June 18, 2024


Food & Travel Enthusiast

Eat Green

When my husband and I first started dating in 2003, we often dreamt of being homesteaders so we could live the most sustainable life possible. Let’s grow all of our own food, we said. We’ll have chickens for eggs and dairy goats to make cheese! We’ll can and freeze the produce we grow, and make our own beer and cider from our own hops and apples.

Fast-forward 20 years later (oh wow, has it really been that long!?!) and that dream is far from realized. Before we bought a house, we started gardening in containers—things like peppers and tomatoes are surprisingly easy to grow! Now that we’re homeowners, we have a massive garden that we do our best to keep up with. But life has gotten busy. Our 10-year-old daughter has gotten really into fall and spring sports, which means we spend more time on sports fields than tending to garden beds. And in the summer, we are often away from home camping at some of Vermont’s glorious state parks. Not to mention we both work full-time jobs. Now I tell my husband we can homestead when we retire.

Photographer: Jen Causey, Food Stylist: Margret Monroe Dickey, Prop Stylist: Christine Keely

Get the recipe: Caprese Salad with Basil & Tarragon Chimichurri

But, you know what? That’s OK! We’ve realized that there are lots of simple, sustainable steps that we can take that we hope add up in order to help limit our impact on the planet. I’ll share seven here and hope that no matter what your values are or what access to resources you have, you can find inspiration in one or more of these areas to help you eat green.

1. Eat More Plant-Based Meals

One food-related way we’re trying to do better by the environment is to prioritize plants over animal products. Meat is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Plus a 2022 study by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that people who followed healthy plant-based diets not only had a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease but their eating patterns contributed less to greenhouse gas emissions. Knowing how beneficial it is to both our health and the health of the planet, we eat mostly vegan and vegetarian dinners each week. Beans and tofu are our favorite meatless protein sources. Falafel, mujadara, lentil soups, cauliflower tacos and crispy tofu are some of our go-to recipes—plus they’re approved by our daughter!

Photographer: Jen Causey, Food Stylist: Margret Monroe Dickey, Prop Stylist: Christine Keely

Get the recipe: Thai Green Curry-Inspired Vegetable Soup

2. Reap the Health Benefits of Green Produce

The gorgeous recipes we developed specifically for this feature, like Caprese Salad with Basil & Tarragon Chimichurri and Caramelized Broccolini and White Beans, are more than amazing recipes that are beautiful to look at. Eating more plants—particularly those dark leafy greens, like the kale my family loves so much—comes with a whole host of healthy benefits. “Eating more greens is not only sustainable for the environment, but also can improve your health,” says EatingWell’s Pinterest Editor Annie Nguyen, M.A., RD. “Fruits and vegetables are full of fiber, antioxidants and vitamins which have so many health benefits and anti-inflammatory properties. Following a plant-based diet could stimulate better digestion, may improve blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and might promote weight loss. If you’re wanting to transition to a more plant-based diet, slowly add more fruits and vegetables in your diet, as a significant change in fiber intake can cause some GI distress,” Nguyen recommends.

3. Get Into Gardening

When our garden is in full swing (and not just full of weeds), we get a lot of food from it. And that means lots of green things—from crisp lettuces and dark leafy greens (we can’t seem to grow enough kale) to the first crunchy snap of snap peas and a plethora of fresh herbs I adore blending into these Green Goddess Farro Bowls. As the season progresses, zucchini will make its way into sweet and savory dishes—and always to the grill for Marinated & Grilled Zucchini Planks, our family’s favorite way to eat it. Our daughter has been making cucumber salads on repeat, so she’ll be out harvesting cukes when the time comes (this Cucumber & Celery Salad is oh-so crunchy and refreshing!). And once fall rolls around, we’ll trim the alien-looking stalks of Brussels sprouts to roast, smash or shred to include in Kale & Brussels Sprouts with Avocado Caesar Dressing.

Read More: How to Start a Vegetable Garden

If you want to grow your own food but don’t have the space, time or interest for a big garden, think small! If you have a sunny spot on a deck or in your yard, tomatoes are easy to grow in containers and often taste so much better than what you can get at the store. Salad greens are a big source of food waste but do well in containers—you can even grow them in a sunny spot indoors. Or try a pot of herbs you cook with often—basil, cilantro and mint are a few good ones to start with.

