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Go green in the kitchen — it can have a huge impact on the health of our planet

Something as simple and routine as getting food on the table can have a big impact lightening your environmental footprint.

The foods you eat, the way you prepare them, the bags you use to carry them home from the store, and the way you clean up in the kitchen affect the environment in many ways.
The foods you eat, the way you prepare them, the bags you use to carry them home from the store, and the way you clean up in the kitchen affect the environment in many ways.
Dreamstime/TNS

We all want to do our part to protect our precious Mother Earth. But with such overwhelming issues — climate change, pollution, sustainability — it might seem like there’s no way one person could make an impact. But something as simple and routine as getting food on the table can have a big impact lightening your environmental footprint.

The foods you eat, the way you prepare them, and the way you clean up affect the environment in many ways, from energy use to greenhouse gas emissions. Over time, they accumulate as either healing or harmful contributions. Here are some ways to keep your kitchen practices on the healing side that happen to be as healthy for you as they are for the planet.

Cut food waste

Consumers are responsible for two-thirds of food waste in this country. Food waste produces greenhouse gasses, causes water waste, and takes up valuable land resources — all are threats to the environment and our health. Small steps can make big changes.

Shop savvy

Stocking the fridge with fresh, nutritious whole fruits and vegetables is a clear sign of our intention to follow a healthy dietary pattern. We all know that sometimes the beautiful produce we couldn’t resist at the market end up looking unrecognizable at the bottom of the crisper drawer, destined for the trash bin and then the landfill. Planning meals before heading to the market can help minimize food waste. Buy only what you’ll use and stock your pantry with items with longer storage time — canned vegetables, dried beans and pastas, root vegetables, frozen foods — to help fill out your meals.

Pass on packaging

Avoid buying foods in unnecessary and excessive wrappings, containers, and packages, most of which end up in landfills. Even a quarter of recyclable materials never see new life. Skip single-use disposables and go with reusable plates, cutlery, straws and napkins.

Eat seed to stem

Use every part of vegetables and fruits whenever you can. Unless your dish relies on visually perfect produce, cut, dice, chop or puree the whole thing. Nobody will know the difference, nothing will go to waste, and you’ll enjoy the added nutrients of parts like peels and skins that are so often tossed. When your greens are getting slimy, use them to make stock, pesto, dressings, and smoothies. If they’re beyond saving, composting is the next best option to cut food waste.

Go local

Whether you grow some of your food in a backyard or community garden, purchase it from the neighborhood farmers market, or shop seasonally, you’re minimizing the miles your food travels, which means fewer greenhouse gas emissions in the form of carbon dioxide, which has been linked to climate change. These foods are also more likely to be organic, which reduces pesticides in the environment and in your home. Local food is also fresher, healthier, and can save money.

Watch water use

From drinking and food prep to cooking and cleaning, the kitchen plays a significant role in the 88 gallons of household water Americans use each day. There are some common water guzzlers that are quick-fixes, such as fixing leaky faucets and not letting the faucet run when rinsing produce, washing hands, or cleaning the sink. Fill a shallow bowl with rinsing water, and rather than wash dishes by hand, save water by running a full dishwasher of dishes. Catch water that is coming to temperature in a bucket, and use pasta cooking water or soaking water from dried beans to water house or garden plants.

Conserve energy

Appliances use the bulk of energy in the kitchen. Using less electricity reduces greenhouse gas emissions, lowering our carbon footprint. Newer appliances are more energy efficient than older models, but there are still ways to save electricity in the kitchen. Keep the fridge between 37- and 40-degrees F and the freezer at 5 degrees (0 degrees for a stand-alone) for highest efficiency, and don’t overcrowd it, as this interferes with air circulation. Ovens take less time to preheat these days, so avoid running an empty oven. The convection setting can shorten cook time and save energy too. Consider using a smaller toaster oven or microwave for smaller dishes, and utilize lids when cooking on the stovetop to avoid wasting heat.

Get even more efficient by making use of the instant pot, pressure cooker and slow cooker whenever possible. They are far more energy efficient than other cooking appliances. The instant pot, for example, saves up to 70% of the electricity used by ovens, stove and steamers.

It’s empowering to know how small, simple changes in everyday kitchen practices can have such positive impact at home, on us, and our beautiful planet.

Environmental Nutrition is the award-winning independent newsletter written by nutrition experts dedicated to providing readers up-to-date, accurate information about health and nutrition.