04/13/2015 05:30 EDT | Updated 06/13/2015 05:59 EDT

6 Ways to Eat More Sustainably

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Hands holding a fresh bunch of carrots

'Sustainable' is a word that's thrown around a lot, but do you really understand what it means? Essentially, to eat sustainably means to choose foods that are grown with respect for the environment and for our health. They're produced in an ecologically and ethically responsible way that is kind to both the workers growing the food and the animals that are the food.

Sometimes, eating sustainably is difficult, but even if you don't jump into it with both feet, every bit helps. Do what you can afford, what you believe in, and what's easiest for you. In many cases, eating more sustainably means eating cheaper, fresher foods: keep reading to see what you can do.

Ditch The Labels

Think about all the ultra-processed food in your kitchen. Could you make your own versions of any of those products, such as cookies, bread, yogurt, or granola? When you choose to make what you would otherwise buy, you not only can save money, but you also save resources like packaging, and you're eating healthier with less preservatives and additives.

Grow a Garden

Coming from someone who kills everything she tries to grow (except for herbs..I'm good with herbs), I still understand how important it is to connect with the earth by growing your own food. Especially when you have kids, it's important for them to understand that food doesn't come from the supermarket. When you grow your own food, even if it's a few tomatoes, some herbs, whatever you can manage, you help the earth because the pollution associated with commercially grown food -- transportation, pesticides, and labour -- are all avoided. This awesome page from Harvard Health Blog talks all about how to get started and about the impact that growing your own food can have on your health.

Buy Organic When You Can

I am the first to admit that it can be financially challenging to buy all of your food organic. Organic food uses no synthetic pesticides and is kinder to the earth than conventionally farmed food, so if you're looking to maximize your dollars, I recommend checking the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists. These lists indicate which plant foods are the highest and the lowest in pesticides, which can help you to decide which of them to buy organic (grapes) or not (avocado). When you're snacking, a 100 per cent certified organic CLIF Organic Trail Mix Bar is the perfect choice. Other great snack choices include organic fruits and vegetables, Mary's crackers, or my roasted cinnamon orange almonds, which can be made with organic ingredients.

Eat More Plants, and Choose Local Animal Foods

You're heard it before: Eat more plants. Everything that grows uses resources, but meat and dairy are by far the biggest offenders. Not eating meat for one day a week -- for example, Meatless Monday -- can have an impact if enough people adopt it. You're just one person, but you can have an influence on many people.

Know Your Farmer

Buying from small farms and getting to know who grows your food is a great way to connect with where you food came from. Whether it's a beekeeper, chicken farmer, or someone who grows fruits and vegetables, you can ask them questions about the food; how it was grown, and who helped them grow it, for example. They'll sometimes even let you come to their farm to see how they operate, which is a wonderful way to shift your perspective on how our food system works. Another benefit of knowing your farmer is that it means that your food has likely been grown locally. That means that not only is it probably fresher than food from a supermarket, but your purchase also supports your local community and small businesses.

Choose Ugly Fruits and Veggies

Between 20 and 40 per cent of the produce harvest in this country goes to waste because it's not 'pretty' enough for the average consumer. You can imagine what an astonishing waste of resources this is, considering the water, labour, fuels, and fertilizers that went into growing that produce. I'm a huge fan of the 'ugly' movement, which you can read more about here. Supermarkets are starting to get on the bandwagon too, so when you see uglies, don't pass them by. They're just as good as the 'pretty' fruits and vegetables! Here's the latest effort by Canada's largest supermarket to help get imperfect produce into the hands of consumers. Imperfect produce is cheaper, too!

You don't have to make major changes to your life to impact the sustainability of your food choices. Starting small and staying within your means -- both financially and ability-wise, is the best way to begin.


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