How to Be Kind to the Planet Through Your Diet

So you’ve decided to live a little greener this year and started taking steps towards reducing your carbon footprint. You’ve found the perfect reusable water bottle, said goodbye to your favorite plastic products, started biking to work, and have swapped out the saran wrap for more sustainable food packaging solutions and you’re ready to take the next step.

On the flip side, maybe you’ve done none of these things but are ready to take steps to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Wherever you currently are in your sustainability journey, your diet plays a major role in how low or high your carbon footprint is. If you’re unsure where to start or what exactly is the most sustainable diet, follow these six tips to eat in a way that supports your health and the health of the planet and reduce food waste while you’re at it.

most sustainable diet tips for reducing food waste

Make plants the star of your plate

The foods we choose to eat all have a carbon footprint, but these footprints are not created equal. Plant-based foods require significantly less resources to produce and as a result a plant heavy diet is much more sustainable than one that leans primarily on animal proteins. The EAT-Lancet report was written by a group of leading scientists to identify the best diet for both personal and planetary health and recommends close to 75% of our diets coming from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and plant based protein sources.

If you love burgers or cheese, you don’t have to give it up entirely. The Lancet report recommends consuming these foods in limited quantities with no more than 10% of our diets coming from meat and dairy.

Eat local

While eating plants is unquestionably better for the environment than eating animal products, some plants have lower carbon footprints than others. In particular, eating locally grown produce is a great way to reduce your environmental impact by reducing the emissions to get that item from its point of origin to your kitchen and reduce on resources like refrigeration that go into storing food for long haul transport. Additionally, by supporting local agriculture you’ll support your local economy and livelihoods of farmers in your area.

Meal plan

Whether you’re a meal prep superstar or like to be more spontaneous with what you eat, thinking ahead can have a major impact on your overall food waste. You don’t have to pick out every recipe for the week, but consider what you’re likely to eat for at least one or two meals and use that to get a running start to your grocery list.

Next, consider how you can use the same ingredients for other meals throughout the week. If an item feels versatile, definitely add it to your cart. In contrast, resist the urge to buy items that have historically gone to waste in the past or that you have no idea how to prepare. For example, if you hate opening pomegranates (guilty) and find them making their way to your compost or trash time and again, leave them on the shelf.

Use your freezer

The key to making good use of your freezer is to actually eat the items you freeze. If you’ve ever thrown groceries that are reaching the end of their lives into the freezer only to stay there until spring cleaning when you finally say goodbye, you’re delaying the problem rather than solving it. 

Extend the shelf life of your groceries by taking stock of the items in your fridge every few days. If you know you can’t make use out of something before it goes bad, freeze it. When you’re making your grocery list for the week, check the freezer for inspiration and prioritize getting frozen food into your meals. Make this a regular habit so that a three year old chicken breast doesn’t get buried under ice cream and frozen berries only to be discovered whenever the time comes to move.

Buy ugly produce

Produce with cosmetic imperfections is too often destined for landfill, but ugly food is just as safe and delicious as its more beautiful counterparts. You can easily shop for ugly produce and save it from landfills using services like Imperfect Foods and Misfits Market, but you can also divert produce from landfill at your regular supermarket by giving a home to the less perfect items on the shelves. Throw that single banana, misshapen carrot, and tiny avocado into your cart, because if you don’t, it’s likely that no one else will.

Compost

Sending food to landfill has enormous consequences on our environment. While many of us think that the moldy block of cheese we throw in our trash can will break down once it gets to the landfill, that’s unfortunately not the case. Anaerobic conditions in landfills lead natural materials to emit methane, a greenhouse gas that’s significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.

When you do end up wasting food, find a way to compost it. If you aren’t able or don’t want to start your own backyard compost, there’s likely a service that will either pick up or accept your compost nearby. A quick search for compost services in your area should lead you to the right information.

While composting is an awesome thing to do for the health of the environment, be mindful that every item of food that you purchase has an environmental footprint before it gets to you. From water and land use to produce an item to shipping emissions to packaging, the food we buy contributes to our carbon footprints. For this reason, think of composting as a last resort and don’t let it be an excuse to waste food unnecessarily.

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About Kira Schreiber

Kira grew up in the Chicago suburbs and is passionate about mental health, healthy eating, and sustainability. After spending the first part of her career working for a non profit mental health agency in Southern California, she transitioned to pursue a career in her passion for cooking. Now back in Chicago, Kira spends her days developing healthy recipes for a food tech start up. When not in the kitchen or on her laptop she loves spending time outdoors, hitting up a spin class, or watching home decor DIYs on YouTube.