It’s the perfect time of year — as we prepare to reveal those New Year’s resolutions — to put Mother Nature back into our thoughts and actions. And one of the most important ways you can flex your green muscle is by making a few simple changes in your diet in the 12 months ahead. Use these eat-eco ideas to boost the planet’s health, while staying well-fed.
1. Embrace Meatless Monday
According to a United Nations report, raising livestock and bringing meat to market generates a significant amount of greenhouse gases. “Choosing healthy meatless options, such as lentils, beans or tofu, more often provides high-quality protein with fewer environmental pitfalls of animal-based proteins,” says Chris Vogliano, M.S., R.D.N. Studies show this eating style can also slash disease risk and help with weight loss. “It’s an easy win to go meatless, even if it’s just one day a week,” notes Vogliano.
2. Find a great catch
You shouldn’t be eating overfished Bluefin tuna or polluting Asian-farmed shrimp, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of greener choices in the sea that help you net heart-healthy omega-3 fats. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch (www.seafoodwatch.org) lists a boatload of sustainable swimmers, like rainbow trout and wild salmon.
3. Change your boiling point
A plug-in electric kettle is about twice as efficient as boiling water in a pot or kettle on the stovetop. With a plug-in kettle, the heat is in direct contact with the water for fast boiling. In addition to tea, use it to jumpstart your water when making pasta, soup, grains and even steamed vegetables.
4. Invest in green gadgets
To trim your energy usage, try outfitting your kitchen with a pressure cooker, which cooks items like dried beans and whole grains much faster than on a stovetop. Also consider using a rice cooker. “It’s quick, efficient, and makes an enormous amount of rice at once with less energy usage,” says Vogliano. A toaster oven takes less time to come to temperature than a full-blown oven, and loses less of its heat in the cooking process. So use it when you’re cooking just a few chicken breasts, fish fillets or baked potatoes.
5. Turn on the faucet
Americans sip from millions of plastic water bottles daily, which require vast quantities of oil, and, ironically, water to produce, transport and dispose of. Instead, stay hydrated from what pours out of your tap and outfit your kitchen with a good quality filter, like Zerowater, if you’re concerned about water quality. Bring it along with you in a stainless steel or glass bottle.
6. Downsize snack time
Americans are snacking more than ever. And from crunchy kale chips to nut butter packets to jerky trail mix, there is no shortage of new packaged snack foods on the market. Therein lies the problem: Packaging, much of which isn’t recyclable, ends up clogging landfills. “The trend towards single serve items is an environmental red flag,” Vogliano cautions. He suggests quelling hunger and putting less strain on the environment with package-free nibbles, like whole fruit.
7. Be a subzero hero
In the spring markets from coast to coast will be bursting at the seams with delicious gifts from Mother Nature. So when asparagus and strawberries grown close to home are readily available at budget-friendly prices, consider freezing the bounty for future use. That way, Vogliano says you’ll do your part to lessen the environmental damage and food waste caused by transporting out-of-season foods great distances from farm to dinner table.
8. Choose fairly
Foods like bananas, chocolate, tea and coffee certified Fair Trade are grown by farmers who were better compensated for practicing more sustainable agricultural methods. This includes shunning dangerous pesticides and slash-and-burn land clearing that decimate forests and wildlife habitat.
9. Be number one
When it comes to your diet, strive to eat one-ingredient foods more often. Unadulterated whole foods use up less energy to produce and are often more nutritious than their more processed counterparts. So, think brown rice instead of rice cakes, potatoes instead of potato chips, and whole oranges instead of bottled orange juice.
Toting your own tote to the grocery store is a great start, but when visiting bulk bins, the cheese counter at your local market, and even some salad bars think about bringing your own reusable container. This little bit of environmental do-goodery can help stamp out the blight that is plastic waste.
11. Host some compost
Composting scraps, like egg shells and banana peels, diverts food waste from landfills, which Vogliano says is a way to reduce climate-warming methane production. No municipal compost program? There are heaps of composting options for all kinds of indoor and outdoor spaces. Bonus: free fertilizer for your garden.
12. Plan ahead
“Take inventory of what’s in your fridge and plan out a weekly menu in advance of grocery shopping to cut down on excessive food purchases and the amount that ends up in the waste bin,” says Vogliano. This can also reduce the number of times you drive back to the store, which reduces gas usage and saves time.
Matthew Kadey, M.S., R.D., Environmental Nutrition Newsletter