...Food and Recipes, One Planet Living, Sustainable Living

Ten Easy Ways to Eat Sustainably

Eating sustainably will mean different things to different people, and it’s such a complex topic that it can sometimes feel hard to even know where to start.
Here are 10 easy things we can all do to eat more sustainably.

1. Meal Plan
This is something I resisted for a very long time – it felt far too sensible and grown up, and there was something in me that rebelled against it. But honestly, it’s one of the most useful things I do, both in terms of helping me feel more in control of life in general (I know, who knew a meal plan could do that?!) but also in terms of reducing food waste.
We get a veg box, so I generally wait until that has been delivered and I know what I have to work with, and then create a meal plan and shopping list from there. It doesn’t need to take hours poring over recipe books – I have a basic repertoire of recipes up my sleeve that I regularly trot out, varying them depending on what veg I have e.g. risotto, some form of pasta (usually with a cheese or tomato based sauce), frittata, quiche/pie etc etc.
Having a meal plan makes it easier to generate a shopping list, and to know that I will use up what I buy. It also means I can cut down on the amount of cooking I need by making double batches of say mashed potato, and then have potato gnocchi as one of our meals a couple of days later.

2. Meat free Monday
Or Tuesday, or Friday. It doesn’t really matter which day of the week it is, the idea is just to have at least one meat free day a week.
Livestock farming accounts for up to 25% of global carbon emissions, so simply reducing the amount of meat we are eating is a really simple way to cut our ‘food footprint’.
I have a copy of the Meat Free Monday cookbook which has loads of ideas for veggie meals, and includes breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as puddings/snacks as well. Their website also has some great recipes to inspire you on your meat free days.

3. Eat seasonally
Many of us have lost touch with the seasons and what they mean for the food that should normally be available at particular times of the year. We have become so used to being able to get whatever we want, whenever we want, that we forget that if we tomatoes in the middle of winter, they will have been grown somewhere halfway around the world and then shipped or flown in to our local supermarket.
Eating seasonally requires quite a shift in the way we think about food, but after the initial research, it can easily be incorporated into weekly meal plans. Knowing that you can only have British strawberries for a relatively short window in the Summer makes them so much more of a treat, and something to really look forwards to!
There are lots of resources available online – the BBC Good Food site has a handy ‘seasonality table’ that shows you when different things are in season, and when they are at their best. The Eat Seasonably site has a section for what to eat now, as well as what to grown now for aspiring gardeners too!

4. Get a veg box
We get our fruit and veg from Riverford, delivered to our door every week, and I have to say I love it.
It ticks so many of my ‘sustainable eating’ boxes – it is organic, the fruit and veg is seasonal, most of it is local and the stuff that isn’t is never air-freighted, and it cuts down hugely on the amount of plastic packaging coming in to the house.
For me, it takes some of the hassle out of trying to eat seasonally – if something is in season it will be in my veg box, and if it’s not, it won’t. Simples!
5. Cook from scratch
Cooking from scratch is cheaper, and you get to retain control over exactly what is going into your food. I started cooking more from scratch when we first had kids and started weaning – it felt really important to me to know that the food I was giving my precious baby was as natural and chemical free as possible. And I’ve just kind of carried on. I will admit that some things take a little longer and a little more effort than simply heating up a ready meal, or opening a jar of pasta sauce, but doing things like batch cooking, and meal planning can really help to streamline the whole process. If I’m doing anything in the slow cooker, I will double up and then freeze for another day when I am short on time. I regularly make a massive batch of tomato sauce for pasta or pizza toppings and freeze whatever we don’t use, and if I make biscuits I always bake a double batch and stash some away.

6. Reduce consumption of red meat
As well as having a meat free day at least once a week, cutting down on the amount of red meat we eat is another really simple way to quite dramatically cut the carbon footprint of our diet.
Lamb and beef are the biggest culprits in terms of greenhouse gas emissions – simply eating chicken instead of beef can cut emissions by up to 25%. We do eat meat in our house, and we do love a roast lamb, or a chilli con carne, but we eat it sparingly. If I do a roast, I make sure that my meal plan for that week incorporates at least one meal that will ensure any leftovers are used up (these ‘bestover’ pasties are a fave). Another way to sneakily reduce the amount of red meat in a meal is to substitute up to half of it with something like lentils – this really bulks up the dish, and most of the time no-one even notices!

