According to the Department of Agriculture, between 30-40 percent of the food supply is wasted each year. Much of the waste happens at the consumer or retail level – after the food leaves the grower. Food that could help feed families in need is being tossed into waste baskets and landfills. Good nutrition isn’t solely about making the right choices, it starts with access. By reducing waste, we can improve our own health, as well as the health of our community.
March is National Nutrition Month. This year’s National Nutrition Month theme is “Go Further with Food.” The campaign addresses this issue by encouraging thrifty choices. This not only reduces food waste, but also challenges the age-old misconception that eating healthy is expensive. Many fresh fruits and vegetables have a quick expiration date, but with the right plan, we can nourish our bodies, save money and reduce waste.
First, consider foods you have on hand before purchasing them at the store. Notice a broccoli in the crisper that will go bad soon? Make a stir-fry for dinner. Have leftover fish? Give it new life with tacos for lunch. Practice food safety by being mindful of what hides within the plastic containers that are on your shelves and then plan accordingly to use those foods. Next, consider each food’s ripening speed. For example when purchasing bananas or avocados, look for different stages of ripeness. That way, by day three, you’ll still have fruit that is ready to eat.
Another way to think of the theme “Go Further with Food,” is to choose meals and snacks packed with good nutrition. “Empty calories” is a popular term for a snack that provides calories but little else – essentially, stopping short of our necessary nutrients. These tend to be processed foods, like baked goods or sugary drinks. Though they have a place in a balanced diet, it’s important they are not your typical go to food choices. When we look beyond the calories and consider the whole nutrient profile, we are then eating for good health, not just for looks.
Sometimes all it takes is a food swap – replacing the sugar in our morning coffee with cinnamon, or adding smashed avocado to our toast in place of jelly. An athlete preparing for a jog can opt for a small banana instead of a slice of white toast. Although both have roughly 80 to 90 calories, the banana also has electrolytes and B-vitamins that replenish what is lost during exercise.
As registered dietitian nutritionists know, food truly is medicine and fuel. Whether we are exercising, caring for loved ones, or meeting a deadline at work, this year’s National Nutrition Month theme reminds us that the foods we choose affect how we perform and give us that extra boost to “go further.” You can read more about the U.S. Food Waste Challenge here.
Contact your local VA to learn more about this or other nutrition-related topics. Ask to speak with a registered dietitian today.
Bethany Grzesiak is a clinical dietitian at the Ann Arbor VA Medical who works directly with Veterans enrolled in the TeleMOVE! Weight Management Program. She has had the wonderful opportunity of also working with and learning from the dietitians at the Cleveland Louis Stokes VA Hospital and Aleda E. Lutz VA Medical Center in Saginaw, Michigan.