This Sunday is Earth Day, and I thought it would be very appropriate to share a few ways you can be friendlier to the environmental while you meal prep. Cooking your food at home is a great first step in the quest to be more environmentally friendly, but there’s always more we can do! And I promise it’s easy to incorporate some of these steps into your meal prep routine. So let’s Go Green This Sunday with these 9 Eco-Friendly Meal Prep Tips!
9 Eco-Friendly Meal Prep Tips
1. Plan your meals out ahead of time.
Surprise! Of course this is first on the list. And it makes your meal prep go smoother 100% of the time.
If you’ve got a solid meal plan, then you’ve taken all the guesswork out of grocery shopping and you won’t end up buying food you don’t need. When you don’t buy food you don’t need, less food is wasted. It’s as simple as that.
When you throw away food, you’re basically throwing your money away with it. Money spent on the food, energy costs for cooking, even the time you spent shopping for that food, is all wasted. And that’s just your costs. If I start thinking about the labor of the person who harvested the food, or the transportation costs to get the food from its origin to my kitchen… I get very sad very quickly.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, roughly one third of all food produced for humans is lost or thrown away (1). No one is perfect, but I’m positive anyone reading this can make an effort to plan at least a few meals every week and try to waste less food.
2. Eat less red meat (or no meat at all).
Think about your last 3 or 4 dinner meals. Did any or all of them include beef?
Beef requires 28 times more land to produce than pork or chicken, and 11 times more water. Overall, this equals a five times higher rate in climate impacting emissions when comparing beef to chicken or pork (2). The impact is even higher when compared to vegetarian and vegan lifestyles.
Think about it like this: When you have to grow food for your food to eat, it takes more resources. More land, more water, more farm equipment, more fertilizer, more emissions. It just takes more.
So to reduce your impact on our planet, try planning Meat-Free Monday dinners, alternate your beef with turkey, or skip the meat altogether.
3. Eat local food.
It is estimated that on average in the United States, food now travels between 1,500 and 2,500 miles from farm to table (3). This system uses mass amounts of fossil fuels, and often requires food to be picked before it is ripe, and/or treated with chemicals in ways to keep it from spoiling.
Try to purchase food from closer to home. Visit the farmer’s market, or at least stick to produce that’s in season around your region. Remember, produce usually says where it’s from on the sticker. Personally, I try to avoid purchasing produce that has traveled from outside the country. If your grocery store is stocking this produce, it usually means the product is not in season near you.
You should also check out Imperfect Produce, a company that is 100% committed to reducing food waste by sourcing produce that would otherwise go to waste. They usually source produce from around the area, though sometimes it is from outside the country. However, I call it a win when you’re keeping any perfectly good food out of the landfill. We get a small box of produce delivered every week!
4. Use mason jars for everything.
Mason jars are NOT just for canning and preserving food.
Anything that can go in a bowl can go in a mason jar. Anything you need to stir or shake can be stirred or shaken in a mason jar. Need a vase? Mason jar. Need a cup? Mason jar. Need a salad bowl with a lid? Mason jar. I could go on, but I won’t.
I love that you can perfectly see what’s inside the jars. They’ve also got excellent lids that form airtight, leak-proof seals.
Here are a few things I’ve used mason jars for:
- shaking up a sauce instead of using a spoon to stir
- keeping herbs/veggies in some water for freshness
- meals of all kinds (26 Healthy and Portable Mason Jar Meals)
- storing homemade nut flours, butters, sauces, soups and broths
5. Kick the Ziploc/single use plastic habit and go with basically anything else.
Before you grab a Ziploc or single use plastic wrap, take a second to ponder the other options. In my area, these single use items CANNOT be recycled. Ziploc bags contain two different types of plastic that can’t be recycled together (you should still check with your local public utilities) (4).
And how about when you go to the grocery store and shop for produce? Do you put everything into plastic baggies? While convenient, these bags are thin and flimsy – AKA meant for single use. Instead, try bringing your own produce bags, like these reusable ones (affiliate link).
This applies to shopping bags too. Where I live, you have to PURCHASE paper bags at the store if you don’t bring your own grocery bags. It’s a minor fee, but a great incentive to bring your own bags.
Here are some REUSABLE food storage ideas to replace plastic wrap and Ziploc bags (affiliate links!):
- Stasher Silicone Bags – I use these for storing and freezing food, but they’re also microwave and sous vide safe! We have two sandwich size bags and one half gallon size, but I still want MORE. They’re constantly in use.
- Mason Jars – We covered this, but I’m repeating it for emphasis. We have mason jars of all sizes, including wide mouth and regular.
