Written by: Natalia Brown
The majority of American families don’t have access to local farmers’ markets or bulk food stores that fulfill all of their nutritional needs. It can be expensive, in time and money, to run around and try to piece together meals from several different stores. Meanwhile, historically marginalized racial and ethnic minority communities fundamentally lack access to healthy, nutritious food suppliers. The meals we prepare, eat, and share are an important part of the way that we all build healthy lives and relationships. They’re also a great avenue to build more waste-conscious habits! We can all align grocery shopping with our low-waste goals by opting for minimal, reusable and/or biodegradable alternatives and striving to learn more about the origin of the products we are consuming. This breakdown will highlight some strategies, supporting stats, and tips for you to reduce the waste, time, and cost-intensiveness of conventional food shopping.
#1 : GROCERY GAME PLAN
According to the United Nations, one third of our annual food supply — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes each year— is discarded. That’s equal to nearly 350lbs of food waste and a loss of nearly $140 per person!
Making conscious choices while shopping can save your family time and money. Here are some tips to get started:
- Inventory what you already have in your fridge, freezer, cabinets, and pantry to avoid unnecessary or repeat purchases.
- Incorporate the items you already have into your meal plan for the week. Look for inspiration in books, online, and from friends or family for ingredients you feel less familiar with!
- Donate excess non-perishable goods that aren’t being consumed in your household to a local hunger-fighting community organization or mutual aid network.
- Stick to what you know you’ll use and enjoy when planning new purchases.
- Ensure that foods are consumed before their expiration. Hone in on those tricky dates before discarding— use, enjoy, best, and sell by all indicate different suggestions. To be on the safe side, you can store most foods in your freezer (raw or pre-cooked) to extend their freshness for future meals!
#2 : START FROM SCRATCH
One great way to avoid excessive packaging in your food purchases is to prepare more home-cooked meals from simple ingredients.
According to a study conducted at the University of Washington, home-cooked meals can be more affordable, less time-consuming, and healthier for American families. Families that prepare more home-cooked meals have been found to experience reduced risk of obesity, enhanced performance and personal confidence, as well as less substance abuse within the family.
Here are some action items to inspire and kick-start your success:
- Replace pre-cooked and/or frozen fruits and vegetables with their raw, package-free version. Freeze any extras to use in the future, just as you would the pre-packaged kind.
- Challenge yourself to mimic the flavors you enjoy in something that’s usually pre-cooked/prepared. One of my favorite home-cooked alternatives is tomato sauce: chop some juicy tomatoes and allow them to simmer at a low heat with a couple of your favorite herbs or seasonings. The longer they cook, the deeper the flavor!
- Treat your palate to a new plant-based recipe each week. Experiment with ingredients you haven’t tried yet! Seasonings, herbs, ans sauces can be used to embolden the flavor of legumes, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. As an added bonus, this will supplement your diet with more diverse nutrients!
#3 : DODGE PLASTIC PACKAGING
According to a study conducted at the University of Georgia, 18 billion pounds of plastic waste flows into the oceans every year from coastal regions. That’s the equivalent of five grocery bags of plastic trash for every foot of coastline around the world.
40% of plastics are simply used for packaging, so they’re used once and quickly discarded.
- Avoid food products packaged in plastic. Seek out cardboard, glass, or aluminum packaging when possible. These materials are more widely acceptable and efficiently recycled.
- Embrace bulk purchases! Buying a larger container (especially if you can avoid packaging with single servings) can reduce your long-term food costs and packaging waste. Schedule your meals accordingly to avoid creating unnecessary food waste! Seal and store extras in the freezer or pantry for future meals.
- Look for containers you could potentially re-use. I wash and re-purpose containers to pack lunches for work, store homemade sauces, portion out bulk purchases, or keep herbs fresh in some water!
- Bring your own reusable produce bags and shopping totes. Sometimes we forget, and that’s okay! On those days, you can take your produce loose (you’ll wash it at home) and ask your cashier for paper bags.
#4 : DIG A LITTLE DEEPER … than the grocery store!
In addition to providing nutritious package-free produce for your meal prep, home gardening has been proven beneficial to human health. The increased exposure to vitamin D and associated physical activity has been proven to reduce cortisol levels (hormone linked to stress), soothe anxiety, boost seratonin (neurotransmitter that contributes to happiness and well-being), support healthy sleep, and sharpen fine motor skills!
Home gardening can save you money, eliminate a lot of packaging waste, encourage your family to consume more fresh foods, and bring about a rewarding sense of home-grown accomplishment!
To be quite honest, I’ve never had the greenest of thumbs. Nonetheless, I’ve succeeded in my home-gardening endeavors by keeping it simple! My best tips are to check out suggestions based on the season/climate and pair your choice(s) with some naturally pest-repelling plants such as lavender, thyme, marigolds, mint, or basil.
- If you have a bit of yard space, choose something that thrives in your climate/region and appeals to your taste. Learn about the conditions that are best for that crop and draft a schedule for watering and transplanting as needed. Get your friends and family involved!
- If you have limited space, try out a potted plant that can thrive in partial sun or on a windowsill. Green onions are a super simple starter: save the bulbs and suspend them in water using a small cup or bowl. No dirt needed!
- If there’s a particular fruit or vegetable your kitchen always needs to be stocked with, try your luck planting some of the seeds directly from the store-bought item. I’ve tried this with bell peppers, and they’ve quickly spouted in a sunny corner of my backyard!