Save money, calories by eschewing trays at the cafeteria

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All-you--can-eat dining halls at colleges and universities are doing it, and consumers might as well too: Don't use trays when choosing your food.

By going trayless, diners take less food and therefore waste less, saving money and the environment, according to research by the National Association of College and University Food Services. Not having to clean trays also results in saving water and energy.

Schools saw a 25% to 30% drop in food waste per person when food trays were removed, the group called Aramark Higher Education found in a study last summer.

Granted, this is an issue more common at college campuses and dormitory dining halls than at food courts at the local mall or the typical long salad buffets at restaurants. But it's still a method that anyone can use to cut down on the food they take in the buffet line, and an easy way to cut calories and possibly how much the meal costs. While many are all-you-can-eat buffets at a fixed cost, some public cafeterias weigh items or charge per item. Using a plate, and not a tray, could mean one less muffin on the side or ice cream sundae spilling onto the tray. Take what you can fit on a plate and leave it at that.

Sodexo, which manages food service programs on more than 600 campuses, has already retired its trays at many of its campuses. Aramark estimates that half of its 500 campus partners will be trayless by spring 2009.

Maybe it's time for the salad buffets and others at restaurants to do the same.

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