I’m energized about the fact that many people returned to cooking in 2020. Of course, there wasn’t much choice—and the impact of COVID on human lives, our artisan restaurants and other small businesses has been immense. But now we are seeing layers of sustainable benefits due to an entire shift in the food system: better for our personal finances, for our families’ nutrition, and for the environment.

Consider the impacts of preparing foods at home. Spending less on food supports personal financial sustainability. Trying new recipes (using wider varieties of fresh, frozen and pantry ingredients) benefits our bodies with nutrition sustainability. Shifting purchasing habits toward more local, higher quality foods, improves environmental sustainability.

So cooking at home saves money; eating whole and less-processed foods leads to better nutrition; and more people choosing quality ingredients, means we have a massive impact on modern-day agriculture.

New research indicates we’re consuming more toxins daily than the nutrients we need for basic human function. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to talk sustainable eating habits without discussing toxic load. We must reduce toxins in our diet (and soil, air, water) to improve nutrition absorption and gut health. Science proves lower levels of food toxins means more nutrient density, so our cells function better, and we experience fewer hormone imbalances, improved metabolism and better energy, mood and sleep. Imagine the monumental improvement in human health!

At home, we might say—but we just need to put dinner on the table. So here are three small, daily changes for a more sustainable diet that can maximize your budget and prep time.

1. Start small. Buy organic, local grains, beans, lentils and other pantry goods in bulk—yep, cheaper!—and often in less packaging. At first, it may take more time to prepare bulk, dried goods. But the learning curve is minimal. Soon, it becomes natural to soak grains and legumes overnight before cooking (they literally just sit in water). Soak beans monthly in big batches, and freeze leftovers in small bags to defrost in minutes. Grains can be doubled and easily added to soup, stir fry, tacos and one-pot meals. Plan B: keep canned beans or lentils on hand and skip grain soaking when pressed for time.

2. Eat more plant-based foods. Definitely more “sustainable” than eating cow or pig daily, or mercury contaminated seafood from overfished waters. Eat smaller cuts vs. a giant steak filling your plate. Or replace meat 1-2 times per week with extra veggies and beans or lentils, then meditate on your improved carbon footprint (and blood circulation, nutrition, organ function—shall I go on?). You’ll save money, too. Local, pasture-raised beef may cost more up front, but a pound is spread over more meals.

3. Shop the frozen aisle. So many organic, frozen veggies and fruits are already chopped, picked at peak ripeness, often on sale, and typically cheaper than the fresh version during the off-season.

When you commit to sustainable dietary habits, your pocketbook, your body and family’s health will thank you. And even a tiny, positive impact on the environment is adds up over time. Happy cooking!

Jamie Truppi, MSN, is an integrative nutritionist focusing on functional foods and family wellness.

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