Most of us know that what we eat can have a significant impact on the environment. While we might all want to do our bit, it often seems like the healthier choices are more expensive. Read on for tips on eating green without breaking the bank.
Does our food really make a difference to the environment?
Yes! Food is a significant contributor to climate change, with food waste estimated to generate almost 10% of greenhouse gas emissions. Globally, more than one quarter of all food produced is wasted. In Ireland that equates to 800,000 tonnes per year or more than €700 per household.
Eating green means making more sustainable choices and reducing food waste. Both of those should actually save us money, but do take a bit of effort and usually a bit of time in the kitchen too. The climate change message can be overwhelming and it’s hard to know where to start, but in terms of food there are 3 easy steps that you can do to benefit the planet, your health and your bank balance.
It’s not very exciting. However, meal planning can make a huge difference in terms of sustainability and makes it much easier to have a healthy balanced diet. Planning ahead means that you can consider more seasonal and sustainable options and take into account what you already have on hand, reducing waste and expenditure. It’s also something we work on with our clinic patients to be able to sustain healthier eating habits. For some people, this might be sitting down with a cup of coffee at the weekend and planning out the week, then doing a shopping list. For others who shudder at the thought of that. Even planning a day or two ahead is going to be a help. And using a shopping list has been shown to save up to 25% at the checkout.
When meal planning, start with dinners. If you have time, do some batch cooking, so you get two or three meals for your effort. Even cooking a little extra at dinner can give you a cost effective and healthy lunch the next day.
If grabbing breakfast on the go is one of your downfalls, try preparing overnight oats or a granola pot the night before. You can make these up for 3 days. Just grab them from the fridge on your way out the door.
Use your freezer to be more green
Making the most of your freezer can be a big help. Frozen veg and fruit are usually just as, if not more, nutritious than fresh fruit and veg, that may have been sitting in a supermarket warehouse for weeks or even months. They are also usually a much cheaper option. Freezer staples include frozen peas, sweetcorn, spinach and ‘naked’ stirfry mixes in addition to frozen berries, mango and fruit mixes. These are high in vitamin C and fibre and as little as a quarter of the price of their fresh counterparts.
Frozen ‘naked’ fish fillets are also a great option for fish curries and casseroles. Just watch out for the breaded and battered varieties and also avoid veg mixes that come with sauces, often laden with sugars and additives.
If you have time to make a large batch of your usual dinners like Bolognese, curries, stews and casseroles, these freeze very well and mean that you can have a night off in a week or two. Just remember to label and date them, so you identify them and use them in time.
You can also freeze food that you don’t think that you will use before it goes off. A great example are fresh herbs, that you can freeze in ice cube trays in a little olive oil or wine and fresh ginger that you can then grate from frozen. Chop up and freeze fruit that is looking a little wrinkled to add to smoothies. Bread, one of the most commonly wasted foods, can easily be frozen and toasted straight from the freezer as you need it. Other foods that freeze surprisingly well include yoghurt, butter, pesto and cooked rice and meat.
Have a look at the foods that you throw out most often. Consider if you can freeze them or re-purpose them in any other way. Try making fruit compote out of old looking fruit or breadcrumbs to top pasta dishes out of leftover bread.
Stretch the more expensive, less green and less sustainable food
While meat produced in Ireland is usually more sustainable than in many other countries, it is still usually a less sustainable choice. And from a health perspective, most of us are aware that we should be keeping our consumption of red meat to under 3 times per week and avoiding all processed meat. It’s a great idea to have at least one or two meat free dinners every week like a vegetarian Bolognese, chilli or curry. But even reducing the amount of meat in a recipe and adding in additional vegetables is an easy way to make a dish healthier. You are getting nearer to your 5 veg a day and usually a more sustainable and cost-effective choice too.
Chopping veg can be a time-consuming chore, but using your food processor to do this can save lots of time. Adding pulses like lentils or tinned mixed beans to Bolognese or casseroles is another way to make your meat go further. Of course, where you can use seasonal and Irish produce, saving on air miles and often giving you a healthier and fresher meal.
Sustainable and healthy menu for a day:
|Breakfast||Porridge with yoghurt, ground linseeds and stewed apple|
|Lunch||Thai chicken noodle soup, made with frozen veg and leftover chicken. Or replace chicken with tofu|
|Snack||Smoothie made with leftover frozen fruit and yoghurt|
|Dinner||Simple vegetable casserole with potatoes or vegetarian Bolognese with wholegrain pasta|
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