The 411 on Zero-Waste Grocery Stores

The prepackaged legumes in aisle six? No more. The bags of flour in the baking section? Unavailable. And the quintessential “Paper or plastic?” question posed to you at the checkout counter? Forget about it.

Welcome to the zero-waste grocery store.

In order to mitigate waste and promote environmental sustainability, zero-waste grocery stores adopt a minimalist approach toward bags, packaging, and wrappers. Take Brooklyn’s soon-to-be The Fillery, for instance.

Upon its grand opening, The Fillery’s customers will have the opportunity to participate in a three-step consumer experience unique to zero-waste grocery stores. First, the type of storage unit will be determined and supplied by consumers. Next, a taring station will inform customers of the weight of their selected storage units. After that, consumers will retrieve the precise amount of groceries that their hearts (or recipes) desire.

From a culinary standpoint, it’s cool that zero-waste grocery shoppers can customize the quantity of goods purchased to the precise amount of ingredients called for in particular recipes. We’ve all been there when the recipe we’ve selected calls for only a tablespoon or two of some obscure ingredient, and once we arrive at the grocery store, the only option is a prepackaged bulk version!

Consumers’ abilities to tailor their purchases to their cooking needs truly differentiates zero-waste grocery stores from their conventional counterparts. In addition to mitigating food waste, zero-waste grocery stores also empower consumers to adopt more eco-conscious habits. For example, The Fillery’s founder felt called to act after witnessing the sheer magnitude of materials utilized and discarded improperly; in particular, the scope of plastic pollution struck a cord with this founder.

While zero-waste grocery stores may appear trendy at first glance, these vendors may have the capacity to reverse the ubiquitous waste of food, plastic, and storage domestically and abroad. Below you’ll find a few strategies for supporting zero-waste grocery stores:

Three Strategies for Supporting Zero-Waste Grocery Stores:

1. While scheduling a trip domestically or internationally, check out Bepakt’s  compilation of zero-waste vendors, and plan a visit once you arrive to your vacation destination.

2. Carry part of the zero-waste grocery store experience with you to a conventional grocery store by bringing your own bags to transport your groceries home. You’ll be doing your part to sustain the environment and mitigate plastic pollution.

3. Educate yourself about the epic proportions of food waste. Not sure where to begin? Check out “NEW SERIES! Food Waste Hacks #1: Carrots,” “Food Waste Hacks #2: Broccoli,”  and “Food Waste Hacks #3: Oranges” for hassle-free tips regarding proper food storage and inventive uses for multiple components of an ingredient.

Have you ever heard about or shopped at a zero-waste grocery store? 

Until Next Week…Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,


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Food Waste Hacks #3: Oranges

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) “Up to one third of all food is spoiled and squandered before it is consumed by people. It is an excess in an age where almost a billion people go hungry, and represents a waste of the labour, water, energy, land and other inputs that went into producing that food.” The FAO goes on to detail how production and consumption patterns ranging from the global food industry to individual grocery shoppers contribute to this staggering loss of sustenance.

The “Project Lunchbox: Let’s Eat!” community empowers individuals to ignite change within the global food system through their united voices, collective wallets, and communal actions. To that end, I’m instituting a new series entitled “Food Waste Hacks” to educate followers about how to maximize the shelf-life of ingredients, put each component of an ingredient to proper culinary use, and ultimately decrease waste.

Food Waste Hacks: Oranges

Storage: Oranges are super low-maintenance as far as produce goes. Simply store oranges on the countertop or in a fruit basket.

Orange Juice: Store-bought juices can’t compete with the taste of freshly squeezed orange juice! The juice of an orange can also be used in homemade marinades for a diverse array of meats and seafood. Add orange juice to salad vinaigrettes to pair with the savory notes of balsamic vinegar, and enjoy as the liquid base for a citrus smoothie. After you’ve finished juicing your orange, add what remains of the orange segment to a glass of water for orange-infused hydration.

Orange Segments: Add orange segments to a bed of greens for a citrus salad. Sweeten your smoothies with this citrus fruit. Enjoy the segments as they are for a nutritious snack. Dip orange segments in melted dark chocolate for dessert.

