Beyond the Table: National Nutrition Month March 2024

Mar
06

Beyond the Table: National Nutrition Month March 2024

National Nutrition Month® is a nutrition education and information campaign by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics every March. The theme for this year is “Beyond the Table”. It aims to remind us that our food choices significantly impact us even before and after we enjoy a meal. This means that we must consider our choices at the grocery store, farmers market, ordering at a restaurant, and even when storing our food.

March is National Nutrition Month graphic - there is the logo for beyond the table theme and a plate with spinach and eggs topped with bell pepper.

Where does your food come from?

Farm-to-table dining and lifestyle have become an increasing topic of interest over the years. Thinking beyond the table does not aim to pressure or guilt you into growing 100% of your food supply or limiting yourself to only buying food that you can get from a farmers market near you. If it was easy, affordable, and accessible, then everyone would do it. 

Image of different people shopping at a farmers market versus image of fruit and veggies at a grocery store

Instead, the goal is for consumers to become more educated on the topic of where their food is coming from and therefore have the power to make more informed choices that help support personal health goals and values. Here are some things to consider when sourcing your food:

  1. Where does the food come from?
    • Grocery Store: Ask about the origin of the produce and other items. Grocery stores often source products from various regions and countries, although this is sometimes required to be able to enjoy certain items that the US does not produce.
    • Farmers Market: Generally, items at farmer’s markets are locally sourced. Ask the farmers directly about their practices and location.
  2. Is the produce seasonal?
    • Grocery Store: Some grocery stores carry seasonal & local produce in addition to year-round items sourced from elsewhere such as bananas and apples. This makes grocery stores great for predictability and planning, but with the drawback that there is no direct support for local producers.
    • Farmers Market: Typically, the only available produce will be what is in season. The produce you buy from a farmers market is likely much fresher and will last longer, but there is less guarantee of quantity that will be available compared to a grocery store.
  3. What is the carbon footprint?
    • Grocery Store: Consider the environmental impact of transporting products to the store. Items from distant locations may have a higher carbon footprint and may lose more nutritional value as they travel.
    • Farmers Market: Local sourcing at farmers markets often means lower transportation emissions, contributing to a smaller carbon footprint.

These questions can serve as a guide to help you make thoughtful decisions based on your preferences, values, and priorities when it comes to sourcing your food. 

Where does your food go?

Once purchased, food can only go to so many places:

  • Storage (pantry, fridge, freezer)
  • Stomach
  • Trash

Take a moment to ask yourself: How much of the food you buy do you cook with? Do you always find a forgotten bag of produce in the back of your fridge at the end of the week? 

Reducing food waste starts with sensible planning. Buy what you need, and use what you buy before food spoils. Try creating your meal plans based on items that you already have and what is “on the edge” of their shelf life, and supplement them with new ingredients to create a new meal. 

Fridge filled with fresh fruits and vegetables as well as meal prepped food in ello brand glass containers

If you tend to cook more than what you can eat, consider freezing leftovers. Freezing is the most accessible and affordable method of food preservation out there. Canning takes time and safe practice education, while dehydration can be a multi-day process. When freezing cooked meals, know what items typically do and do not freeze well:

Perhaps you are already skilled in this area, knowing that you can turn a mixture of limp vegetables into a complete stir-fry bowl just by adding rice, sauces, seasonings, and protein. If you’ve already mastered the art of cooking with scraps, then how about taking it one step further? You saved your 2-week-old carrots, but will the meal be consumed before it expires?

DO Freeze:

  • Broth-based soups and stews
  • Curries
  • Dumplings
  • Stir-fries, sauce separated
  • Meatballs
  • Cooked rice
  • Bread and baked goods
  • Grated cheese (for use in casseroles and pizzas after thawing, not for consumption as-is)

DO NOT Freeze:

  • Leafy greens, salads
  • Raw potatoes
  • Dairy-based sauces
  • Dishes with lots of high moisture vegetables (celery, bell peppers, cucumber)
  • Cooked pasta
  • Tomatoes
  • Radishes

Remember to cool any cooked dishes thoroughly before freezing and use airtight containers or freezer bags to prevent freezer burn. Label containers with the date and type of dish for easy identification. Additionally, consider portioning larger dishes into individual servings for convenient use. 

What does food mean to you?

Food not only brings people together from all over the world, but also provides a sense of culture, tradition, comfort, and emotion. With each meal, ask yourself what the food is providing for you and what it means to you, beyond just providing energy and sustenance. 

A home-cooked dish might provide you with an affordable meal, cooked just the way you like it. It brings you comfort and familiarity while giving you the convenience of having leftovers for the next day. When in a rush, a fast-food meal gives you quick satisfaction at a time of hunger. Or, when enjoying time with friends you decide to indulge at your favorite sit-down restaurant where you get to sit back and relax. 

Of course, all of these types of meals have different nutritional aspects and may need to be taken into more consideration based on your health needs. While this is of great importance, so is being in tune with the emotional and mental state when eating. Mindful eating, rooted in the principles of being present in the moment, fosters a healthier relationship with food by creating a mindful connection between what we eat and how it makes us feel. 

Mindful eating aside, thinking beyond the table also takes into consideration the values and ethics of food production. What do organic, kosher, non-GMO, vegan, plant-based, and hundreds of other labels mean to you? Dive deeper into these topics to decide what is important to you and begin making informed decisions as a consumer. 

Summary

This March for National Nutrition Month®, think beyond the table and ask yourself some thought-provoking questions about your food. Grocery stores are most likely to import more items from other regions and countries but have consistent choices and availability. Farmer’s markets will have a lower carbon footprint and fresher produce. Reduce food waste by planning meals around what you have on hand and supplement to create a complete meal. Additionally, you can freeze cooked food to further prevent food waste. Lastly, consider what food means to you in terms of culture, tradition, and mindful eating to help foster a healthy relationship with food.

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