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Top 10 Ways to Reduce Your Food Footprint

Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD
Ways to reduce your food footprint
It’s wonderful to think beyond our plates and consider how food choices and eating habits may be impacting the world around us. But there’s also a lot of conflicting information out there that can make it hard to understand the most impactful changes you can make.

Fortunately, adopting more eco-friendly diet habits doesn’t have to be difficult. Read on to understand some of the best (and worst) habits for the planet, and find practical tips to reduce your food footprint. 

How much does diet matter for the environment? 

A growing body of research has found that what we eat, how much we eat, and what we do with the waste from the food we eat, have a significant impact on the world around us. Most people eat at least three times per day, every day, for the entirety of their life. 

This means that we have countless opportunities to either help or burden the environment with our food choices. The best way to improve our food footprint is to first identify where we may be making unintentionally harmful choices, and then determine what small changes we can realistically make from there.

Worst dietary habits for the planet

Nobody purposefully eats in a way that’s intended to harm the planet, but unfortunately, there are many cultural systems in place that make it difficult to avoid leaving a food footprint. Here are ten of the worst dietary habits for the planet. If any of the following resonate with you, it may be a good time to make some changes. 

  • You tend to eat a lot of high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods
  • You throw away a lot of plastic materials and food packaging 
  • You buy in bulk and don’t use everything up in time 
  • You make meals and throw away the leftovers 
  • Your pantry, fridge, and/or freezer are disorganized and you’re not sure what’s all in there 
  • Your diet is high in animal products, like meat and dairy, and lacking in fruits and vegetables 
  • Your trash is full of food scraps 
  • You tend to eat outside frequently 
  • You eat whatever produce you find, without much thought about where it came from

How to reduce your food footprint

If you’ve noticed that some of your dietary habits made the list above, or just know that you can make some improvements to your current lifestyle, you’re in the right place. One great place to start is checking out Our Best Oven-Ready Prepared Meal Delivery Services for 2022 if you’re looking for simple solutions for even the busiest of weeks. Below are 10 ways you can help reduce your food footprint through your meal and snack choices. 

1. Prioritize quality over quantity

Having too many foods without a specific purpose is more likely to end in wasted items. It’s estimated that every person on earth wastes approximately 428 to 858 pounds of food per year!

Think about your trips to the grocery store lately. What does your cart look like when you leave? Is it full of strategically purchased foods to make meals you’ve already envisioned for the week ahead, or is it more haphazardly chosen in hopes of making meals out of what you’ve purchased? Choosing high-quality foods that are nutrient-dense and already intended for meals this week will not only better benefit your health but also reduce waste. 

2. Organize your pantry

It’s easy for pantries, freezers, and fridge shelves to become a little messy. If you take a look around your kitchen and notice that you’re not really sure what you have, or where things are placed, some organization can be helpful - for both your sanity and the planet. Knowing what you need and will actually use can help you maintain those stores and reduce excess waste. 

3. Try batch cooking

If you’re not big on meal prepping, batch cooking is a great place to start. The idea behind it is that you’re preparing ingredients that can be used throughout the week in multiple meals. For example, you might chop mixed vegetables that can be used for a stir fry one night and for veggie tacos a few nights later. You might cook a big pot of pasta that can be used for a mac and cheese casserole one night and for a cold pasta salad for another lunch. Batch cooking helps reduce the stress of meal prep and planning while also minimizing the waste of unused ingredients. 

4. Buy ugly produce

“Ugly” produce can include fruits and vegetables that are deemed not aesthetically appealing enough to make it to mainstream grocery store shelves. The produce is perfectly fine, but it may not be the ideal color or shape wanted for consumers. As a result, it’s generally tossed away and wasted. Help prevent this unnecessary waste by signing up to receive doorstep deliveries of these misfit fruits and veggies that you’ll enjoy just the same. 

5. Grow your own

A home garden makes fruits and vegetables easily accessible. Plus, they’re fresher than anything you’ll find at the grocery store and reduce your use of plastic produce packaging. Growing your own produce also minimizes greenhouse gas emissions that occur when fruits and vegetables have to travel thousands of miles to get to your grocery store. You don’t have to grow everything at home, either. Tomatoes, peppers, or leafy greens? Even just a few of your household favorites can make a difference. 

6. Compost

Composting is a much more eco-friendly way to dispose of unused food than throwing it into the trash can. This is a natural process of recycling organic matter, like unused foods, into a fertilizer you can use for soil and plants. Bonus points if you use your homemade compost for your backyard garden! A compost can use things like veggie peels and ends, lettuce, apple cores, and coffee grounds.

7. Eat more whole plant foods

Studies on the environmental impact of foods have found that the beef and dairy industries are particularly harmful in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and environmental damage. While no foods are exactly innocent when it comes to emissions, plant crops contribute far less of a negative impact. Enjoy a nutrient-packed plant-based diet with whole grains, colorful fruits and veggies, healthy fats from nuts and seeds, and protein-rich legumes. Missing dairy? Try plant-based milk alternatives, made from soy, peas, oats, or cashews.

8. Buy local

If you don’t want to grow everything at home, you can reduce food miles by buying produce from local farms as much as possible. These fruits, veggies, and herbs have to travel much less distance to reach you than produce that comes from other states or countries. Check out your local farmers' markets or join a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program near you. Take note of local farms on your drives around town too, as many farmers advertise things like eggs, vegetables, and honey that they sell.

9. Try a meal delivery service

A meal delivery service can take the guesswork out of your weeknight dinners. Services like HelloFresh or Factor_ allow you to cook your own meals while reducing wasted food by sending you just what you need. While some services use fewer plastic containers and bags than others, many of them seem to use recyclable materials as much as possible that you can feel better about disposing of. Plus, when you start incorporating meal delivery into your routine, it can allow more room to make positive changes in other areas of your diet pattern.

10. Ditch plastic

Single-use plastics are a major contributor to environmental harm and greenhouse gas emissions. So many plastic bags, containers, and food packaging materials go straight into the landfill, despite our best efforts. To help minimize your contribution, purchase whole unpackaged foods as much as you can, and bring your own reusable bags to the grocery store. When packing up leftovers, opt for glass containers versus plastic bags that get thrown away. 

Conclusion

If you’re looking for ways to reduce your negative impacts on the environment, your daily food choices and habits are a great place to start. While nobody intends to eat in a way that harms the planet, the fact is that our cultural diet patterns don’t always have environmental sustainability at the forefront. 

Making a few small changes to your habits, like swapping more plant foods in place of animal products, organizing your kitchen, meal planning and batch prepping, and trying a prepared meal delivery service, can make a big difference in reducing your food footprint.

Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD
Lauren specializes in plant-based living and vegan and vegetarian diets for all ages. She also enjoys writing about parenting and a wide variety of health, environmental, and nutrition topics.

*The information on this site is based on research, but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new diet plan, we recommend consulting with a physician or other professional healthcare provider. Results may vary based on various health factors, individual weight loss plans and adherence to the meal plan.