10 Tips for Eco-friendly Cooking

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Going green is rapidly becoming the norm, and the kitchen is a great place to start making environmentally friendly changes to your lifestyle. From the food you buy to the way it’s cooked and stored, you can save energy, reduce your carbon footprint and keep an eye on your budget in many different ways.

Eco-friendly cooking not only benefits the environment; it’s healthier for you and your family, too. Choosing organic vegetables keeps chemicals out of your body, as well the air, soil and rivers.

Many eco-friendly habits are also budget friendly. And these days, who isn’t watching every penny? Finding ways to cook more efficiently -- like using the right appliance for the job -- can help you reduce monthly energy costs. And you can cut your total supermarket bill by reusing products like aluminum foil and glass containers, buying and cooking food in larger quantities and making the most of leftovers.

Read on to discover our top 10 eco-friendly cooking tips.

Buy from Local Farmers

Tomato lovers know there’s nothing tastier than a fresh, locally grown tomato in the summertime, but it makes sense to buy food from local farmers year-round.

"One of the most eco-friendly things you can do foodwise is to eat local," says Ann Wilkinson, president of Origin Farms Consulting of Kansas City, Mo. "Not only are you supporting your local farmers, you're getting the freshest and, in many cases, the best organic and natural foods available. Plus, you're saving the environment the oil-hungry transportation cost of moving food across the country or the globe to your supermarket.”

Wilkinson encourages shoppers to search out locally grown fruits and vegetables at farmer’s markets, food stands and food co-ops. You’ll enjoy fresher food while supporting small business in your community and helping the environment.

Locating sources of sustainably grown food in your area is as easy as visiting www.LocalHarvest.org. Simply enter your ZIP code to find convenient sources of produce, grass-fed meats and other treats.

Buying food from local farmers can be an adventure for the entire family. Take a trip to a local berry farm and pick your own fruit, pack a picnic and visit a local orchard or visit an artisan cheese maker and see firsthand how Gouda is made.

Shop for Organic Products

Do you know what goes into your food? Bite into a pear from a standard supermarket, and you could be consuming more than 20 potentially dangerous chemicals.

Modern agriculture has made great strides in producing enough crops to satisfy demand, but food companies often use pesticides and chemicals that can harm you and the environment. It’s no wonder consumers are seeking healthier options.

Organic farming practices produce crops and raise cattle and poultry without relying on chemicals. Farming the natural way also helps encourage soil and water conservation.

Organic foods provide more nutrients, minerals and vitamins than food grown in large commercial farms. It tastes better, too. Look for organic fruits and vegetables, meats, poultry and dairy from local farmers, markets and co-ops.

Luckily, you can shop green even when you’re in your local supermarket. Products with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic seal provide assurance that the foods are produced without antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, irradiation or bioengineering.

One more thing: Don’t forget to take along reusable tote bags to the grocery store and skip the plastic bags.

Find Creative Uses for Leftovers

Everyone knows that leftover Thanksgiving turkey is great for soup, sandwiches and turketti, but smart cooks make the most of leftover meats all year long. Roasting a chicken for Sunday dinner? Save what’s left to make a pasta dish on Monday or toss it into a salad for Tuesday’s lunch. Grill a flank steak tonight and enjoy what’s left for weekend fajitas.

Planning ahead can simplify meal preparation on busy evenings, while helping to save the costs of going out to dinner or ordering takeout. Keep leftover bits of carrots, celery, onions and potatoes to make a tasty soup stock -- just add meat or noodles. Pasta dishes like lasagna and chicken casseroles are easy to make in large quantities and freeze in smaller portions to enjoy later.

Many cooks feed their kitchen scraps to a backyard compost pile. Once decomposed, the material makes a great fertilizer for your herb garden. Keep a bin in your kitchen to collect coffee grounds, banana peels, apple cores, eggshells and carrot tops while you’re cooking, then take them outdoors. You could also look into an odor-free, indoor system.

Use Aluminum Foil Wisely

Cost-conscious cooks have found creative ways to use and reuse aluminum foil for decades. These habits are also eco-friendly. Wrap lunches, snacks and leftovers in foil to keep them fresh, then rinse and reuse the foil again.

Looking for more smart uses for foil? Line pans and baking dishes with aluminum foil to make cleanup easier, so you use less water. Reuse aluminum foil to clean and scour pots and pans instead of steel wool or plastic pads. You can also use aluminum foil to sharpen scissors and garden shears; simply fold a sheet six to eight times and make several cuts.

Now, you can even purchase recycled aluminum foil from Reynolds Wrap. It’s made from 100 percent recycled aluminum from post-consumer sources such as automobile components, cookware, gutters and siding, as well as scraps from industrial cable. According to the manufacturer, there’s an 80 percent reduction in the amount of energy used during the process of turning recycled material into foil, compared to making it from new materials. Plus, the packaging and core are made from 100 percent recycled paper, and the inks used on the packaging are water-based.

Switch to Eco-friendly Cookware

While environmentally friendly cookware won't make you a gourmet cook overnight, it can help reduce energy usage in your kitchen and prevent harmful chemicals from tainting your family’s food.

Many kitchenware manufacturers, like Cuisinart, are now using a new ceramic technology designed to keep foods from sticking. Traditional nonstick pans are coated with Teflon that starts to break down at temperatures more than 450 degrees Fahrenheit (232 degrees Celsius). Most stoves reach higher temperatures, so the Teflon starts to break down after only a few months.

