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Time to Rethink How you Eat - Dinner

Part 3 of a 3 Part series

Reduce the trash you create, reduce the gas that is used to bring food to your grocery store AND eat healthier foods all by eating dinner at home more often.  Sounds like an Eco Trifecta to me.  The best way that I have found to make this goal a reality is to make a meal plan for each week.  When deciding what you will eat each day you can also create a grocery list of ingredients you will need.  Set-up a standard day and time for when you go grocery shopping as once it becomes routine then cooking at home will be easier to accomplish.  When you head to the store, don’t forget your refillable grocery and produce bags!!

Eat Healthy While Saving Gas

Cooking at home gives you the opportunity to choose where your food comes from. In general, the closer your food is grown to your home the lower the impact on the environment.  Think of the processing/packaging of the food as well as the transportation costs.  The best place to start, if you have the space, is to grow your own vegetables.  If you don’t have an obvious place for a vegetable garden don’t be afraid to plant some in with your perennial or annual flower beds.  The Burpee seed company is a great source for gardening supplies and it also has informative videos to help get you started. 

If you don’t have the space or time to grow your own, the next best thing is to join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm.  By paying an up-front fee you will be entitled to a weekly ‘share’ of what is currently being harvested.  At my local CSA, Inverbrook, the vegetables are piled in bins with a note describing how many of each item you can take (ie, 8 beets, a quart of potatoes, 2 heads of lettuce).  Each week from June through October you leave with one or more bags full of fresh vegetables that were just picked.  So you have no packaging, minimal handling, and food likely grown without any pesticides.  Local Harvest is a great resource to find a CSA close to you.  Registration usually occurs in late fall/winter.

As this article is being published in the summer, if you do not currently have a garden and you are not a member of a CSA you should still be able to get fresh vegetables at a local farmer’s market.  Check your local paper for the closest farmers markets to you.  The market is probably a good place to scope out CSAs in your area.  Also try local orchards, dairies, and food markets which should also have fresh fruit and vegetables late spring through fall.

Minimize the Trash you Create

If you have followed the advice above, you are already reducing the trash you create with dinner as your vegetables will have minimal or no packaging.  The next place to look is at your napkins, utensils, plates and glasses.  All of these items should be reusable.  If you are using paper napkins, do you ever really use just one?  It is probably more like 2 or 3.  If you eat dinner at home 3 days a week and use 3 napkins each time, that is close to 500 napkins thrown into the trash.  The amount of trash you are creating just keeps going up if you are also using paper plates, utensils, and cups.

Speaking of trash, “in 2010, more than 34 million tons of food waste was generated, more than any other material category but paper. Food waste accounted for almost 14 percent of the total municipal solid waste stream, less than three percent of which was recovered and recycled in 2010. The rest - 33 million tons - was thrown away.”  (EPA)

Much of this food could be composted.  To get started, you will need space outside for a composter and space inside for a small collection bin.  While preparing dinner, vegetable scraps can be put immediately into your collection bin.  If you eat a lot of vegetables and fruit you will be amazed at how quickly you fill up your bin.  And then before you know it you will have amazing soil for your garden.  To get started, go to the Sierra Club for some good articles and videos on composting.

Cleaning up

Once you are finished dinner and are on to the fun step of cleaning up there are a few more things to keep in mind.  If you have leftovers store them in glass containers in lunch size portions.  We highly recommend glass as you should not reheat plastic containers in the microwave as the high heat releases toxic gases.  Using glass containers also allows you to avoid using saran wrap and tin foil which will eventually end up in the trash.

And then one final reminder, any extra food scraps left on your plate should be scraped into the trash and then directly put into the dish washer (as long as your dishwasher was made before 1994).  This process eliminates the need to rinse the dishes and saves water.

Who knew that such a basic thing, eating dinner at home more often, could have such far reaching positive impacts?  Start small, by eating just one more meal per week at home.  As you start eating more home cooked, fresh meals you will want more and hopefully that rate will increase.  Also, try to pick at least one recipe a week that you can easily make extra servings (ie, pasta), so that you can help yourself also take lunch to work one more day per week as well.

Things to remember:

  • Plan your meals in advance.
  • Buy fresh and local whenever you can.
  • Use real dishes, glasses, utensils, and napkins.
  • Store leftovers in reusable glass containers.
  • Don't wash dishes twice (in sink and dishwasher).