As you contemplate your health-related New Year's resolutions, challenge yourself to think outside the box. Changing one aspect of your lifestyle often indirectly leads to positive changes elsewhere. Instead of focusing on weight loss, dieting and the number on the scale, challenge yourself to reduce the amount of waste you produce in your day-to-day life. Decreasing waste is environmentally beneficial and, as a bonus, will likely clean up your food choices and save you some money as well.
Here are five tips for decreasing garbage that directly influence healthy eating:
Avoid Packaged Food.
The simple concept of avoiding foods that are packaged in cardboard, plastic, bags, bottles and more can have a huge impact of the nutrient density and quality of the food your purchase. Why? Because you will avoid processed foods that are laden with added sugar, refined grains, sodium, chemicals, additives and more.
Wondering where to begin? The bulk aisle is a great place to purchase pantry staples like whole grains and beans, nuts, seeds and dried fruits. Fresh produce is available free of packaging. When it comes to meats, fish and eggs, choose those wrapped in paper instead of on Styrofoam trays.
If you need a packaged product, look for food items that are packaged in reusable or returnable packaging, like milk in returnable glass bottles. If a company puts the money and effort into sustainably packaging a product, the food item itself is often cleaner and more consciously processed. Avoid double packaged items like cereal boxes, which usually house bags, too. Individually packaged foods create extra waste as well.
Buy Fresh, Buy Whole.
Fresh, whole foods like fruits and vegetables are often offered loose, without any packaging. There are endless benefits to consuming more fresh fruits and vegetables, so this step is a win-win. You often save money by purchasing loose produce vs, prepped and packaged options, especially when you buy only what you need. Purchase the quantity needed for a recipe like one carrot or 1 cup of brown rice. This will decrease the food waste in your pantry as well.
Manage Food Waste.
Don't get overwhelmed with the idea of stocking your fridge with fresh produce in fear that it will go to waste. Make sure you shop smart by planning healthy menus and shopping with a list. This will prevent impulse buys, which are often less healthy and can lead to excess food waste.
Use older foods first by arranging your refrigerator to store the new items behind the older items. You can even do a fridge and pantry inventory before you shop and plan menus around older items. If produce starts to turn, you can freeze it or even blend up items like fruits and vegetables and freeze them to use in healthy smoothies and soups.
Use Your Own Reusable Container.
Ditch those plastic bags and bottles and instead use reusable glass water bottles, fabric bags and glass or metal storage bins. You can also use repurposed glass jars and containers to decrease waste and reduce your exposure to environmental toxins from plastics. If you commit to using a reusable water bottle for all beverage consumption, you will likely decrease your intake of bottled beverages such as soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks. Bonus: You will drink a lot more water as well.
Bring your own containers to the grocery store to decrease the number of disposable plastic produce and bulk bin bags you use. This simple tip may make you more mindful of the superfluous food purchases you often make.
Craving take-out? Pick it up instead of having it delivered, and bring your own containers with you. Once the delivery option is out of the picture, the idea of take-out might become less desirable and encourage you to get cooking!
An obvious benefit of cooking is that you can control the ingredients you use, the meals you prepare and the quantities of food produced. All that aids in decreasing trash, saving you money and cleaning up your diet. By cooking, you'll also eat less take-out food, which reduces waste and improves your diet.
What's more, when you cook, you can use the leftovers. Try buying a whole chicken instead of butchered pieces and using the carcass and vegetable scraps to make a beautiful, healthy stock instead of buying a packaged stock at the grocery store. If you make waffles on a weekend morning, make extra and freeze them for later. Whip up your own salad dressing and store it in a re-purposed store-bought salad dressing jar or reusable container.
The more you cook, the less packaged food you have to buy. That equals less waste, more money in your pocket -- and a healthier you!