Pots and pans made with new ceramic-based nonstick technology take less time to heat the surface to the proper cooking temperature because of the excellent heat conductivity of the aluminum it’s made from. Its ceramic coating doesn’t start to break down until temperatures rise above 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit (538 degrees Celsius).

Purchase only the individual pieces you need instead of buying sets with pots that you'll never use, and select oven-friendly pieces that can be used for multiple purposes. You should also seek designs with tightly fitting lids so that very little heat energy escapes.

Look for cookware made of recycled materials, including handles derived from recycled aluminum. Some manufacturers even offer cookware with handles composed of sustainable materials like bamboo.

Cook with Natural Gas

Gourmet chefs have long preferred a natural gas range for sautéing vegetables and simmering sauces because of the ease and precision it provides. Turns out, gas cooktops are also a green choice.

Natural gas stoves are eco-friendly and energy efficient because the fuel is directly used for cooking. For electric cooktops, electricity must be generated from another source of fuel, like coal or gas.

Many professional cooks prefer using gas because of the immediate response and control that the flame offers. There’s no need to wait for the burner to heat up or cool down, and energy usage stops as soon as you turn off the burner. With pilotless ignition systems, gas is being consumed only when it is turned on, lowering energy usage -- and costs -- by about one-third.

Natural gas cooktops and ranges offer even cooking, high-output burners and low simmer temperatures. And you can still cook if the electricity goes out.

Develop Green Habits

Everyday actions add up to big energy savings, so use your appliances wisely. Conserve energy by choosing correctly sized pots and keeping them tightly covered to retain heat. Be sure to keep your stovetop burners clean so they cook more efficiently.

Make the most of your oven by cooking several things at once. Choose cast iron, ceramic or glass cookware to retain more heat and speed cooking time. You can eliminate or minimize preheating to conserve energy. Also, resist the urge to peek into the oven: The temperature drops 25 degrees every time you open the door.

If you’re remodeling, consider that convection ovens cook 25 to 30 percent faster than conventional ovens, saving time and energy.

Another green habit is to always use the right appliance for the job. For example, use a toaster to heat up your frozen waffles instead of heating up a large oven, or choose a microwave to heat up frozen foods or leftovers. Electric teapots offer a quick way to boil water and save energy.

Don’t be afraid to use your dishwasher. It’s a very efficient appliance, and you’ll use less water than by washing dishes. Run it only when it is full, and choose the most efficient settings: light instead of heavy and air-dry instead of heat. Just skip the pre-rinse cycle: It uses up to 20 gallons (75.7 liters) of water per load.

Keep Your Cool

Did you know that the refrigerator is one of the major users of household electricity? It’s hard at work every day of the year, and the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that 14 percent of a household’s energy usage goes to this appliance.

The refrigerator does a great job of keeping foods fresh, but make sure you’re using this trusted appliance efficiently. Putting hot leftovers directly into the refrigerator raises the temperature inside, so it has to work harder -- and burn more energy -- to keep foods cool. Allow your leftovers to sit at room temperature for a while before putting them into the refrigerator.

Check the rubber seal on your refrigerator periodically to make sure it’s doing a good job of keeping cold air in and warm air out: slip a dollar bill into the door. If it slips out easily, call a repair technician to fix or replace the seal.

It’s also best to keep your freezer as full as possible. Fill any empty space with reusable ice packs so it will stay cooler and use less energy.

If you have a refrigerator or freezer that’s more than 10 years old, consider replacing it with an Energy Star qualified model. Newer models are much more energy efficient, and the Department of Energy estimates that if every American home replaced its old refrigerator or freezer with a newer model, we could save enough energy to light more than 9.2 million homes for an entire year and save more than $2 billion in annual energy costs.

Eat More Fresh Food

Here’s one more reason to eat healthier: It’s eco-friendly. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, if every American had just one meat-free meal per week, the carbon dioxide reduction would be equal to removing more than 5 million cars from the road.

Choosing an organic apple over a bag of chips is a smart nutritional choice and conserves all that energy used in processing, packaging and delivering the bag, then disposing and recycling the waste left behind. While it might be easier to buy microwave popcorn, bottled lemonade or baby carrots, you’ll save money by making your own. Just buy regular carrots and cut them into bite-sized pieces, for example.

Another way to eat healthier is to grow your own food -- especially vegetables and herbs. Whether you plant a garden in the backyard or plant herbs in pots on the deck, there’s nothing like bringing a red pepper or pinch of basil that you’ve grown to your table. If a backyard garden isn’t possible, find a community garden in your area. Many local parks now offer these small garden plots to gardeners who work together to tend their crops.

Filter your water

Look to the kitchen sink for eco-friendly ways to conserve water. Filter your tap water to remove lead, chloroform and the taste of chlorine. You’ll save money over buying bottled water, and help reduce the energy used to produce, ship and dispose of plastic water bottles and jugs. Consider a water-filtering pitcher or a faucet mounted filter that screws on to your tap. Either way, you’ll enjoy better-tasting water, save money and help protect the planet.

Another smart move is to attach a low-flow aerator to your kitchen faucet. It mixes air into the water stream and reduces water usage, but doesn’t lower pressure. An aerator with a flow rate of 2.2 gallons (8.3 liters) per minute will save 1.4 to 2.7 gallons (5.2 to 10.2 liters) every day. Aerators are easy to install and can be found at your local hardware store at prices that won’t break your budget.


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