- Silicone Suction Lids – I own a set of these round lids, but I definitely need the rectangular casserole size too. These lids go on just about anything and form an airtight seal. They can also be used for cooking!
- Bee’s Wrap Food Wraps – Major wishlist item right here. This is the only thing on this list I do not personally own, but I’ll get my hands on some soon. These wraps are a natural alternative to plastic wrap and can be used to cover food, or wrap it up entirely.
6. Stop buying plastic tupperware.
I grew up with a cupboard full of tupperware that always looked as though a tornado had hit only that cupboard. Some of them were stained red from sauce. Some of them had no lids. Sometimes the lids had no bowls. It was a semi-disaster.
I’ve now learned that some plastic containers may contain chemicals that can leach into your food, especially with constant temperature changes (read: reheating your meal prep!). Most plastic containers are now labeled BPA-free, but that doesn’t necessarily make them completely safe (5).
Better options? Glass (great in the microwave) or stainless steel. We own several sizes of Pyrex glass containers, as well as other compartment style glass meal prep containers. Here are some examples of all the glass containers I own (affiliate links!):
- Pyrex 4-Cup Round containers – I use these for meal prepping bowl style lunches and stir frys like these Ground Turkey Snap Pea Stir Fry Bowls or these Quinoa Fried “Rice” Bowls.
- Pyrex Rectangular Set – This set is super handy and I use it to store basically anything that will fit, from leftover homemade yogurt to casseroles to pre-cut veggies.
- Pyrex 7-Cup Round containers – Leftover soups, broth, rotisserie chicken… I’ll store basically anything in this size and often use it for the same items as the larger rectangular shapes.
- Prep Naturals Glass Meal Prep Containers – I currently own the 3-compartment style, but these containers also come in a 2-compartment and no divider style. I like to use these ones if I want to keep food separate from each other (like in this Buffalo Chicken Meatballs Meal Prep).
7. Keep a set of reusable cutlery at work.
If your employer only provides single use plastic cutlery for your use, try bringing your own. If you can’t spare a set from your home, try to snag a fork, knife and spoon from a local thrift shop. This is a simple way to reduce your plastic use.
8. Freeze leftover food if you can’t eat it within 4 days.
The freezer is your friend! Freezing food is a great way to store food that might otherwise go bad. Just as it’s important to store fresh food in airtight containers, it’s also important to use airtight containers in the freezer to reduce freezer burn.
There are lots of resources on how to properly freeze food, and what kinds of foods freeze well. If you don’t know how well something freezes, do what I do: 1) Try it! or 2) Google it. Sometimes both!
9. Compost what food you can’t eat or use it in another way.
In the City of Seattle, composting yard waste and food scraps is highly encouraged (and it’s technically against the law to throw food in the garbage). But unfortunately, most areas are not so progressive.
The good news is you have the ability to create your own compost at home. You can use it to bring nutrients and help retain moisture in your garden or lawn (6). When you’re composting, you’re saving that food from going to the landfill. You might even save money on your garbage bill!
Here’s another example of using leftover food scraps: Save up your veggie scraps and use them for a broth!
Woohoo! Let’s try to work on all of these tips together. I need to get better at remembering to always take my produce bags with me to the store. Which of these eco-friendly meal prep tips are you going to focus on the most?
Remember, it’s Earth Day everyday. Do not wait until Earth Day to do your part.
Looking for some meal prep inspiration? Check these links out!
- 12 Tips to Help You Master Your Weekly Meal Prep Routine
- 10 Steps of Meal Prepping: Recipe Ideas for Beginners
- How to Meal Prep for Beginners
- Meal Prep Recipes from Project Meal Plan
SAVE FOOD: Global Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction (2018). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. http://www.fao.org/save-food/resources/keyfindings/en/
Carrington, Damian (2014). Giving up beef will reduce carbon footprint more than cars, study finds. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jul/21/giving-up-beef-reduce-carbon-footprint-more-than-cars
Globetrotting Food Will Travel Further Than Ever This Thanksgiving (2018). WorldWatch Institute. http://www.worldwatch.org/globetrotting-food-will-travel-farther-ever-thanksgiving
Ziploc Bags (2018). Seattle Public Utilities. https://www.seattle.gov/util/MyServices/WhereDoesItGo/Plastic/Bags/ZiplocBags/index.htm
The End of the Tupperware Age: Choosing Safer Food Storage Containers (2015). Earth 911. https://earth911.com/living-well-being/the-end-of-the-tupperware-age-choosing-safer-food-storage-containers/
Quigley, Justin (2011). Why Should I Compost?. Green Action Centre. http://greenactioncentre.ca/reduce-your-waste/why-should-i-compost/