With Earth Day’s 52nd anniversary this week, it’s a great time to reflect on ways we might do even more to lessen our negative impact on this place we call home. But where to start? If your family spends as much time as my family of five does thinking about, preparing, and eating food, I recommend beginning with the kitchen.
Because from the foods we buy, to how we prepare them, and even how we clean up after them, there are so many little things that can really have a positive impact, especially if done by more of us. So keep reading for 10 tips for a more sustainable kitchen that you can easily incorporate into your home.
Top photo: UNpaper Towels from Marley’s Monsters
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1. Use cleaner, greener cleaner
I spend so much time cleaning up the kitchen–dirty dishes, crumb-covered countertops, that sticky something on the floor–that using more reusable and natural products is a given. They’re less harsh to the environment and also less harsh on my lungs and skin when I use them. Our own Kate introduced me to some of her favorites in her post 4 of our new favorite green cleaning products that actually work. Bonus? They also are safe enough to be put directly onto the surfaces I use to prepare or serve food.
I’m also trying to reduce how many paper towels we go through by switching to reusable paper towels which you can find in basic white as well as vibrant and fun colors and patterns. And don’t forget to grab some bright cloth napkins which will instantly make every meal feel a bit more special. They’re such an easy swap and last a long, long time.
2. Rethink your morning coffee
Though K-cups and paper coffee filters are such small pieces of trash, their widespread use by millions of people adds up quickly in our landfills (and they cannot be recycled). Instead consider making the easy switch to either reusable K-cup filters, gold coffee filters, or even reconsider the method you use for brewing your morning coffee, like using a French press that needs no additional filter at all.
3. Reduce school lunch waste
I still have two more months of school lunches to prepare (oy), which Is why I so appreciate this post about 4 of the best plastic bag alternatives to help us reduce school lunch waste and save money. My personal favorite is Bee’s Wraps reusable wraps which clean beautifully and last a really long time. But. . .only switch over to these options if your kids are old enough to remember to bring them home and not dump everything into the cafeteria trash!
4. Safer cookware
I switched to cast iron pans years ago but ever since I’ve learned about the chemicals known as PFAS that are all over non-stick cookware, I’m even happier that I made the switch. If you can, changing over to either cast iron or stainless steel cookware (or a mixture of the two) can significantly reduce the amount of these “forever chemicals” that will come in contact with your food as you cook. And that’s a good thing.
5. Eat greener
If you’ve been trying to incorporate less meat into your diet, you are in luck! As a mom to a vegan, there has never been a better time to find plant-based products and recipes that we all love. And you don’t even have to forego ribs and burgers forever to have an impact: Try switching out one meal a week and gradually increase from there as it suits your family.
One other way to reduce the amount of energy needed to get your food from farm to table is to eat according to what’s seasonal for your area. That means grabbing lots of tomatoes in summer when they’re local and eating lots of winter squashes later in the year. This state-by-state seasonal food guide is an awesome resource.
6. Use less energy
From an energy usage standpoint, I already try to use my smaller toaster oven to reheat leftovers vs turning on our large electric oven. But I also want to incorporate more slow cooker, Instant Pot, and air fryer recipes into our meal planning since these devices are less of a drain on our electric grid.
And another tip? Unplug items you leave on your countertop but only use infrequently. Even though they don’t use a lot of energy just chilling on your counter, they do use some and, chances are you don’t really need that clock on your toaster oven anyway.
7. Start a garden
We started a small backyard garden a few years ago, and it’s been so rewarding to pick fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and herbs all summer long. For those who don’t have space for a garden plot, try growing herbs or plants indoors or in containers on your front steps. Not only is gardening a great way to feed your family, but it also teaches kids valuable lessons about farming, the seasonality of foods, and how great just-picked cherry tomatoes can taste.
8. Use up the food you have
My mom used to limit our food waste by enforcing the “clean plate club”, something I am not inclined to repeat as a parent. Instead, I’m trying to focus on reducing our food waste by learning how to use up foods that may be a little past their prime. And another trick I’ve found is to do a little bit of meal planning each week with the help of an app that lets me search by ingredient(s) so I can use up what I have in the house before it spoils.
9. Compost your food scraps
Letting your food scraps become nutrient-rich compost is a great way to reduce the waste we send to the landfill—and it is so easy to do! I keep a little stainless steel bin next to my kitchen sink into which we throw our vegetable and fruit food scraps before transferring them all to a larger composting bin we keep in the yard.
I also love Anne’s easiest composting practice that the kids may love doing so much on their own!
And check in your town for compost pick-up companies who will take away your scraps and provide you with bags of rich compost in return. Talk about a win win!
10. Support legislation
Finally, while I think we can all make changes to have a more sustainable kitchen, I believe more pressure has to be put on manufacturers to produce products that use less plastic and unnecessary packaging. That’s why I’ve been keeping a close eye on Maine’s Extended Producer Responsibility Program for Packaging–the first regulation in the country that charges manufacturers based on the amount and the recyclability of packaging associated with their products. In other words, it incentivizes manufacturers to produce more eco-friendly products that can be easily recycled.
Keep an eye on your own state to see if this is something you can help support on the local level.