When you eat at home, it is relatively easy to make choices that will lower your ‘foodprint,’ because you are in charge of the shopping, preparation and disposal of all the food. But when you eat out at a restaurant or grab takeout, it is much more difficult to eat sustainably. To make it a little bit easier, we have put together six tips to help you eat green while dining out or grabbing something to go.
Ask your server about the restaurant’s sources. What farms do they buy from? Is this dish in season? If the server doesn’t know, they can ask the manager or the chef. If the restaurant has a philosophy of incorporating seasonality into the menu, the workers will be more than happy to share the food’s origins, and the menu items will change with the seasons. Do your research to know what is in season where you live and what local restaurants embrace seasonality.
When you are looking over a restaurant menu, also keep in mind your location and what is in season locally. If you are in a landlocked area, ordering ocean fish isn’t smart, because it certainly isn’t local. If you live in Missouri and it’s the middle of winter, tomatoes are not in season.
Get a box
American restaurants are famous for the extra-large portions of food that they pile up on plates, making it nearly impossible to finish the meal in one sitting. According to Sustainable America, the average restaurant meal is eight times larger than the standard USDA and FDA serving sizes, and 55 percent of leftover restaurant food doesn’t get taken home.
Big meals mean even bigger waste. Instead of leaving behind food and letting it go straight to the trash, ask for a box. It will help cut down the food waste, and it gives you an instant lunch for the next day. If you don’t want to take leftovers home, consider splitting a large appetizer or entree with your dining partner.
Farm-to-table is one of the most popular buzzwords of the moment, and many restaurants have been more than willing to capitalize on the trend. More chefs have started to incorporate local and seasonal items on their menus, and some restaurants have even started growing their own food.
Eating at a restaurant that locally sources its ingredients results in a major downsize of your foodprint, because there is no need to ship the ingredients across the country. Just make sure that the restaurant is truly farm-to-table — that’s when asking the right questions becomes important.
Just say no
If you don’t want that basket of rolls or chips they automatically put on the table, just say no. Tell your server not to bring it, so it isn’t wasted. The same thing goes for items on your entree. If you don’t want onions on your burger, tell your server to leave them off it. If you don’t want that side of coleslaw, ask for a substitution or tell them to skip it completely.
Watch buffet portions
To reduce your food waste at a buffet, use smaller plates. People who use large plates waste 135 percent more food than those who use smaller plates. Watch your portions when enjoying a buffet, or avoid going to one.
Decline takeout bags, utensils and condiments
When you order takeout, reduce your carbon footprint by bringing your own coffee or water cups, saying no to straws and plastic bags and declining plastic utensils and napkins. You can bring your own reusable container and see if the restaurant is willing to use it. Say no to extra condiments and seasonings. All of these to-go items might seem convenient, but they often end up in the trash. Instead, just grab the food, and use the cutlery, condiments and seasonings that you have at home. If you really do need some of the extras like sauces or condiments, only take what you need.
When you dine out, you can eat sustainably by keeping these tips in mind. Just remember to choose the right restaurants, ask questions and minimize your food packaging and waste, and you will be doing your part to reduce your foodprint.