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“Greening” Your Family’s Menu

Everyone’s talking green these days. But have you thought about how you can “Green up” your family’s menu—and your kitchen as well? We associate “green” with ecology. Believe it or not, how we eat contributes tons of waste each year!

Let’s take a look at the typical American diet. We eat a huge amount of convenience foods. All of them require transportation to get their ingredients to the factory, more transportation to get them to your local store and a lot of plastic to make them ready for the microwave or lunchbox. For example, consider a popular lunchbox item that is marketed to your school-age child: some cold cuts, cheese, crackers or a small sandwich wrap and a plastic container of gelatin. These are all placed on a little plastic tray with a plastic wrap and then placed in a coated cardboard box, all of which is discarded at the end of lunch.

Instead, consider cold cuts, cheese, crackers and a piece of fresh fruit, placed in a reusable container and carried in an awesome lunchbox. Less trash, same meal and much cheaper! After a few weeks of making it yourself, you may discover that convenience foods aren’t all that convenient, after all!

We need to begin to change our way of doing things if we are to contribute to the preservation of our planet. Here are some other examples of how we can all do our part:

1. If you are pregnant or planning to have a baby, breastfeed. Not only is it the healthiest way to feed your infant, but formula processing, packaging and shipping requires enormous amounts of energy. Discarding the used formula containers adds tons to our landfills. Breast milk is always ready and does not create any waste. You can’t get any greener than that!

2. Avoid individual packets of instant oatmeal by buying a large box of instant oats and adding your own fruit. This eliminates those little envelopes and is less expensive. The same goes for frozen pancakes, waffles and toaster pastries. Make your own—it’s easy to make from a mix and costs a fraction of the frozen items. Waffles and pancakes can be made in advance and frozen for later use. Just pop them in the microwave. Toaster pastries should be removed from your diet anyway, unless it’s only fat and sugar you are looking for.

3. If you buy meats in quantity, portion and wrap in freezer paper instead of plastic wrap, freezer bags or foil. Plastic never breaks down, and foil is not usually recycled.

4. Avoid soups, ramen and anything else that might be packaged in Styrofoam. They may be great for heating and eating, but the foam container is disastrous in a landfill.

5. If you eat out frequently, ask to take any leftovers home. Uneaten food in American restaurants must be discarded, even if it was a side dish brought to your table that you didn’t touch. Use it for lunch the following day or plan a potpourri meal of leftovers at the end of the week.

6. Use leftovers to make a sustainable soup. Begin with a simple broth and add leftover veggies and meat. Avoid putting pasta into the broth because it will become mushy, but you can reheat pasta in a bowl and add the soup to it. You can actually keep a soup going for a few days before you start over. Every time you add something new, you change the taste! It’s a great starter to any meal during cold winter months.

7. Start a compost pileof all peelings, foods that look tired in the refrigerator and vegetables your kids refused to eat. Composted materials are returned to the soil as fertilizer for next year’s garden. For great information on simple composting, go to ecologue.com, ciwmb.ca.gov (go to “home composting”) or sustainable.tamu.edu/slidesets (go to “composting for kids”). If you live in an apartment, consider starting a community compost pile and perhaps even a community garden. Composting is so “in” these days that it’s even better than designer purses! And everyone can afford it—in fact, we can’t afford not to do it!

8. Use local produce when possible. It’s fresher because it’s picked when ripe and not before. What’s more, it eliminates both packaging and transportation costs. Plan your meals around seasonal fruits and vegetables. It’s a terrific way to support your own local economy.

9. When cleaning up in the kitchen, or anywhere in your home, consider a vegetable-based concentrate that you add with water in a reusable spray bottle, or simply a vinegar and water combination. Any container that has a warning label or a “proper disposal” label is not ecologically favorable nor is it something you want to be spraying on your cooking surfaces. Frequent cleaning with soap and water will destroy most of the nasty germs in your kitchen.

10. Another way to green up your kitchen is to limit the use of paper towels and turn to washable dishcloths and microfiber cloths. Both can be tossed in the laundry at the end of the day, keeping your paper waste to a minimum.

For more information on ecological responsibility in your house, search the web using the keywords “ecology,” “recycling” and “green environment.”

As for your family’s meals, keep it simple, basic and fresh!