Environmental nutrition offers an eating approach for your health and the planet’s
Healthy eating isn’t just good for you; it can also benefit society and the planet. That’s the goal of environmental nutrition.
“Environmental nutrition focuses on nourishing our population while balancing our earth’s resources,” says Beth Gordon, registered dietitian nutritionist at Northwestern Medicine. “A lot of this is getting back to the basics.”
Environmental nutrition looks at the big picture of how people are eating and how those choices impact relationships in food systems and the environment. “It’s sustainable living, food systems, and food supply chain issues, as well as the social and socioeconomic impacts of food sourcing, especially in poorer communities. It looks at things like food deserts and reducing carbon emissions,” Gordon says. “It’s also about getting foods that are locally produced into the hands of people who can’t get them.”
Those sound like lofty goals, but a cornerstone is seasonal eating.
Start by going to your local farmers market, even just once a month, and basing your meals around what’s growing naturally at the time of year. “Another part of this is to really focus on foods as they are, not how they’re created to be in processed or packaged foods,” Gordon says.
Meal planning takes time up front, but it also saves money and reduces food waste. “If you waste food, that’s not good for the environment because more has to be produced to keep up with the demand,” Gordon says. Planning also reduces your carbon footprint because “you’re not running to the store to get just five things.”
Check your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer before you go shopping. If you buy large quantities of food, make sure to preserve or use it.
An example of this in Gordon’s own life was when she went to a local produce store and bought 40 pounds of bananas for only $6. She took the bananas home and got to work.
Gordon spent the next five hours cutting up bananas and freezing them. “It was too many bananas, but I couldn’t pass up that deal. I used them in smoothies and banana bread for the next year.”
As Gordon can attest, good nutrition and good environmental practices go hand in hand. “What’s good for your body tends to be good for the planet,” Gordon says.
Warm Squash Salad with Maple Dressing
Try this comforting salad on a chilly fall day, or serve it at a winter holiday feast.
2 cups roasted butternut squash (about 1/2 squash), peeled, cored, and diced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 red onion, sliced thinly (about 1 cup)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sugar
8 cups mixed greens
1 cup red cabbage, diced
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup apple cider or balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon, plus 2 teaspoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon shallots
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a large bowl, toss squash pieces with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon
of sea salt. Roast for 30 minutes or until tender and slightly browned. Meanwhile, place red onion in a small bowl with apple cider vinegar, remaining 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, and 1/4 teaspoon sugar. Stir together, then let sit for 15 minutes. Next, drain and discard vinegar. Toss together mixed greens, red cabbage, cranberries, and red onion. Add warm squash right from the oven, and drizzle dressing on top. Makes
2. A serving size is 1/4 salad or 1/2 cup squash, 2 cups mixed greens, 1/4 cup red onions, 1/4 cup red cabbage, 1 tablespoon cranberries and 2 tablespoons dressing: 270 calories, 17 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 380 mg sodium, 28 g carbohydrates, 17 g sugar, 4 g fiber, and 2 g protein.
In a large bowl, whisk all ingredients together before tossing in salad.
Note: To make this salad more of a meal, add pecans, goat cheese, or cooked chicken.