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Preparing Environmentally-Friendly Meals
The farmer's market is just the first step when you're thinking of organic and eco-friendly meals. How you set the table and handle leftovers should also be part of your approach.
By Krisha McCoy
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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If you're concerned about the environment, there are many steps you can take in your own kitchen to make your meals more environmentally friendly. In addition to changingwhatyou cook for dinner, changing how you cook and serve your meals can go a long way toward reducing your carbon footprint.
Making Environmentally-Friendly Meals at Home
Here are some ways to make meal preparation more eco-friendly.
At the store:
- Buy organic.When possible, purchase foods that are "organically grown," which means they're grown without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This will not only reduce your family's exposure to these chemicals, it will also help keep the chemicals out of the environment.
- Buy local.The majority of produce sold in the United States travels an average of 1,500 miles before it gets to a consumer. When you buy in-season foods that are grown locally, they'll be more nutritious and taste better, and you'll also be supporting an environmentally-friendly reduction in the amount of energy used to ship products from faraway places.
- Shop with a reusable bag.Bring a recycled or reusable shopping bag with you to the grocery store every time you shop, so that you don't waste plastic or paper grocery bags. If you forget your bag, ask the clerk to use as few bags as possible, and skip bags for larger items like milk jugs — just carry them by hand or in your personal shopping cart.
- Reduce packaging waste.Choose grocery items that use less packaging, and buy in bulk when possible. Look for items that are packaged in products that can be reused or recycled, such as egg cartons made of environmentally-friendly paper, not foam.
In the kitchen:
- Start with environmentally-friendly appliances.Consider recycling older, less energy-efficient appliances and replacing them with Energy Star models, which emit reduced amounts of greenhouse gases.
- Use less energy.Keep your refrigerator closed, turn off the stove and oven, and unplug small appliances like toasters or coffeemakers when you're not using them.
- Nuke your meals.Use the microwave instead of the oven to cook or warm up meals when possible, since the microwave uses less energy.
- Buy used or recycled cooking tools.When purchasing pots, pans, and utensils, look for used items at garage sales or thrift stores, or search for items that are made out of environmentally-friendly, recycled materials.
- Compost food scraps.If you live in a place where it's possible, keep a compost pile in your yard and put your (non-meat) food scraps into it instead of in the garbage can. The resulting organic compost can be used to naturally nourish your lawn and garden. (Many cities offer yard waste and food scrap pick-up as part of their municipal recycling services.)
- Cook once, eat twice.Reduce the amount of time and energy spent in your kitchen by cooking large meals like casseroles and pasta dishes with a plan to eat leftovers over the next few days for another dinner or lunch.
At the dinner table:
- Dine in style.Instead of using disposable napkins, dishes, and cutlery that will ultimately end up in a landfill, set the table with cloth napkins and real dishes and silverware.
- Light candles.Turning off the lights and dining by candlelight is a great way to set the mood and reduce the amount of electricity you use. Buy candles made of organic beeswax, soy, or other natural materials to avoid indoor air pollution.
- Fill the dishwasher.When you're clearing dishes and loading the dishwasher, resist the temptation to turn it on until it's completely full.
Preparing meals in a more environmentally friendly way isn’t hard. It just means making a few adjustments in the way you shop for, cook, and serve food — all of which will quickly become second nature to you, and will help preserve nature itself for everyone.
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