Every year up to 40% of food grown or produced in the U.S. is never eaten. This is an alarming statistic, given the fact that there are areas of this country that face regular food insecurity. By reducing food waste and purchasing food that is sustainably produced we can all take part in improving the health of our planet.

But “Going Green” can seem like an epic task that is not achievable for everyone, however making small changes in how we shop and prepare our food can have a substantial impact on the environment. The tips below will help you reduce waste, limit carbon emissions and even save you money.

Plan Ahead

How often do you buy food out of habit at the grocery store and then realize you are not going to be home to cook or eat it?

Making a shopping list based on the number of meals you plan to eat at home will greatly reduce the amount of never touched food that ends up in the garbage. Before you go to the store do a physical inventory of what is in your kitchen so you do not buy items you already have. Think about how you can utilize leftovers to create a new meal rather than starting from scratch.

Only Cook What You Are Going to Eat

Meal prepping ideas and freezer crock pot ideas fill my social media feeds daily; and while this is great for staying on track with your diet if you don’t eat everything you prep you create more food waste. If you are going to get most of your cooking done over the weekend to feed yourself for the week take the time to plan out each meal and only prep what you know you can eat.

Make the freezer your friend buy pre-portioning cuts of meat and then freezing them. If you live alone or are only cooking for two people you can still save money buying in bulk but reduce waste by not cooking in bulk. Try to keep your freezer organized by labeling your frozen food and putting like items together. If you create a black hole of miscellaneous meat you are more likely to just throw your food away after a year then taking it out an use it. Once food is cooked it will only stay good for a few days; food like produce lasts much longer raw so don’t cook it until you are ready to eat it.

Think About What You Are Eating

What you eat not only impacts your health but can greatly impact the health of the planet. When we think of pollution pictures of automobiles and factory smokestacks often come to mind; however the infrastructure and resources used to produce our food supply is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. 

Beef production requires some of the largest use of resources and produces the largest amount of greenhouse gases (think manure) of any food we eat. Depending on how far the meat has to travel to reach the table emissions can be 10-40 times more than the emissions created to get common vegetables and grains to the table. Eating a plant-forward diet where grains and vegetables are the star of the plate and the meat is an accessory is not only good for your health but greatly reduces our carbon foot-print. Try swapping a dish like braised beef for braised root vegetable with a beef and tomato sauce. A traditional 6-ounce portion of beef can easily be reduced to 2 or 3 ounces.

Need a Plant-Forward Recipe? Try this Pan Seared Turmeric & Ginger Cauliflower with Orange.

Buy Local

Purchasing local food items guarantees that you are eating the freshest, most nutrient rich food possible. The definition of “local” varies greatly depending on who you ask but can typically range from within 100-400 miles of where you live.

Standard produce can travel up to 1500 miles from the farm to your table and often stops at various distribution points along the way, reducing quality and using a tremendous amount of fuel.  While local does not mean you are getting organic, small farms that sell their items locally often use less pesticides and better growing practices then large commercial farms. Farmer’s markets are a great way to find local produce and other foods. Taking part in a local CSA (community supported agriculture) allows you to pre-buy shares of food from local farms, giving to access to food that is not always sold to the public.

Make sustainability a part of your culture.

Ask your employer what they are doing to go green, encourage you schools to provide education on sustainability, include your family in your efforts to reduce waste. Every effort no matter how small will improve the health of our planet.