall food waste is, I’m sure we can make progress towards reducing it!

Furthermore, I’m excited about the ideas and suggestions received from 90 diners surveyed during the event. Northwestern Dining highly values this student feedback, and in the upcoming months, we will be making strong efforts to make progress by…

  • Making sure the menu online is updated, accurate, and easy to access
  • Paying more attention to a specific diners’ desires, including smaller portions and ingredients of preference
  • Providing food samples
  • Reducing the waiting times (to encourage students to go back for more later)

While there’s still room for improvement, we are excited to see how awareness of dining hall food waste is clearly spreading across campus.

Let’s stay mindful of our food waste and aim to do better with the next Weigh the Waste event this quarter!

“Ready to cook our hearts out” | Team Grilled Chicken Pecs

Guess what?! Meal Madness Round 1 is today!

Team Grilled Chicken Pecs is competing tonight at Allison from 5-7pm. Here’s their bio:

(1) What are your majors?
Andre – Chemical Engineering
Yulun – Computer Science

(2) What interested you in cooking?
Both Yulun and I have loved to cook since we were little kids. I remember loving to wake up early to make my own crazy breakfast creations! For us, cooking is an art and a medium to express ourselves.

(3) What is your level of cooking experience?
We both consider ourselves intermediate/advanced cooks.

(4) What is your favorite food (to eat and/or to cook)?
We looove lamb and tender cuts of steak! I also love all types of seafood (salmon, sea bass, shrimp, lobster, scallions, octopus, mussels)….

(5) What is your cooking/food philosophy?
Modern plating and creative engineered takes on classics!

(6) How are you feeling about the competition?
Yulun and I are extremely excited about the competition and are ready to cook our hearts out!!

(7) Are you involved in any organizations on campus?
Andre – American Institute of Chemical Engineers, Hispanic Society of Professional Engineers
Yulun – Slivka Residential College, Hackathons

See you all tonight!

“Cook with joy” | Team Casual Cooks

We’re getting close to the big days! Today we introduce our third team in Meal Madness, Casual Cooks with Sam and Johnathan.

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(1) What are your majors?
Manufacturing and Design Engineering; Tuba Performance

(2) What interested you in cooking?
We both wanted to learn to cook our mothers’ recipes and make food that we can enjoy.

(3) What is your level of cooking experience?
We can make food that we enjoy. We’ve been independently cooking for about 3 years.

(4) What is your favorite food (to eat and/or to cook)?
Sam’s favorite food is steak, and Johnathan’s favorite is eggplant.

(5) What is your cooking/food philosophy?
“Cook with joy and eat with joy” – anonymous.

(6) How are you feeling about the competition?
Excited and nervous. Not sure what to expect.

(7) Are you involved in any organizations on campus?
Asian American InterVarsity (AAIV)


Come find Team Casual Cooks on Wednesday (1/20) @ Allison from 5 to 7pm!