Each year during the month of March the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics celebrates National Nutrition Month. Initiated in 1973 as National Nutrition Week, this public education campaign became a month-long observance in 1980 as people began to show a growing interest in nutrition.
This year’s theme is “Go further with food” focusing on various ways each of us can do our part in reducing food waste, preparing meals in advance, and choosing foods grown locally that are healthful to the environment. To gain understanding of the goals of this year’s theme, let’s take a look at each of the areas of focus:
Reduce food waste
Did you know that around 31 percent of all edible food is wasted in the United States and it is estimated that households in the U.S. throw away almost 28 percent of fruits and vegetable? One of our most precious commodities we need to survive on is food. Food is simply too good to waste. No matter how sustainably a farm may be, if the food is wasted it does no one any good.
When food is wasted, it not only is expensive but it also places pressure on the environment since resources such as water and land are needed to produce our food.
Fortunately, there are several things we each can do to help fight food waste and to make the most of the groceries we bring home:
- Before stepping out the door to go grocery shopping, be sure to check your cupboards, refrigerator and freezer to avoid overbuying.
- Put items close to their expiration date at the front of the fridge so they get eaten sooner. Use clear storage containers to quickly identify foods.
- Be sure to eat the most perishable fruits and veggies first to avoid food wastage that will only end up in the trash. Purchasing frozen or canned versions of produce are healthy alternatives and will last much longer.
- Get creative with scraps of veggies instead of tossing them out. Add them as garnishes to salads, stir into soups, mix in with a casserole or grow them to use again.
- Freeze extra food such as fruits or meats to extend shelf life, wrapping freezer items in heavy freezer paper, plastic wrap, freezer bags or foil.
- Always date all frozen items using the oldest food first.
- Check on date labels of food to make sure good food isn’t wasted. The “sell by” date lets the store know when it should stop selling a package to manage inventory; the “best if used by” date is the last date recommended for the customer’s use of a product at its peak quality.
- Even though it is important to use food that is bought, if in doubt about it being safe, throw it away.
Prepare meals in advance
A great way to eat healthy is preparing meals in advance. There are several advantages to this:
- Preparing meals ahead of time on the weekends means no more coming home from work wondering what to have for dinner or relying on fast food.
- Meal prepping – even just 2 or 3 meals – often results in eating a greater variety of foods, saves time during the week, and reduces food waste.
- Choose meals based on recipes with ingredients you already have on hand to get the most out of your food. Create your grocery list, purchasing only what you need to reduce trips to the grocery store throughout the week
- Cooking in bulks saves money and allows you to portion and freeze meals for later. By portioning meals, this allows reheating of a single meal and not the entire dish. To ensure safe reheating in a microwave or oven, use a thermometer checking for an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
No doubt the majority of us have heard of the “locally grown” food movement these days. Shopping locally for food has several advantages:
- Supports income of local farmers and improves personal and planetary health.
- Foods purchased at farmer’s markets often are more affordable, fresher and flavorful since they have not travelled far to reach the point of purchase.
- Fresh-picked produce tend to have more phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals with an overall higher nutrient content.
- Puts into practice sustainability. This leads to strong communities, a diverse ecosystem and healthier individuals.
As part of National Nutrition Month, the Academy’s website includes articles, recipes, videos, and educational resources on good nutrition and leading a healthy lifestyle. The Academy is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals including registered dietitians. Registered dietitians are experts in human nutrition helping individuals develop a personal eating plan fitting their unique lifestyle needs and tastes. To find an RD in your area, visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website at www.eatright.org.