7. Go organic
I always try and choose organic options wherever they are available – the organic system is not perfect, but I do believe that in general terms it is much kinder to the planet and more sustainable. More and more organic products are becoming available and the price has really dropped in recent years. I imagine it will always be more expensive than conventional products, but the same issues apply to ‘fast food’ as they do to ‘fast fashion’ and we have lost sight of how much food really should cost. Organic food is produced less intensively, and with less potential for exploitation of either the land or the producers, and for me, that’s a price worth paying.

8. Shop local
In an ideal world, we would all shop from our independent butchers, greengrocers and fishmongers, but this is becoming increasingly difficult as these small local businesses get squeezed out by the supermarkets.
Shopping locally is a great way to incorporate sustainability into your diet – money spent in the local economy is far more likely to stay within the local economy, rather than go towards lining the pockets of share holders and CEO’s.
Keep your eye out for your local farmer’s market, or seek out an independent butcher. Going supermarket free would be a big step for many of us, but could you commit a certain proportion of your weekly spend to local shops? If you are in the supermarket, then look out for British meat and veg, which will have lower food miles (British farms usually have higher welfare standards too).

9. Choose fairtrade
Fairtrade is really taking off and the range of products available is expanding every day – from coffee to bananas, and chocolate to peanut butter, there are so many more options available now.
Buying products with a fairtrade certification means that the producers have been paid a fair price for their goods – this means that they can afford to send their kids to school instead of sending them out to work, then can pay off any loans associated with their businesses, they can put food on their own tables. Again, I feel like the slightly increased costs of fair-trade goods is simply a truer reflection of how much things really cost to produce. The peace of mind that comes with knowing that other people aren’t being exploited or suffering as a result of my choices makes it a premium I am happy to pay.

10. Love your leftovers
Getting canny with leftovers, and those slightly limp veg left at the bottom of the fridge, or the over-ripe bananas in the fruit bowl is a brilliant way to not only eat more sustainably, but to save money too.
And the good news is that these uninspiring leftovers can be turned into delicious meals and snacks with relatively little effort.
You can find lots of my favourite recipes right here, and the Love Food Hate Waste site is also a great place to look for inspiration.

What are your favourite ways to eat more sustainably? Do comment below, or hop over to the Facebook group to join in the conversation!

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  • Reply Marie March 16, 2017 at 9:20 am

    A great article Jen. We do all of the above and are meat free five days a week. With organic food I often get asked how we can afford to eat this way. I find it helpful to break things down. For example, I can’t afford to buy organic bread but if I make it from scratch using organic ingredients it quite often becomes doable.

    You didn’t really mention growing your own. Even if you only grow one thing, it is a start. If you grow your own you have control over your food. Again, this helps our family to eat mainly organic (ok so my garden isnt certified organic, but I don’t garden with chemicals so in my mind, it’s as good as ?)

    • Reply Jen March 16, 2017 at 8:21 pm

      Thanks Marie! Yes, I do the same with bread 🙂
      Lots of people mentioned grown your own – definitely need to do a post on this!

  • Reply Liz Pearson March 16, 2017 at 9:14 am

    Great post…I agree with many of the comments about sustainable eating, and that it means different things to different people. People are diverse, so it’s not surprising that we see it in different ways. I just wanted to make some comments on the meat eating side of things though. Being brought up on meat-and-two-veg style eating, it’s my default mode, and even more so for my husband who grew up on a small, livestock-dominated farm, with milk and butter coming straight from the cow. We’re both trying to cut back on meat, nonetheless. I’ve seen a lot of statistics in the media of late about how unsustainable meat is, with scarily high figures for the carbon footprint of beef, for instance. Even though I agree we should all probably eat less meat and dairy, my gut feeling has been that good ol’ Daisy the cow surely can’t be that guilty and started reading around about this. Methane emissions aside, much as I thought, the worst of the figures seem to be based on livestock being fed on a diet of grain and soya, taking up huge tracts of land to feed cows and sheep that could be used to feed people directly from crops. The way it is reported, though, you’d think that it’s the only way animals can be farmed.

