This post is the second in a three-part series about how to parent in a more environmentally friendly way. The first post was about cloth diapering, this one tackles food waste, and the last will be on toys and clothing.
There are two major environmental concerns regarding foodstuffs: packaging and food waste. With regard to the former, when you walk into the grocery store, you are surrounded by single use packaging, most of which goes into landfills. Becoming familiar with Flagstaff’s (albeit limited) recycling guidelines can help you make more environmentally-conscious choices in the grocery store when you shop for yourself and your family. For example, buying the squeeze bottle of sour cream is better than the tub of it because the hard plastic of the squeeze bottle can be recycled, but the tub cannot be.
Choosing the lesser of two evils can help, but really, the best thing is to avoid buying as much plastic as possible (Sienna Bransky has a great blog post about this). While that’s easier said than done, try these tips. First, if you get deli meat and cheese, bring your own containers and ask that they do not put the plastic sheets in between each slice. Don’t put produce such as onions, grapefruit, etc. in plastic bags—you’re going to wash it all anyway. Avoid pre-packaged produce, too. Instead of four ears of corn wrapped in plastic, get four individual ears of corn that still have their husks on. Buy loose rather than prepackaged mushrooms. And of course, use reusable bags.
When Claire was 6 months old and we started her on purees, we avoided pre-made baby food. It was a little more work to make her food ourselves, but we found it to be worth it. Once per week, I would steam and puree several kinds of vegetables (squash, zucchini, beets, turnips, etc.) and store them in mason jars for the week. That way, I didn’t have to worry about any recalls for toxins or feel guilty about the packaging. Bonus: it saved us money, too.
Now, we get the “pouches” that have various mixtures of fruits, vegetables, and grains. They are convenient, nutritious, and well liked. However, to alleviate some of the issues with the individual packaging, we have signed up for Kroger’s Terracycle program, which allows you to recycle any Kroger-brand (including Private Selection and Simple Truth) flexible plastic packaging. Once you’ve saved a box-worth, you simply send it away (they provide the free shipping label), and the company recycles the plastic into storage containers, playgrounds, floor tiles, and more.
Food waste is also a huge problem. Yearly, the global amount of food waste is 1.4 billion tons. The US throws out more food than any other country in the world—nearly 80 billion pounds annually. This is more than 30% of the entire food supply, and equals about 219 pounds per person (Food Waste In America in 2022). All this discarded food ends up in the landfill where it produces methane gas, one of the leading causes of global warming.
Food waste isn’t only bad for the environment, it’s bad for your pocketbook, too. On average, Americans waste approximately $218 billion per year on food. This breaks down to a family of four spending $1600 yearly on food that goes in the garbage (Food Waste In America in 2022).
We had always been particularly conscientious about food waste, but with a toddler, it seems like a lot of it is out of our control. While nothing eliminates it completely, we’ve found a few things that help. First, we only give Claire small bits at a time, and then provide more as she asks. This is also a great way to work on words and phrases, such as “More grapes, please.” Second, we embrace leftovers. This doubles as both a way to decrease waste, but also is a time and energy saver when you don’t have to cook two nights in a row. Last, we compost as much as possible. If you don’t have a garden or place to compost, Flagstaff has various options.
We are by no means experts! If you have additional tips to deal with food in a more eco-friendly manner, please feel free to share them in the comments.