Orange Zest: Grate orange zest into biscuit, pancake, and waffle batters. Elevate scone and shortbread cookie doughs with this tangy zest. Incorporate the zest into homemade frostings from buttercream to cream cheese. Zest some orange into plain Greek yogurt to concoct your own signature yogurt flavor. Toast a slice of whole-wheat bread, smear the bread with Ricotta cheese, sprinkle with sprigs of rosemary, and finish with grated orange zest for a savory take on a morning meal.

What are your favorite food waste hacks for oranges? How do you incorporate orange juice, orange segments, or orange zest into your meals?

Until Next Week…Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,


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A Painless Plan for Kissing the Cafeteria and the Vending Machine ‘Goodbye’ For Good

French author and U.S. National Book Award victor Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Wishes are wonderful because they enable us to observe the distance between where we currently are and where we desire to be in the future. While our wishes signal our aspirations to create change, they don’t include our methods to enact change.

Our plans, however, do include our methods to enact change. Plans empower us to transform our intangible wishes to tangible goals. In celebration of 2017, last week’s post, “In the Name of Health…17 Food Intentions to Set in the New Year,” included 17 strategies (plans included!) to sustain health and wellness. Building off of that post’s theme of empowerment, this week’s post provides a step-by-step guide to instituting a meal plan in your household.

Implementing this guide will make the following wishes come true: I wish that I cooked more. I wish that I spent less on takeout. I wish that I reduced food waste. I wish that I didn’t hit the grocery store every day after class or work. I wish that I cut back on vending machine purchases.

A Painless Plan for Kissing the Cafeteria and the Vending Machine ‘Goodbye’ For Good:

1. Create a monthly shopping list for bulk items. This list only includes staple items for your pantry. These staple items are versatile in that they can be incorporated into diverse cuisines and recipes. In general, stick to baking items, cooking oils, seasonings, and spices when creating this monthly list. Remember that items on this list typically have longer expiration dates than most fruits and vegetables.

2. Overlap is the secret ingredient to meal planning. This next step involves selecting the recipes you’ll create over the next week. Blogs, family cookbooks, friends, social media, and/or television shows can serve as metaphorical reservoirs of recipes just waiting to be drawn upon. Rather than simply perusing recipe books or thumbing through your newsfeed, a keen eye and a sense of purpose are both requirements for this step.

Be on the lookout for recipes that require some of the same carbohydrates, dairy products, fruits, proteins, and vegetables. By selecting recipes that require some of the same ingredients, you’ll minimize food waste and maximize convenience. Here are some ideas to get the wheels in motion for this step:

Can the tomato sauce from Monday night’s spaghetti and meatballs be transformed into tomato soup for supper later in the week?

Can a portion of the roast chicken from Tuesday night’s dinner be set aside and subsequently shredded for chicken tacos a few days down the line?

Can the mashed potatoes from Wednesday night’s meal be repurposed for potato pancakes tomorrow?

3. Create a weekly shopping list for purchasing ingredients specific to the recipes you’ve selected for the next seven days. Gather the recipes that you’ve selected for the next week. Save them to a specific location on your laptop or tablet, or print them out and staple them together into a packet. Then, head to the grocery store or farmer’s market with your weekly list and shop away.

4. Prepare batches large enough to last the entire week. After you’ve finished shopping using your monthly and weekly lists, scan your weekly recipes to determine what  components can be made ahead. Below you’ll find food for thought for this step:

Can you prepare a bulk batch of beans, peas, or lentils for your chili and quesadilla recipes for this week?

Can you cook and portion out buckwheat or quinoa for the base of your salad and the side dish recipe you selected for this week?

Can you wash, peel, and dice squash for your vegetable recipe and soup recipe for this week?

Once you construct a particular meal plan for one week, challenge yourself to create meal plans for three additional weeks. This way, you’ll create a system of meal planning, complete with weekly shopping lists and a monthly shopping list, that spans 30 days.

I hope that this step-by-step guide to meal planning makes all of your culinary wishes come true!

Do you meal plan, or will you meal plan in 2017?

Until Next Week…Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,


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In the Name of Health…17 Food Intentions to Set in the New Year

In commemoration of 2017, below you’ll find 17 tips for fostering improved health in the New Year. Set a single one of these food intentions, incorporate a few of these suggestions into your life, or adopt the entire set.

