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Small Steps to Going Green: Meal and Food Tips

September 2010

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RD, FADA, CFCS
Family and Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

Green food should be healthy, cheap, delicious, fresh, and accessible. In the past, storing food for winter months, cooking at home, gardening, composting, eating local, and food preservation were done yearly for family survival. Today, we call it “going green” but ultimately it is just managing food and basic needs using affordable methods. Here are ten small steps to get you and your family started on a greener and healthier diet.

  1. Choose eco-friendly farmer’s markets, community supported agriculture (CSAs), organic farmers, and local cooperative grocery stores that support “going green”. Farmers markets give all the profits to the farmers and typically offer fresher, healthier food. Many small farmers cannot afford organic certification but use organic methods regardless. Get to know local farmers personally and they will let you know how they grow their crops so you can be assured that they are healthy.
  2. Community Supported Agriculture or CSAs are a great way to get organic, fresh produce delivered to you for a great price. CSAs consist of a group of members who pledge support to a farm or garden operation so they become part of that “community”. The farmer and members share the risks and benefits of the food production including the costs of running the operation along with weekly distribution of fresh produce during the growing season. Members receive satisfaction from reconnecting to the land, participating in growing the food, and helping the farmer with money upfront to plant and grow that season’s harvest. By supporting local food production, you are reducing the costs of food transport which keeps the planet greener.
  3. Local supermarket chains offer wonderful organic lines of foods for year-round healthy eating.
  4. Eco-friendly foods in general, are plant foods. Overall, animal products are not “green” because they require intensive resources to produce. By eating lower on the food chain and savoring fresh veggies, fruit, grains, beans, nuts, and seeds you are eating healthy and green. When consuming animal products, choose organic and eat small portions (only 5-6 ounces are needed daily for most adults). Unfortunately, Americans eat that much or more at one meal. These additional calories are stored as fat which may lead to overweight. Make it a goal to eat at least one vegetarian (meatless) meal each week which is easy to do at home or at restaurants.
  5. Choose organic foods for a more sustainable product. Know which foods such as apples have some of the highest pesticide levels of any food. Peeled foods such as bananas and avocadoes are typically safe without buying organic.
  6. Choose wines from vineyards that practice sustainable farming practices and sell fair trade coffee that benefits farm workers. Ask your local wine growers how they prepare their wines or go on one of their wine tours which will explain their entire wine-making process. Fair trade foods usually have that information on the food product label.
  7. Eat away from home less often. The average American dines out at least four times weekly. Try skipping one restaurant meal per week or get into the habit of splitting meals with another person and you will save both money and calories.
  8. Candy bars, chips, and soda may taste good but are not very healthy. Processed snacks are expensive and represent wasteful, unsustainable consumption. Many of their ingredients are modified with no regard for nutrition, the amount of resources needed for packaging and processing and the costs associated with transportation of the food ingredients and final product. These total costs are known as food miles. Examples of sustainable snacks include a piece of fruit, some fresh veggies, nuts, or string cheese.
  9. Choose vegetarian options when dining out such as a veggie pizza, or a salad loaded with veggies, fruit, and organic cheese with a simple, home made salad dressing.
  10. Know your labels. If a food is truly 100% organic, then it is the most sustainable choice. No harmful chemicals have been used, animals have been raised according to strict standards and the farmland is managed sustainably. Organic means no hormones were used, no irradiation or genetic modification of the food product.
  11. Save money and shop “green” by using reuseable grocery sacks. Both plastic and paper bags are bad for the environment so choose a stylish canvas option and forget the throwaways OR turn them in at the grocery store to be recycled. Remember, small steps to eating “green” will save you money, keep the planet, you, and your family healthy.