Saving the planet seems a luxury in these difficult financial times – catalogues are full of pricy eco-gadgets, it isn’t feasible for most to buy an eco-friendly car, and organic food is so much more expensive. However, well-planned food shopping, and cooking carefully without any extra fancy expensive gadgets, can save the planet and save you money, too. Here’s how.
A lot of food is thrown away unused, which means that more food has to be transported around, using up costly and environmentally unhealthy fuel. It wastes money and time, too. And though large grocery stores are full of special offers, what seems to be a good value can just end up being wasted. However, planning menus a few days or a week in advance can help avoid waste, as can shopping with a list. Read on for ways to shop smart at the supermarket.
Getting the best eco-friendly value with meat
Check out the cheaper cuts of meat. They tend to be rather tough if not cooked in the right way, and can be fatty, but they often have a better flavor. Cooking these cheaper cuts slowly, for example in a slow cooker, will keep the meat tender and flavorful as well as keeps in the nutrients. To control fat levels, trim the meat carefully before cooking and skim any fat off the surface (or leave the stew in the fridge to go cold and lift off the solidified fat that forms at the surface).
Bonus tip: Try Freecycle.com for slow cookers.
Buy a whole organic chicken
Rather than buying chicken breast filets, buy a whole free range or organic bird. It might seem more expensive, but roasted, the breasts will make a nice evening meal, and the legs are delish as lunch for the next day, cold with a salad. The remaining meat stripped off the carcass can make a hearty pasta sauce or the ingredients for a risotto, as well as enough left over to drop into homemade stock for a delicious light chicken soup.
Bonus tip: To make stock, break up the stripped chicken carcass, cover it with boiling water and boil for a couple of hours with vegetable trimmings, garlic and herbs. Infinitely better than store-bought stock!
Consider vegetarian proteins
Meat production is an expensive way to provide protein – it takes around five kilos of grain to produce a kilo of meat. Based on this, the most eco-friendly diet is a vegetarian one, but if you enjoy meat and can’t imagine a diet without it, then perhaps think about replacing meat with soy protein just one or two days a week, or bulk out meat in stews, burgers and sauces with grains or legumes. It will be cheaper, too.
Bonus tip: Read Get your protein with meatless combinations for some easy to incorporate tips on vegetarian meals.
Buy seasonally and locally
Local food is great for the planet, as it uses less “food miles” for transport, and is often inexpensive. Local markets are always a good bet for buying quality food on a budget, especially farmer’s markets or community markets – everything comes without fancy packaging, which is good for your billfold and the planet.
Seasonal vegetables and fruit are better for the environment, as they don’t have to be imported, or grown unnaturally in heated greenhouses. They are often cheaper and you can buy extra to freeze – giving you the opportunity to enjoy your favorite fruit and vegetables year round without the extra food miles.
Bonus tip: Once you get your fruits and vegetables home, avoid waste by using as much of them as possible – for example, scrub potatoes and carrots rather than peeling them (which keeps more vitamins in, too), and trim and cook the broccoli stalks as well as the florets for your dinner side dishes.
Try something different
Try eating the leaves of your vegetables! Beet leaves can go in salads when young, and be steamed like spinach when older. Try rutabaga leaves or cauliflower leaves (especially the tender ones near the white part). Carrot leaves are edible too, but are rather bitter – try them in a salad or as a garnish.
Take note, there are some leaves that aren’t good to eat – don’t eat tomato or white potato leaves as they contain some toxins. However, sweet potato leaves taste good and are full of nutrients. You may want to consult your produce expert if you aren’t sure about the leaves of certain vegetables.
When making stock, drop in carrot tops and tails, celery leaves and other vegetable peelings and trimmings. It’s also a good way to used up tired vegetables, like the bendy parsnips and slightly wrinkly peppers.
Bonus tip: What can be more local than homegrown vegetables? You don’t even need to plot out a garden – many vegetables and herbs will grow happily in pots on steps and patios, or in window boxes.
Cooking carefully can be eco-friendly and save you money
Cooking carefully can save a lot of energy – match the size of pan to the size of burner on a gas or electric cooker, and turn the gas burner down to stop flames licking up the side of the pan.
Cutting food into smaller pieces makes it cook more quickly, as does keeping the heat in – use pans and casserole dishes with well-fitting lids, or wrap food in aluminum foil (and don’t forget to reuse or recycle it afterwards, if possible). Electric stovetops, grills and ovens can often be switched off before the food is fully cooked, allowing the remaining heat to finish the cooking.
Microwaves and pressure cookers are low-energy forms of cooking, and using a stovetop steamer – the triple-stacking kind – means that you can steam vegetables above boiling potatoes, pasta or rice. A steamer uses heat that would otherwise be lost, takes up less room on your stovetop, and results in cooked vegetables that are more nutritious, too.
Eco food doesn’t have to be dull – it doesn’t even have to be different from ordinary food. Just a little bit of extra thought and planning – and its saves money, and helps save the world. How good is that!