8 Ways to Eat Better for Earth Day
By Amy Gray, Registered Dietitian and Coordinator for the YMCA's Healthy Weight and Your Child Program
Often we think of “eating right” as getting proper nutrition and avoiding junk food. But eating right also includes eating in ways that reduce food loss and waste. In celebration of Earth Day, April 22, we’re exploring ways you can cut back on food waste and manage food resources to save both nutrients and money.
According to the Center for Food Loss and Waste Solutions, food loss and waste happens at every point of the food supply chain. On farms, crops are left unharvested. At processing plants, labeling and branding issues occur, and during distribution, cans are dented and frozen food is inadvertently thawed. At grocery stores, fruit is pulled from shelves if it is misshapen or bruised, and at restaurants uneaten food is thrown away.
All this happens before food even reaches our homes, which is where the majority of loss and waste occurs. The average American throws away 300 pounds per year! This not only wastes money but vital nutrients, as well.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to reduce food waste for the environment, for your budget, and for your health.
First, stick to the list.
A lot of food goes to waste simply because we buy more than we need. To address this, shop more often and buy only what can be eaten or frozen within a few days.
Love your freezer.
When making a dish, double the recipe and store extras in the freezer. If meat is approaching its expiration date, hurry up and freeze it. If fruit starts to go bad or you’re not sure when you’ll eat it, put it in the freezer. (Remember that the texture of produce will change. It may “look” different, but it will still be ideal for a smoothie or frozen treat.)
Don’t hide it.
Place foods that spoil quickly in plain sight. For example, store fresh fruit in a bowl on the table, or place meats and cheeses at eye level in the fridge so you see them when you open the door.
Store produce properly and separately.
If stored together, some fruits such as apples cause other fruits to ripen sooner.
Learn your dates.
Foods from the grocery store typically feature dates. Knowing what they mean can prevent you from throwing away food that is still good.
- If stored properly, condiments with “Use by,” “Best by,” or “Best before” dates in are usually safe to eat beyond the date stamp.
- The term “Sell by” is typically found on perishable items such as meats and dairy products. These foods may be used a few days after the date, as long as they are stored properly.
- In regard to dates, it’s important to remember food safety protocols. Don’t risk eating anything that you suspect is spoiled. Eat leftovers within three to four days or freeze them for up to four months.
Be mindful of portion sizes.
Don’t let your eyes be bigger than your stomach! At stores, buy only what you plan to eat. At restaurants, order smaller sizes or share a meal with someone else. Ask for a to-go container at the start of a meal so you can save more and waste less.
Try some new old ways.
Learn how to can or dehydrate fresh foods to extend their shelf lives. Consider composting to both make the most out of food scraps and help your plants grow.
Become a “Chopped Champion.”
Get creative with leftovers! When you open up the fridge and see leftover grilled chicken, pasta sauce, and cooked vegetables, consider what kind of meal you can make. Also, be proactive. If chicken is your main entrée one night, make extra to shred for soups, salads or sandwiches the rest of the week. Have fun with it and get the family involved!
Food loss and waste happens everywhere, but on Earth Day – and every day – we can all do our part to save more and waste less. Learn more at Go Further with Food. And for more ways to make healthy eating part of your life, contact us. We’re here for you!
Amy Gray is a registered dietitian, coordinator for the YMCA’s Healthy Weight and Your Child program, and lifestyle coach for the Diabetes Prevention Program. An avid runner and “huge foodie,” Amy recently completed her dietetic internship through Utah State University, received her BS in nutrition and dietetics from Metro State University of Denver, and is currently working toward her Master’s degree in dietetic administration.