    The statistics making the headlines don’t seem to take much account of the fact in a traditionally farmed landscape, cattle and sheep would be happily munching away on grass and hay – food that we don’t like to eat, occupying land that isn’t, and has never been, very good arable or horticultural land (not on a large scale anyway). They can be moved around to eat the stubble of a harvested crop, munch on the clover of a field left fallow, manuring and keeping fields fertilized as they go. Think of all the upland in the British Isles – the Pennines, the high Lakeland fells, Peak District hills, the Cairngorms, Snowdonia, the Breacon Beacons etc. Colour it in on a map, then colour in the river floodplains. You’re only just starting to colour in the landscape which is best suited to mixed farming but mainly livestock farming. I work in archaeology, where I see every day the evidence that huge tracts of land, even in the lowland Midlands have been dominated by pastoral farming for thousands of years. It’s not that people weren’t growing any crops, just at a low level so that the evidence for it is thin on the ground. That’s not on a whim, it means something and is usually related to the soils. Factor in the usefulness of animals and I think Daisy the cow doesn’t look so guilty. Neither would pigs and chickens, if they were allowed to eat the food scraps that they always used to. Goats, ducks, geese anyone? The people I’ve come across who write about all this so well are Simon Fairlie in ‘Meat: a benign extravagance’ (he does the maths to work out the real footprint of different types of farming) and Phillip Lymbery – ‘Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat’. I’ve written a ridiculously long comment, I know, so perhaps I should leave it to the likes of them to put it across far better than I can.

    • Reply Jen March 16, 2017 at 8:20 pm

      Yes! I totally agree with you on this. Good old fashioned small scale mixed farms were probably the peak of sustainability. As you say, sheep and cattle could graze stubble crops and land not suitable for pasture. And although arable farming is more efficient in terms of us eating the food directly, it has an impact on bio-dverstiy and soil health. It’s not straightforward at all.

  • Reply Tass Smith March 15, 2017 at 10:50 pm

    A great post Jen. Doing some of this already though points 1,2, 8 and 10 need more investigation. We haven’t stopped eating meat altogether but we have drastically cut our consumption and probably only have 1 or 2 meaty meals a week. We’ve lost weight and saved loads of £s.

    • Reply Jen March 16, 2017 at 8:18 pm

      I find it really interesting that so many ‘planet saving’ actions also save us money too!

  • Reply Christine Doherty March 15, 2017 at 7:00 pm

    A good article . I live in the country so am fortunate that there is a pick your own farm up the road & a couple of farm shops that sell their own produce too . I do find the farm shops & veg boxes expensive though most of the time but there are always people locally who sell some of their own produce nearby & I am always pleased to buy their surplace . I look forward to walking up to buy the locally grown asparagus soon & later in the year getting locally honey , pickles & preserves . In the summer we do swap our surplace & I get regular duck eggs & plums for my apples , cherries , plums & fresh veg in the summer . I also pick fruits from the trees growing nearby and have learnt over the years where to look & forage . It spoils you a bit though as I can never have shop bought cherries , plums , apples & greengages now I get them picked from a tree . I save jars throughout the year for pickles & preserves & collect nuts & chestnuts for Christmas . When stored properly most produce lasts all winter . I’m still eating apples from last year & have bags of onions , potatoes & even some root veg in my garage & soft fruits are bottled or in my freezer . I recommend when visiting villages you look out for people selling from their homes it’s cheap & fantastic & forage when going on country walks . When in town i shop in Asian shops they are cheap & the choice & quality is amazing . I always buy from them whenever I can . Last week near my old family home I bought 5 huge juicy oranges for £1 & avocados 2 for 50p plus a huge bit of ginger for 20p .

    • Reply Jen March 16, 2017 at 8:17 pm

      You sound like you have got this nailed Christine! Thanks for sharing all these brilliant suggestions 🙂

    • Reply Jen March 17, 2017 at 6:52 pm

      Hi Julia
      Thanks for your comments and for joining in the debate. As I said in the piece, this is such a big and complex topic, and different people will have different criteria for how they measure ‘sustainable’.

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