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Eating Green When Eating Away From Home

April 2012

Karen Ensle EdD, RD, FADA, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

Eating away from home? Here are some tips for healthy meals when you’re eating out with family and friends. Not only will you eat healthier food by following these suggestions, but you’ll also make a positive environmental impact. Remember that every small step that you take makes a difference.

  • Dine at a restaurant close to your home or office and walk so you get some exercise before and after eating.
  • Carry pocket-size guides to sustainable seafood, such as the ones from Blue Ocean Institute, to help you make smart seafood choices. Not all seafood is equal in how they affect our health and how they are fished or farmed. Consumer choices make a big difference in the number and types of fish that retailers demand. There needs to be a connection between keeping our oceans healthy, fishing and our choice of seafood.
  • Order food items that are low on the food chain such as chicken which has a lower environmental impact than beef. Sustainable seafood has a lower impact than chicken and vegetarian items have the lowest impact on our environment of all food.
  • Bring your own reusable container for leftovers and offer it to the server when asking to take food from the restaurant home.
  • Avoid drive-through restaurants as they often waste gas and add extras such as napkins and condiments that you don’t need or want.
  • Drink water instead of soda or other beverages high in sugar. Buy a reusable, sustainable water bottle instead of bottled water.
  • Choose restaurants that use locally grown produce, local wines, and Jersey Fresh fish and produce. See: the New Jersey Restaurants and Jersey Fresh/Jersey Seafood guide.
  • Ask restaurants and coffee shops if they serve Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee. The alliance seal is a guarantee that the coffee is grown on farms where forests are protected; rivers, soils, and wildlife are conserved; and workers are treated with respect, paid decent wages, are properly equipped to do their job, and give access to education and medical care. Restaurant staff are aware of environmentally sound practices if they work in a sustainable food eatery. Chefs, cooks and wait staff are hired who hold the same values as the owner(s).
  • If organic choices are limited, go organic for those foods with the highest pesticide risk and the most likely to pollute the environment if grown conventionally. The top 10, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, are celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries (domestic), nectarines, sweet bell peppers, spinach, kale/collard greens, and cherries. Wash all produce thoroughly with cold water to clean.
  • Order produce that is in season. The Environmental Defense Fund offers an interactive state-by-state online guide to help people keep track of what’s currently in season.