Photographer: Jen Causey, Food Stylist: Margret Monroe Dickey, Prop Stylist: Christine Keely

Get the recipe: Roasted Baby Bok Choy with Soy-Honey Glaze

4. Use Up Food Before It Goes Bad

One major benefit from growing at least some of our own produce is that it helps us cut back on some of the food waste in our kitchen in the summertime. I can go out and harvest exactly what we want to eat on any given day. But I still get the bulk of our food at the grocery store. And even though I am a hard-core meal planner, life happens and I simply don’t make every meal that I plan to make each week, which inevitably means some food ends up in our compost.

To help combat food waste, I have a few dishes in my back pocket that are really flexible. Soups are a gimme—if you keep stock or even bouillon on hand, you can make soup out of just about anything. (If you’re more of a recipe person, try this Clean-Out-the-Fridge Soup, which was developed with reducing food waste in mind.) Frittatas and quiche are also good vehicles for leftovers. In fact, I made one the morning I wrote this, with leftover egg whites and roasted asparagus. I even dolloped some leftover pesto on top.

Even the smallest amounts of leftovers have a second life at my house. My favorite trick for using these up is to add them to the lunch salads I bring to the office. Here’s what I do: When I clean up after dinner, I put any leftover roasted or steamed veggies and a bit of protein in a container along with the rest of the salad ingredients. Not only do I avoid that food waste, it changes up my salad routine so I don’t get into a rut.

Read More: 26 Ways to Waste Less in the Kitchen

5. Compost Food Scraps

Building a compost system is on our to-do list this year. We’ve always composted, but took a break from doing it ourselves a few years ago and started bringing it to our local composting facility. This is a great option if you don’t have the space or interest to do it at home. Another benefit of commercial composting is that you can compost more food scraps like meat—most backyard composting systems don’t get hot enough to safely process those. We’re motivated to start doing it at home again so we can actually use the resulting green gold to improve the soil health in our garden. If you typically buy compost to supplement your flower or produce garden beds every year like we do, composting at home can help save you money. Plus organic wastes like food scraps are a huge contributor to climate change. A 2021 report published by the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions generated by organic waste are equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions of 42 coal-fired power plants.

Annie Otzen / Getty Images

Read More: 3 Impressive Benefits of Composting

6. Embrace Reusable Containers

While I have noticed a sizable reduction in our trash accumulation since we started composting, we do fill a pretty sizable recycling tote each week. While I can’t quit plastic clamshells that protect fragile ingredients like berries and mangoes, I use my growing collection of reusable cloth and mesh produce bags for most of my fruit and vegetable haul. (If I forget them, I cram as many things as I can in each plastic bag so I don’t use as many.) While plastic bags can’t go in your curbside recycling, some stores— particularly grocery stores (though I’ve also seen a receptacle at my local Best Buy)—collect plastic bags for recycling. (Find a drop-off location near you.) And, finally, if I’m shopping somewhere with bulk bins, I bring sealable containers or mason jars to fill. (Be sure to grab the weight of your empty container and mark it for the cashier to subtract from the total weight at checkout.)

Read More: 8 Simple Ways to Cut Back on Plastic in Your Food and at Home

7. Prioritize Sustainable Sources of Meat & Seafood

When I do buy meat, I prioritize buying local grass-fed meat. Yes, it’s more expensive, but that helps encourage us to eat less of it. Grass-fed meat raised on regenerative farms can help build healthy soil on those farms, which can prevent soil erosion and even trap carbon in the ground.

And knowing that our oceans are warming at an alarming rate and many species are being overfished, we also do our best to prioritize buying sustainable seafood. If you run into me in the seafood department, you’ll often find me scrolling on my phone to see what the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch recommends as the best options to make recipes like Fish Taco Bowls with Green Cabbage Slaw.

While my husband and I may be years away from realizing our homesteading dreams, gardening still brings us joy—even if we’re not preserving everything for winter. And taking steps to cut back on our kitchen waste and eat less meat helps lighten our impact on the environment. We hope the little things will add up and make a difference, plus inspire others around us to eat green too.

Get the recipe: Fish Taco Bowls with Green Cabbage Slaw