Friends in the kitchen prep a sustainable and nutrition meal together.

On April 22nd we recognize Earth Day, and what better time than now to practice sustainable eating.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN) defines sustainable diets as:

Sustainable diets are those diets with low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources. 
FAO, 2010, Sustainable Diets and Biodiversity.

When we think of the words “climate change”, what comes to mind? Perhaps it is the increasingly erratic weather patterns, melting of the polar ice caps, hotter summers or forest fires. In many ways, all of these changes and more affect how and what we eat, but how can the way we eat be part of the change for a healthier planet?

While it is overwhelming to think about all the things that need to be adjusted to fight climate change, the best place to start is always at the beginning, and in this case the beginning is with diet. The word “diet” is so often associated with restrictions that we forget that the word diet simply means - how and what we eat. The reality is that the typical western diet is part of the problem. It is not uncommon for us to reach for highly processed foods out of convenience or necessity, which are higher in fat and protein, and lower in fiber, fruits and vegetables. These not only contribute to climate change but may also result in obesity (excess fatty tissue) and undernutrition (lack of adequate nutrient diversity).

But it’s not all gloom and doom! We can all make small changes today to help build a healthier self for a healthier planet.

  • Buy local whenever possible. The less distance food has to travel, the less energy is used for transport. Also, when food is being produced for local use, farmers generally do not need to use preservatives.
  • Eat a Plant Forward diet. You do not need to follow a strict vegan or vegetarian diet to make a significant impact. Try starting with one completely plant based meal a day (no animal products). Your planet, wallet and maybe even your waistline will thank you! Here’s a few ideas to get you started:
    • English muffin topped with peanut butter, sliced banana and some walnuts for breakfast.
    • Spaghetti with tomato sauce and a side of steamed broccoli.
    • Oatmeal w/blueberries and pecans.
    • Grilled veggie burger or veggie dog w/grilled corn on the cob.
    • Black bean enchiladas with sauteed squash.
  • Reduce convenience food. “Lunchable” style meals provide a ton of convenience along with significant waste and cost. Instead, purchase a reusable container and make your own “bento-style” meal that includes protein, fruit, vegetable and a starch. For example; hummus with raw vegetables, pretzel sticks, dried or fresh fruit and nuts is almost just as easy to create with significantly less waste and cost plus you can control what you are putting inside.
  • Don’t waste food. If you find yourself buying fresh ingredients but can’t eat them fast enough, consider buying frozen instead. Frozen fruits and vegetables are interchangeable in most recipes as well as being lower in cost.

Never underestimate the power of small changes. As the old proverb goes, “great oaks from little acorns grow”. Nothing has ever been accomplished without that first step. Take that first step today for a better tomorrow.

Blog written by Marie Gorski MFN,RD,LD

Marie Gorski is a Registered Dietitian with the Gateway Region YMCA. Click here to learn more about working one-on-one with Marie!