A Sustainable Diet for Your Health and for Your Budget!
With the cost of food (and everything else!) steadily rising, the usual tips and tricks for eating well on a budget just aren’t enough. Here are some changes that can be made in your household to cut back on spending.
Part 1: Make a plan to stick to your menu
According to the study conducted by the National Zero Waste Council in 2017, 63% of food waste could have been avoided and at that time, Canadian families were throwing on average $1100 a year in wasted food. With today’s food prices, we can assume that amount would be over $2000. And while it is nearly impossible to avoid food waste altogether with a full-time job and other responsibilities, there are steps we can take to reduce food waste and consumption.
The best strategy for reducing food waste is to stick to your meal plan! Planning out meals and buying what you need to make those meals is manageable for most people. BUT having a flexible plan for sticking to the menu is key! Most of us don’t have the luxury of preparing all our meals on Sundays. And like most of you, I enjoy certain meals more when they are made fresh. Planning for those freshly made meals when you know you’ll be home at a reasonable time, having some pre-made meals ready to reheat when working late or have activities planned, and having proteins unthawed or pre-cooked can make all the difference on busy workdays. Keeping your plan flexible is also important. If the only plan you have is to meal prep on Sundays, this may not be realistic when you’re busy or need some rest. Having a plan B or looking at your schedule on a week-to-week basis can help you adapt. And if you do decide last minute to eat out, get in the habit of either freezing foods or modifying meal plans to avoid wasting the food you already purchased.
Food for Thought: Identify what parts of preparing meals that you struggle with most and make time to prep these items! Having veggies pre-cut, having sauces made, and proteins marinated can all be completed in about 30 minutes once a week to save on time and dishes on busy days, while increasing the nutritional value and flavor of your meals. Looking in your garbage bin occasionally to see what you’re throwing away most often can help you determine what you waste most.
Part 2: Cut Back Your Consumption – of Food and Single Use Items
We tend to overconsume everything, and food is no exception. Eating at regular times can help us to avoid overindulging later, and eating to comfortable fullness most of the time encourages adequate level of intake that leaves you feeling satisfied and nourished.
What if I told you that eating more vegetables, would help you decrease your overall food intake? Most people criticize vegetables for being expensive more than they complain about the price of meat. But I would kindly like to point out that $10 can buy you more carrots than it can meat. I acknowledge that we need both produce and protein to survive and thrive. But the fiber that we find in vegetables allows us to digest our protein and other parts of our plate slower, helping us to feel fuller longer. Additionally, being mindful of our meat consumption, keeping it to ¼ of the plate, can keep you and our planet healthier. And replacing the occasional carnivorous meal with a vegetarian option can add up to significant savings and health benefits.
Another area where you can cut back on consumption is of single-use items in your kitchen. Plastic bags, plastic wrap, parchment paper, aluminium foil, and even paper towel can all add money to the budget that you don’t necessarily need to be spending. Here are some tips for cutting back on single-use items:
- Take the extra minute to transfer leftovers to reusable containers with lids
- Lightly grease your pans using oil or use a washable silicone mat instead of parchment paper
- Grab your dish cloth instead of paper towel to clean up messes
- Wash and reuse plastic bags that are still in good condition
- Dry fruit and vegetables with a clean dish cloth instead of paper towel
- Grab or a bowl, dish cloth or plate to grate cheese on, peel hard-boiled eggs on, or to collect vegetables peelings on.
- Place partially cut vegetables in containers instead of wrapping in plastic wrap and make a plan to use up what’s left
You may also consider investing in some reusable products like snack/sandwich bags, beeswax food wraps, reusable napkins (polyester blends stain less and clean better for anyone with messy eaters) and reusable freezer bags. But you can make small changes without having to invest in additional supplies.
Food for Thought: Check your spending habits! How often are you purchasing the single-use items listed above? Challenge yourself one-at-time to cut back on how often you use these products with the tips I’ve provided. Trust me – it works. The last package of paper towels that we bought from Costco lasted us over a year!
Part 3: Reuse and Regrow Food Scraps
We often think of vegetable peels and stalks as inevitable food waste, but there are creative ways of using these that don’t require a green thumb.
The parts of veggies that are edible but that are recommended to be removed for whatever reason – the stalks of kale, cauliflower and broccoli, the greenest parts of leeks, mushroom stalks on certain mushrooms – can all be reserved for making soups and stews!
Beet, radish, and carrot greens can be finely chopped and added to soups and stews. Although, my favorite way to prepare them is by sautéing them with a bit of onion, garlic and spritz of either lemon juice or your favorite vinegar. Serve these as a bed of greens to plate your pasta upon for an added boost of vegetables and antioxidants.
One thing that I love to cook with is broth. It can add instant flavour to whole grains, or thin out a recipe without diluting the flavor. But this is another thing that we can easily make ourselves with a bit of pre-planning, and then freeze it. While most people are familiar with making chicken broth and bone broth, you can also make a delicious veggie broth using vegetables peels and scraps, along with either stems from fresh herbs or dried herbs you have on hand.
You’ll want to make sure that you wash everything before using it! So even something like onions and garlic that we wouldn’t typically wash, give them a rinse if you would like to use them in your veggie scrap broth. Here are some examples of what you can include:
- Onion or shallot peels, leek greens, green onion bottoms, garlic peels and leftover garlic flesh from the garlic press
- Potato, sweet potato, and carrot peels
- Stems from parsley, cilantro, thyme, rosemary, any fresh herb!
- Celery greens
- Squash rinds
- Bell pepper cores (with the seeds)
- Mushroom stems
Scraps from the members of the brassica family – broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, turnip, etc. – and hot peppers will add a bitter taste to your broth, so I would skip these ones.
Another great way to stretch your budget a little further is by regrowing certain vegetables from scraps! You simply keep the end where their roots are or were, and instead of throwing it out – regrow it!
Some great veggies to do this with are:
- Green onions grow great in water or soil
- Celery will grow roots when placed in an inch or so of water, and then once roots have formed you can plant in soil
- Romaine lettuce will grow back with just water. Use some toothpicks to suspend the root end in water and watch your lettuce sprout new leaves.
- Ginger that has produced sprouts can be place in a pot with the new shoot facing up. After a few months you will have a fresh supply of ginger. You can then freeze grated ginger for use in recipes.
- Fresh herbs can be propagated from cuttings in water and planted, or simply place in water and they will continue to grow once new roots have formed.
You may ask, can you regrow the same vegetable more than once? The answer is technically yes, but I find that when you do this more than once the flavor of the vegetables decrease, especially when regrowing in only water. You can purchase some liquid plant food if you would really like to commit to regrowing everything you can. For myself, I find regrowing it once takes hardly any work so that is about all the time and effort that I’m willing to invest.
And as always, anything you can grow yourself will help! As days get longer and the sun gets stronger, there are many things that can be grown in pots close to a window or on an outside patio.
Food for Thought: What is something that you eat on a regular basis that you wish you could grow yourself? Or, are there certain ingredients that you would use more if they weren’t so expensive or perishable? Consider the space that you have a find solutions for growing a few things yourself.
Need help cutting back on food waste? Want to create a more sustainable diet and kitchen space? Dietitian Gabby can help! Book an appointment today.