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3 Steps to a More Sustainable Diet

When you hear the term “sustainability,” what comes to mind? The definition can be confusing as it can mean different things based on the context in which it’s discussed. Sustainability includes the environment, economics, health, nutrition, and other related factors. This interconnectedness can be observed in the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) definition of sustainable diets:

Roasted Apples Brussel Sprouts

Sustainable Diets are those diets with low environmental impacts that contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair, and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe, and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources. 

While this description seems a bit complex, the scientific community and health experts agree there are actions each of us can take regarding our food choices to promote better health for people and the planet. Three of these key recommendations are described below.

Steps for a More Sustainable Diet:

Buy wisely. Before you go to the grocery store ask yourself, what do I have on hand that I need to use up? Shop your freezer, refrigerator, and pantry first. Next, consider what local foods are in season. Eating local, seasonal foods can help reduce the environmental costs of transporting food. Local produce, like Michigan Apples, are harvested and delivered to stores within several hours so they are fresher and taste delicious. When you buy locally produced food, the money also supports local farmers and communities.

Prioritize plants on your plate. Adding more plant foods to your meals is healthy for people and the planet. Research indicates that consuming more plant-based foods generally uses less energy, land, and water. Also, a plant-forward dietary pattern typically contains higher amounts of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber which can positively impact risk of many chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. But it’s important to consider the type of plant foods and their sources. Start by looking for foods that are naturally plant-based such as nuts, seeds, grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits such as Michigan Apples. These foods can be combined into tasty, creative recipes such as Baked Beans with Apples & Sage (see below), Michigan Apple Grain Salad, or Power Blend Slaw with Apples & Raisins.

Reduce food waste. In the United States, food waste is estimated between 30-40 percent of the food supply (USDA). Do your part to reduce food waste by cooking carefully. Plan out your main meals and make a shopping list before going to the store or buying online. Consider marking one night for “planned” overs and use any leftovers for lunch as well. This will save you time and money. You can also keep easy “rescue recipes” on hand to avoid wasting food. These recipes help you use up older ingredients that are taking up space in your kitchen before they go bad. For example, Michigan Apples Roasted with Root Vegetables  or Roasted Michigan Apples with Brussels Sprouts are both great ways to use produce that may be a bit past its prime – no need to waste!

Baked Beans

Baked Beans with Apples & Sage


3 cups canned white beans, rinsed and drained, or cooked dried beans (try navy or cannellini beans)

1 slice precooked bacon (omit for vegetarian/vegan version)

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1 onion, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

2 Small Michigan Apples, peeled and cut in chunks

1/3 cup Crosby’s Molasses

1/3 cup pure maple syrup

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1–2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage (or ½–1 teaspoon dried)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1/2 – 1 cup water


  1. Spray a large overproof pot or casserole dish with a tight-fitting lid with cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. In a large pan, sauté the carrots and onion in vegetable oil until tender, about 8-10 minutes.
  3. Roughly chop the bacon if using.
  4. Drain the beans and put them in the pot or casserole dish. Add the bacon, chopped carrot, onion, and apples.
  5. Mix together the molasses, maple syrup, Dijon, sage, garlic, salt, pepper, and water and pour over the bean mixture.
  6. Cover the pot and cook at 350°F for 45-60 minutes until hot and bubbly. Stir occasionally and add water if necessary so the beans do not dry out. Take the lid off for the 15 minutes of cooking to help the beans brown and to thicken the sauce.

Recipe and photo adopted from Crosby’s Molasses

Meet the Author

Shari Steinbach

Shari Steinbach, MS RDN
Shari Steinbach & Associates, LLC

For the past 26 years, Shari has worked as a dietitian in the grocery industry for two major retailers in the Midwest. In her retail roles, Shari has managed consumer health communication, health influencer partnerships, nutrition programs, and solution-selling strategies.

Shari has served as a nutrition expert and corporate spokesperson, providing food and nutrition advice through monthly television spots on ABC, NBC and FOX affiliates and local radio segments. She has also conducted numerous educational presentations to community groups and professional organizations throughout the country. Her timely nutrition and food product information and strategic social media messages have reached millions of consumers.