17 Food Intentions to Set in 2017:

1. Become an informed patient. Conduct your own research about health conditions and medications and discuss your findings with your medical doctor. Dialogue with your doctor about how to incorporate nutrition into your approach to preventing and fighting disease. Ask your doctor about the number needed to treat (“You Need to Know About NNT”) if you’re prescribed medication or recommended for a surgical procedure.

2. Transform your refrigerator into a salad bar. To accomplish this, dedicate a couple of hours every weekend to food preparation. Begin by choosing a base for your salads and prepare a batch of this base to last you the entire week. For example, wash, dry, and slice arugula, bok choy, collard greens, escarole, kale, romaine, or spinach and wrap these salad bases in a kitchen towel. Alternatively, try legumes as your salad base, and cook a bulk batch of beans, peas, or lentils. Or, experiment with unusual salad bases and cook a portion of buckwheat, whole-grain pasta, or quinoa large enough for the week.

Next, prepare several sources of protein. Roast chicken or turkey, etc., and then chop the meat into bite-size pieces to store in the fridge.  After that, prepare your salad add-ins by slicing and dicing a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. Try incorporating nuts and seeds into your salad bar at home for additional nutrient-dense add-ins (“Ingredient Spotlight#1: Chia Seeds.”) Finally, prep homemade salad vinaigrette by adding a combination of oil, vinegar, and herbs to a Mason jar and shaking the jar. There you have it…a salad bar in your fridge to make packing a lunch streamlined and stress-free.

3. Purchase a food product that you’ve never tried before while shopping at the grocery store or the farmer’s market. Consuming nutrient-dense foods may become cumbersome if you’re eating the exact same thing each day. Avoid getting stuck in this rut. Spice things up with these suggestions: “New Leafy Greens for Your Salad & Morning Smoothie!” and “Kohlrabi: The Octopus In Your Garden.”

4. Unite your fellow foodies and take part in a monthly or bimonthly food-themed bookclub. Grant each member of the bookclub an opportunity to select a book of his or her choice related to agriculture, consumption patterns, or food justice, and meet to dialogue about its contents. Check out some of my book recommendations here: “Have You Read It Yet?” and “Cooked!”

5. Replace a processed snack in your grocery cart with homemade vegetable chips. Experiment with beet chips, carrot chips, kale chips, and so on until you find your favorite. Find recipes for vegetable chips within these posts: “Got Eggplant?” and “Musings from a CSA Shareholder: Zucchini Chips.”

6. Mix-and-match sides when you eat out. Just because a certain side corresponds with a certain entrée on the menu doesn’t mean that you have to have it. Ask your waiter or waitress if it’s possible to substitute French fries for roasted vegetables, and so on. Exercise this same culinary creativity at the office’s cafeteria or the school’s dining hall. If the dining facility has stations, mix-and-match by gathering legumes from one station, vegetables from another, lean protein from another, and complex carbohydrates from yet another.

7. Invest in your local food system. Not only will you reduce your carbon footprint, you’ll also foster meaningful connection and fellowship in your neighborhood. Ask your local farmer what it’s really like to be in his or her shoes. Spearhead a committee to create a community garden. Petition your local government for space and funds to host a seasonal farmer’s market in your town or your city. Plan to cultivate a crop in your garden that is specific solely to your climate or your region. Find more tips here:  “4 Hassle-Free Strategies to Become a ‘Locavore.'”

8. Practice civic engagement in the food arena. Whether it’s agricultural practices or soda taxes (“Election 2016: Soda Meets the Political Arena”) leverage your vote on a variety of food issues to shape the future of our food system.

9. Commit to increasing your vegetable intake at breakfast. Smear avocado on toast. Add salad greens to your morning smoothie. Toss mushrooms, onions, and peppers into your frittata, scrambled eggs, or omelette. Or, prepare an upscale version of home fries using this recipe: “Musings from a CSA Shareholder: Roasted Potatoes and Leeks.” 

10. No more soda. If you haven’t already, it’s time to kick that habit to the curb. If you’re wondering why, please click here: “Can You Eat Your Brain Away?” Instead of soda, hydrate with water, and use these “Tips for Drinking More Water” to foster new hydration habits in 2017.

