March is National Nutrition Month, and this year’s theme from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is “Fuel for the Future.” It highlights the importance of fueling bodies at every age and eating with sustainability in mind and the expertise of registered dietitians.
Sustainable eating involves selecting healthy foods for our bodies and the environment. Here are five simple ways you can eat more sustainably.
1. Cut back on plastic use
First things first, ditch the plastic bags at the grocery store. Instead, take reusable cloth or canvas bags to the grocery store for your items. Look for items in recycled packaging and avoid products in excessive packaging or packaging that can’t be recycled later (like styrofoam). Bring your reusable containers if the local grocery store also offers bulk bins that carry grains, nuts, seeds, coffee, and other items.
Check with your local trash and recycling department to see what items can be picked up from your home for recycling or dropped off at a recycling center.
2. Choose plant-based foods
Meat production has been shown to contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, affect water quality and require quite a bit of land that can’t be used for growing plants.
While meat is a staple in most American meals, choose plant-based foods such as:
- Starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, squash, eggplant and peas
- Whole grains such as oatmeal, buckwheat, quinoa, and rice
- Legumes such as chickpeas, beans, and lentils.
- Nuts and seeds
Nuts, legumes and even some vegetables like broccoli, asparagus, brussels sprouts, and artichokes can be a source of protein. In addition, a plant-based diet generally uses less land, water, fertilizer, and energy than a diet high in animal products. Think Mediterranean diet when looking for new plant-based recipes to try.
In addition to being better for the environment, plant-based diets reduce your cancer risk.
3. Grow your food
Growing a simple garden in your yard, balcony or even in a window box can not only be a money-saver for you, but it can benefit the environment. It will equal fewer pesticides, no plastic, and almost zero emissions because you won’t have to travel far (or at all) to pick something fresh from your garden. Depending on where you live and the season, you can grow what you like. Check out our vegetable planning guide to get started.
4. Buy local and in-season
By taking advantage of your local farmers market, you can not only support a local family, but you can help the environment. Farmers selling at markets minimize the amount of waste and pollution they create. Many use certified organic practices, reducing the number of synthetic pesticides and chemicals that pollute the soil and water. Seasonal produce also usually travels fewer distances, using less fuel and creating less pollution. You will also have the chance to talk to the grower, who might have some great tips on preparing the plants and other food you’ve picked up.
5. Plan your meals and reduce waste
Don’t you hate throwing out a bag of wilted lettuce or a banana that’s way too ripe? It’s a waste of money and a waste of food. Meal prepping is a great way to plan your meals, so you buy and cook only what you need for the week. There are a lot of apps to help you plan your meals, make your grocery list and even track nutrition.
Ways to reduce your food waste:
- Use leftover vegetables or protein to create a new dish, such as a stir fry, omelet, casserole or soup
- Turn stale bread into French toast or croutons
- Freeze leftovers before they spoil and enjoy them later
- Use every part of the vegetable, such as making “rice” or “fries” from cauliflower and broccoli stems
Ways to reduce kitchen waste:
- Limit the use of paper plates, napkins, cups and plasticware
- Store food in reusable containers instead of one-time-use plastic bags
- Use silicone baking mats instead of parchment paper or foil
While fresh fruits and vegetables are thought to have more nutritional value than their frozen counterparts, nutritionists say there are some benefits to keeping your freezer stocked with delicious and nutritious foods that are ready to use and won’t spoil on the counter. Here are some ways to get creative and reduce waste with frozen produce.
For more information on National Nutrition Month, visit eatright.org.