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Sustainable Dining: Save the Environment, Save Cash

photo: _cck_

Adopting more green practices when dining out or cooking at home can leave more “green” of a different kind in your wallet. Better yet, some switches can be made with minimal effort on your part.

We talked to chefs, home cooks and other green experts about the easiest ways to incorporate sustainable foodie habits. (Have other tips? Leave a comment below.)

Bring a take-home container to the restaurant

When he dines out, Alex Eaves, the founder of reused T-shirt seller StayVocal.com, brings his own containers. That avoids wasting the paper, plastic or foil ones a restaurant might provide. (Frugal Foodie only occasionally takes a restaurant container, but when she does, she reuses it multiple times for lunch and fridge storage instead of buying new brand-name containers from the supermarket.)

Garden

“We grow our own [food] when we can,” says Marie of “Cooking for Community”, who runs the kitchen at eco-retreat center Bosque Village in Mexico. Control over the process trumps even buying local organic fare. (Frugal Foodie is a fan of gardening as a cost-saving measure, too.)

Drink tap water

At home and at restaurants, filtered tap water is more sustainable — and cheaper — than bottled, says Jennifer Kaplan, the founder of Greenhance LLC and the author of “Greening Your Small Business.”

Buy a lunchbox

Instead of using multiple paper and plastic bags to transport food, invest in a sturdy bento box or insulated container. Replace plastic sandwich bags with washable fabric ones.

Reduce food waste

Buy only what you need, and aim to use all of it, says health coach Robin Fischman. Use scraps creatively, and compost what you can’t repurpose.

Switch to cloth napkins

The washable, reusable options are less wasteful and more cost effective.

Travel with dinnerware

To avoid the need for disposable cups, straws and utensils, Eaves carries a travel mug, water bottle and basic silverware set on the road. (That tactic can also earn discounts at some shops. Peet’s Coffee & Tea and Starbucks both reduce prices by 10 cents for filling travel mugs.)

Dine seasonally

“Get familiar with what’s in season and when,” says TaChelle Dodson of Fat Girl Catering. Order those in-season foods when you’re dining out, and buy them at the supermarket. Better yet, go to the farmer’s market or join a CSA. In-season produce is more likely to come from local sources, requiring fewer resources to get it from farm to table. That means it’s cheaper for you, too.

Buy organic

When you can’t buy local produce, consider at least going organic. It’s better for the soil, healthier for you and, if you frequent your local farmer’s market, not necessarily more expensive than shopping at the grocery store.

Eat less meat

It requires more land and resources to produce, and much of the animal often goes to waste, Fishman says. Aim to have at least one vegetarian meal each week, if not more.

Visit green restaurants

There are plenty of eco-friendly options out there that use locally sourced and/or organic food. If you want to go a step further, look for one that belongs to the Green Restaurant Association, Kaplan says. The certification program requires restaurants to meet requirements in seven categories, including waste reduction, energy efficiency and sustainable food. Diners visiting the site can browse for certified restaurants nearby.

Choose seafood carefully

“When we travel and anytime we dine out, we always refer to a wallet-sized Seafood Savvy guide that we carry,” says Tonya Fitzpatrick, a host for responsible travel radio show “World Footprints.” That guide, compiled by the Monterey Bay Aquarium gives the thumbs up or thumbs down to seafood based on how sustainably it is farmed or caught.

Ditch plastic bags

Like many cool New Yorkers, Frugal Foodie hauls her groceries home in a reusable bag instead of answering the tired question, “Paper or plastic?” Chains including Giant, Kroger and Whole Foods offer discounts for avoiding store-provided bags, giving you up to 10 cents for each one you bring from home.

Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.