11. Exercise your DIY muscle. Select one food product that you always purchased at the grocery store in 2016, and stop purchasing it in 2017. Instead, resolve to make it at home throughout the coming year. From sourdough bread to Greek yogurt to salad dressing, the possibilities are endless. My vote is cast for “DIY Almond Milk.” If you’re feeling super ambitious, pledge to exercise your DIY muscle on one different food product per month. You can do it!

12. Switch up your protein sources. Chicken, chicken, and then some more chicken gets old really fast (and this is coming from somebody who likes chicken!) Rather than only visiting the butchery, take the time to explore the legume aisle to try beans, peas, and lentils, the dairy refrigerators to shop for cheeses, Greek yogurt, and Kefir, and the bread and bakery area to purchase assorted nuts and nut butters. Also, read “The Oatmeal Chronicles” for recipes to three of my favorite protein-packed, budget-friendly, go-to breakfasts.

13. Identify one area of our food system that you’ve always been curious about. Maybe you know what the acronym stands for, but you’ve always wondered about the exact lab procedures involved in a certain agricultural process (ahem…GMOs.)

Interested in learning more about grass-fed beef and the cattle industry? Check out this five-part series to kick off your research: “Part 1 of 5: An Introduction to Beef Cattle Feedlots,” “Part 2 of 5: Who Put the Grass in Grass Fed?,” “Part 3 of 5: Nutritional and Environmental Costs of Beef Cattle Agriculture,” “Part 4 of 5: What Makes Grass-Fed Beef Sustainable?” and finally “Part 5 of 5: Where to Purchase Grass Fed Beef.”

Whatever area of the food system interests you, read about it. Fact find. Research. And don’t forget to peruse the food documentaries available on Netflix.

14. If you’re financially able, reevaluate your grocery budget for organic produce and conventionally-grown produce. To that end, review the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15 lists distributed in “Organic vs. Conventional…Is There a RIGHT Answer?” and while writing your grocery lists in 2017, print the letter ‘O’ for organic and the letter ‘C’ for conventional next to the fruits and vegetables that you plan on purchasing. By doing so, you won’t have to worry about remembering from memory which piece of produce belongs on the Dirty Dozen list and which piece of produce belongs on the Clean 15 list.

Plan well, pack well, live well. Since October of 2012, every blog post I’ve written I’ve closed with these words. Here’s how to incorporate this motto of Project Lunchbox: Let’s Eat! into your own life:

15. Plan well. Consuming nutrient-dense foods regularly becomes instantly easy with a bit of forethought. Instead of visiting the vending machine every afternoon, soft-boil or bake eggs (“Baked Eggs!”) for nutritious snacks throughout the work week. You may find that you’ll even save money by planning ahead and avoiding split-second food decisions at the vending machine.

Conquer food waste once and for all and commit to using all of the edible parts of fruits and vegetables. For fool-proof food waste hacks, check out “NEW SERIES! Food Waste Hacks #1: Carrots” and “Food Waste Hacks #2: Broccoli.” Institute a meal rotation as well to combat food waste.

16. Pack well. Focus on your food storage in addition to your consumption patterns. Do your canned beans, soups, or tomatoes contain BPA in their linings? Read “The Burden of BPA” and consider switching to a company that manufactures food containers without BPA. Do you microwave your tea or coffee in a styrofoam cup? That’s a no-no. Do you store your lunch contents in plastic bags or glass Mason jars? Three cheers for glass Mason jars!

17. Live well. Reexamine what health means to you. Remind yourself of how you defined health in the comments section of “What is Health? Part One.” Here’s how I defined health: “What is Health? Part Two.”

Please don’t delude yourself into thinking that your role in the food arena doesn’t make a difference. Each action you take in creating a more sustainable and transparent local, national, and global food system  generates momentum toward this ideal and just may inspire another to take the same action. Remember what I always say…the sole act of eating is like voting and each morsel of food you place in your mouth is an opportunity to exercise your choice of either whole or processed, and organic or conventionally grown groceries.

Busy isn’t a lifestyle, it’s a buzzword. And someday isn’t a day of the week, it’s a form of self-sabotage. If not now…when?

What food intention(s) will you set for yourself in this New Year?

Until Next Week…Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,


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