Eating sustainably is about fueling your body with delicious food that promotes your health while also benefitting your environment, both now and for future generations.
Agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, water usage and pollution, and accounts for over half of land usage in the United States.
By supporting more sustainable farming practices which require fewer resources to maintain, you also help to support biodiversity, your local communities in addition to your health!
You may think that eating sustainably means you have to spend more money on your food and buy all organic and specialty foods. But, this is not necessary!
In fact, eating sustainably does not have to be difficult or expensive. This blog post will cover 9 easy tips on how you can start eating with sustainability in mind without breaking the bank.
9 Tips: How to Eat Sustainably on a Budget
1. Eat seasonally
Choosing in-season fruits and vegetables is a good start. Not only do these in-season crops usually offer more nutrition, better quality and flavor but they require fewer resources.
Growing food outside of their natural season requires more nonrenewable energy and large amounts of water to make this happen.
Both sustainable eating and seasonal eating depend on more natural resources and less on artificial means to produce food.
And guess what? Eating seasonally is cheaper too. Check out the US Foods Seasonal Produce Guide to find out what produce is currently in-season. You can also use this Seasonal Food Guide for your specific area.
2. Buy Locally
Supporting your local farmers is good for your local community and typically uses fewer resources including transportation. Local produce also tends to be cheaper.
Some local tips:
- Shop at local Farmer’s markets or swap meets. You’ll notice some stands will be more expensive than others, so do some comparison shopping.
- Look for the “Local” sign in the produce section.
- Join a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture program). This is such an awesome way to get the cheapest produce while supporting your local farmer by buying directly through them. You can get fresh produce delivered directly to your door and you can choose the frequency and type of package that will support your individual needs and budget.
3. Reduce Food Waste
It is a pretty sad statistic that around 30-40% of our food produced in the United States is wasted1. That’s a lot of resources just going into our landfill!
Some budget friendly tips on reducing food waste:
- Try to stretch what you have. Buy less, shop more frequently and freeze what you don’t use.
- Incorporate meal planning so that you can utilize what you have on hand in an intentional way.
- Eat your leftovers and freeze what you don’t use right away.
- Compost your scraps. Not only will you reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions, but you will help make healthier soil which helps grow more nutrient dense food. A win win. Research a local community compost drop-off near you.
4. Less Meat & Dairy and More Plant Foods
Cutting out or reducing your meat and dairy intake can have the BIGGEST impact. Meat and dairy are a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and requires more food, water, land, and energy than plants.
More than three-quarters of all agricultural land is used for livestock production. This is a major contributor to global deforestation.
Growing crops for livestock feed also requires significantly more water than growing fruits, vegetables, beans and grains. Producing just a single pound of beef takes about 1,800 gallons (!) vs. a serving of black beans requires 49 gallons2. Go beans!
Another cool thing about beans and other plant foods is that they also tend to be cheaper. What budget savvy shopper doesn’t appreciate that?
If you’d like to read more about this topic, I found The Animal Agriculture and Zero Waste article to be a nice summary and it also provides tips on what you can do.
5. Budget Friendly Plant Protein
Yay for plants! This doesn’t mean, however, to go and stock up on Beyond and Impossible Burgers and vegan cheese. In fact, this is what spreads the mythical rumor that eating a plant-based diet is more expensive.
Meat alternatives and mock meats can be expensive. But choosing whole plant proteins such as beans, lentils, and tofu are much more affordable.
I love promoting beans as a protein source. They are packed with so much nutrition – not only protein, but magnesium, iron, zinc, potassium, and fiber to name a few. They’re also cheap (especially dried beans)!
If you have an instant-pot, this makes cooking dried beans much quicker and easier. Check out one of my favorite recipes for Mexican Black Beans.
6. Buy from the Bulk Section
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If your grocery store has a bulk section, check it out! This is a great opportunity to not only reduce packaging waste, but to save money as well. The nice thing about the bulk department is that you have the ability to only buy what you need.
The bulk section is a great place to buy dried beans, quinoa, different kinds of rice, flour, dried fruit, etc. Instead of using the plastic bags they provide, you can always use these eco-friendly reusable bags.*
7. Avoid Ultra-Processed Foods
I think most of us are aware of the negative impact that ultra-processed foods have on our health (diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer, etc.).
Besides the excess packaging that ultra-processed foods usually come in, they have also been linked to producing more greenhouse gas emissions and using more water and land3. Just another reason to choose more whole plant foods into your diet!
This might not save you money in the short term, but it will definitely save you money in the long run when it comes to your health.
8. Buy Frozen Produce
Despite the fact that frozen produce contains more packaging, it can often be cheaper and can really help cut down on food waste. Frozen produce lasts longer which allows you to use what you need with fewer trips to the store.
In addition, there is more preparation involved such as washing, peeling, etc. before freezing, which might lead to lower pesticide residue. Frozen produce can also retain more nutritional value because it is frozen hours after harvesting, leaving less time to degrade from harvest time until it makes it to your fridge.
If you have the option to buy in-season local produce that, of course, is a great option. But, if you find yourself craving out-of-season produce or would like to have a longer lasting back-up supply then check out your freezer isle!
9. Grow Your Own Food
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This can sound intimidating initially and not everyone has the means or the space to do this, but growing your own food takes things to the next level.
It requires some love and time and effort, especially when you first start out. But, growing your own food can not only help reduce your carbon footprint with fewer carbon emissions and reduced pesticide and fertilizer use, it can also save you money in the long run.
There’s something empowering about growing your own food. You don’t have to go all in either. You can start small with growing your own potted herbs or in my case growing your own microgreens (ZestiGreens*) which is super easy!
If you’re looking for guidance on how to get started on your own garden check out gardening for beginners.
Go Green Summary
You don’t have to incorporate all 9 of these tips all at once. Just having more awareness of your impact and committing to one easy change at a time that feels right and doable for you is a great place to start.
Eating sustainably doesn’t have to be hard and can be doable even while on a budget. Not only can it be a healthier approach to eating, you are also thinking beyond yourself and making a positive contribution to the environment that you live in.
If you’d like more tips on how to get started on a plant-based diet check out my starter guide + 5 day meal plan.