Today… is Earth Day. A day where we all try to do a little something to help preserve the planet where we live. It’s an opportunity to bring awareness to the fact that we give to the Earth as well as take from it… so put forth an effort to give as harmlessly as possible and take only what we need. That means a minimal amount of trash, a little less wasting of water, and maybe planting a few flowers in your yard (or in a flower pot. Yes, those help, too!)

NASA Celebrates the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day

I know this is a pretty idealistic concept, and we all might like to give lip service to living eco-friendly lives… but who has time for all that? It’s hard enough for most-if-not-all of us to get this healthy eating thing down pat. Now, we’ve got to protect the Earth, too?

It doesn’t take much effort. In fact, being eco-friendly and clean eating go hand in hand and both can be managed by the busy lifestyler. Here are a few ways to live a little cleaner, a little greener, without costing you a ton of time each day.

"Processed cheese product"... in a jar. How.. innovative?

Ditching the Processed Products

Obviously, this is the largest factor in clean eating. Pardon me for getting a little preachy, but I see it like this – our connection to the Earth is symbiotic. We cultivate the Earth with our activity, and in return it promotes the growth of humanity. So… we have to be mindful of what we put out there. Ditching the boxed and canned foods, essentially, means less trash… going to less landfills… less air and land pollution.

But if I give up foods, how do I replace them?

Buy fresh veggies. Only buy what you believe you will cook that week. This way, you not only spend much less, but you don’t leave anything sitting and risk your food rotting. You can learn to cook the same veggie three different ways, and get more creative with your cooking style. You also don’t run into the problem of additional preservatives or salts used to preserve the shelf life of your food.

I buy things like onions and peppers knowing that I don’t want red peppers or onions every day… so I’ll take them, chop them up in the ways that I know I usually eat them, and freeze them that way. So I’ll have a bag of onions chopped in rings, a bag diced in squares and a bag cut in strips. I’ll have a bag of red peppers chopped in strips and another bag diced in chunks. I do the same with mushrooms, cucumbers, celery, carrots, spinach (the spinach I use to cook, not the ones I use for salad) and bean sprouts. I cannot tell you how much time this saves me, and it takes me a half hour. Tops.

My carrots, squash, broccoli and corn/okra/pepper blend, preparing for the freezer.

Buy frozen. Generic store-brand frozen veggies are a dollar a bag (rarely more than $2.50) and can last forever. Carrots, broccoli, string beans, onions, peppers, different veggie blends (I bought a 5lb bag of carrot/broccoli/cauliflower for $3… lasted forever) all at your fingertips, and only requiring a little steaming, baking, boiling or sauteeing.

I keep a combination of both in my fridge. I keep fresh broccoli in the fridge for salads, and frozen in the freezer for cooking.. and I never intermingle the two. I don’t cook with my fresh, and I don’t thaw my frozen for salads.

Try to find a local butcher. No plastic-wrapped chicken, no pre-packaged beef patties. You get an awesome guy (or girl) with a vast knowledge of meat, who can offer you suggestions and steps on how to prepare and preserve your meats. A wonderful butcher will never be reluctant to offer you suggestions. He wants your business.

Make your own junk food. That’s right – no matter how many green velvet cupcakes you make, I promise you the calorie count wouldn’t scrape the surface of what it is when you buy boxed cupcake mix. Seriously.

Practicing what I preach... there's my wild rice, right there!

Make your freezer your best friend. Things like wild rice, brown rice… stuff that takes forever to cook? I cook it all in one giant pot, divvy it up into individual servings, put them in ziploc bags (which I reuse), and freeze them. That way, I have my own microwaveable rice bags without all the extra salt and preservatives… and I’m saving money.

Get Your Sugar From The Earth

Meaning.. if you need sugar, go for a fruit – something that came directly from the Earth. Skip the soft drinks, fruit juices and candies. I write enough about this for folks to know how I feel about these, since all three contain high fructose corn syrup. Aside from the fact that the stuff expands your waistline like nobody’s business, it’s a direct factor in causing and inflaming type 2 diabetes. If you drink a soda, there is nothing in that but sugar, salt and carbonation. Fruits have vitamins, minerals – the stuff of life – and, well, sugar. You can’t eat fruits, in their sugary splendor, in abundance because those nutrients in them will fill you up faster than a coke can. You’re not taking in empty calories. Even though you should be moderate in your fruit consumption, you’d do better to have an orange than a coke.

It’s cheaper, too.

Drink water.

And no, I don’t mean Fiji, Aquafina, or whatever. Get yourself a nice, attractive reusable container to carry with you throughout the day, and keep refilling it. Skip the water bottles that go… in a landfill, buried where trees – or people – could live, instead. If you’re having a hard time with the taste of water, squeeze a lemon/lime/orange/strawberry or whatever in it. Freeze some grapes, use ’em as ice cubes at home. Buy some frozen blueberries, use those. Slice up a cucumber, drop it in there. I mean, outside of being super cute and attractive looking at a table, the stuff actually adds a nice little refreshing taste to water.

Purchase a 2.5gal jug – if you must – from your local grocery. Way less plastic than the 24pk of bottles, much less trash than the regular gallon jugs, and can fit in your fridge and last a while. I drink a little over a gallon of water a day (which means yes, I don’t drink much else besides water and my evening tea) because it keeps my skin looking a lovely healthy shade of chocolatey brown.

Reduce Your Portion Sizes

Measuring cups may not be so necessary after all!

Slow down. This means that you can’t eat standing up anymore. No, you can’t eat out of the pan anymore. No, you can’t eat in front of the TV. No, you can’t sit all the food on the table and you just pass around the pans. Relax. Take the time to enjoy your dinner companions, be they friends, family, whomever. Don’t put food in between you. Leave the food in the kitchen. Eat slower. Talk to one another. You’ll find that you not only eat less and still feel full, but you will have actually enjoyed your time together at the table. That is what it means to enjoy food. Not the feeling you get from the food, but from the company you’ve kept while you ate.

Pack your lunch. Not only do you save money… not only do you create less waste… but you save calories as well. Buy yourself an attractive (I keep wanting to say cute, but I know several fellas who are taking the challenge, too) lunch pail and stock it with your favorite snacks. Your body will thank you for it.

These things all help you save time as well as money, and benefit the Earth. The goal is to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible, and each of these tips gets us one step closer. It takes planning and preparation, but that’s why we’re discussing the challenge the week before we begin! Spend a little time today – Earth Day – and take at least one of these suggestions to heart. Every single step and every little effort counts. I promise!

Have any additional ideas? Let’s hear ’em!