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5 Steps Toward a Greener Kitchen (recipe: Happy Planet Cookies)

Environmentally friendly practices are a dime a dozen, but implementing them in the home doesn’t happen overnight. Like any lifestyle change, they are best put into practice gradually; little actions that can be realistically maintained.

It’s important to take those steps to being eco-aware, even if it is just giving up bottled water this summer. Multiple small changes add up to big changes and there is less chance of you having a ‘green burnout’ if you start small.

My kitchen’s carbon footprint is gradually shrinking, as it’s in the process of a “greenover,” as cookbook author Jackie Newgent puts it. We compost enthusiastically, recycle constantly, and choose seasonal produce most of the time — my love for lemons is a powerful thing!

Now that we’ve started, it seems we learn something new every day about being more environmentally aware in the kitchen. It’s exciting to implement these changes for the better as a whole family, and it makes me proud when my two-year-old can sort compost from garbage. After all, this whole saving the planet business is for him.

Here is a list to get you started on your kitchen “greenover,” or, if you are already a conscious cook, inspire you to reach even further towards a low-carbon lifestyle.

Do what you can, when you can; take small steps, just don’t stop.

Photo by jaycross

1. Make sustainable food choices.

This may be the most important decision you make for feeding your family and is an excellent place to start on the road to a greener kitchen. On Simple Bites we gave 10 Tips for Sustainable Eating, among them being:

  • eat in season and locally, (how to source food locally)
  • earn to cook real food,
  • preserve your own foods as much as possible (look to Simple Bites for a Canning 101 series to come in July), and
  • grow something, anything.

2. Shop smart.

While buying local is commendable, there is more to smart shopping than considering food miles. Here are a few tips.

  • Make a menu plan and stick to your  grocery list. As you’ve probably heard, successful menu planning can help shrink gas and grocery bills, cut back on waste, and help you cut out convenience foods.
  • Bring reusable shopping bags and produce bags.
  • Buy bulk when appropriate. Less trips to the store means less fuel emissions, and it saves time, energy and money.
  • Buy organic. Supporting crop rotation, water protection and pesticide-free food is a win-win situation for both the farmers and you.
  • Buy Fair-Trade.

3. Be an energy-wise cook.

In her book Big Green Cookbook, Jackie Newgent outlines many clever tips for low-carbon cooking. Among the more progressive are:

  • Hypercooking, which is forgoing the preheating process for baking casseroles or other dishes. Most foods cook just fine starting in a cold oven,
  • Using residual heat. Turning off an oven or pot and allowing the cooking process to finish with residual heat.

Jackie’s cookie recipe below demonstrates both hyper-baking and the use of residual heat with great success.

Photo by the bitten

4. Eat more plants.

It’s what my mother’s been telling me for years, it’s the tagline for our recent Simple Living Book Club selection, and it’s vital to our long-term health. Ultimately, it can help reduce the strain on our environment as the meat industry is responsible for a notable amount of water and air pollution.

Two simple ways to get started on your part-time vegetarianism are:

  • Turn your side dishes into main dishes. Instead of making meat the centerpiece of your meal, serve smaller portions of it and add an extra vegetable to the menu.
  • Embrace the Meatless Monday movement and pledge to serve one meatless meal a week in your home.

5. Implement these four ‘R’s into daily cooking.

  • Reduce. Buy only what you need. Be conscious about food waste.
  • Reuse. Love those leftovers and kitchen scraps! Give that lettuce-washing water to plants, turn the chicken carcass into a soup, and toss lemon rind into the dishwater for an instant deodorizer.
  • Repurpose. Save those glass jars, plastic containers and tin cans for a reincarnation. Katie has an excellent post on repurposing kitchen containers.

  • Photo by wheatfields

  • Recycle: Stay up to date with what recycling is allowed in your area, then max out your bin! Recycle vegetable scraps and lawn trimmings into compost — this tutorial from Simple Organic shows it is simpler than you think.

Hyper-cooking with Happy Planet Cookies

This recipe, from Big Green Cookbook by Jackie Newgent conserves energy by both not preheating the oven and turning the oven off before the cookies are completely done, allowing them to finish cooking in the residual heat.

The dough can also be easily stirred by hand — and in my case, by a child — which means no electricity is needed for a mixer.


Recipe: Happy Planet Cookies

Photo by Aimee

Makes about 24 cookies

  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour (preferably stone-ground)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1/2 cup canola or peanut oil
  • 1 cup turbinado or Demerara sugar (see note)
  • 1 large egg (preferably organic)
  • 1 tablespoon apple butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 4 1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate chips or chunks
  1. Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cayenne, if using, in a medium bowl.
  2. Whisk oil and sugar in a large bowl. Whisk in the egg, apple butter and vanilla until smooth.
  3. Stir the flour mixture into the oil mixture until blended. Stir in oats and chocolate (batter will be thick).
  4. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop the dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto sheets, making 12 cookies on each sheet.
  5. Place baking sheets in the oven. Turn the oven to 375 degrees.
  6. Bake until the cookies just start to spread into a cookie shape but are still undercooked, about 8 to 10 minutes.
  7. As quickly as possible (so too much heat doesn’t escape), open the oven door and swap the trays — move the tray on the top rack to the bottom rack and bottom rack to the top. Close the oven and turn it off.
  8. Let the cookies continue to bake in the oven to the desired level of brownness and crispness, about 5 to 8 minutes.
  9. Transfer the sheets to racks to cool.

Note: Turbinado and Demerara sugar are available at natural foods stores and gourmet grocers.


Everyone is smiling when steps are taken to make our kitchen’s greener: the kids, the family and the earth.

What color of green is your kitchen? In what area would you like to improve?

Reading Time:

4 minutes





  1. Kara

    Nice list, Aimee. I mostly reduce packaging/recyclables/trash that comes in and out of my kitchen. I try to buy seasonally too as I learn which fruits/vegetables grown during various times of the year. Oh, I cook from scratch a lot and grow a few things out on my balcony; I suppose these count too. Looks like I’m doing better than I thought!

    • Aimee

      Cooking from scratch totally counts, Kara. Sound like you’re well on your way.

  2. Paula

    My kitchen is green for as far as I use my Haybox. (See my story clicking my name, scroll down for English information and pictures). It saves so much energy (70%), time in the kitchen and plastic. Don’t think: ‘I can’t buy a Haybox’, it isn’t difficult to make one.

  3. calliope

    Hi! Living in Greece, I must tell you that the majority of people have been following the above since I can remember.
    However, one thing that is, alas, changing to the worst is the meat consumption. In our family we still follow the so-called “mediterrenean diet” and that means no more than 2 times per week of meat of any kind.
    For us it’s usually on a Sunday lunch and maybe on one other weekday meal that we eat chicken.
    We tend to make vegetables and legumes our main dish, and they are delisious. Here are some ideas almost all cooked in a caserole:
    – lentil soup with spinach/orange salad
    – artichokes go well with carrots, peas and lemon
    – green beans cooked with tomato sause, potatoes and zucchini
    – stuffed ripe tomatoes/bell peppers/eggplants with rice and fresh herbs
    – eggplants used as the base in meatless lasagna, mousaka etc
    – spinach cooked with rice and fresh herbs
    and finally my personal fevorite summer food:
    – mixed sliced vegetables (anything, I put zucchini, eggplants, peppers, potatoes, carrots, artichokes, mashrooms, peas, beans, tomatoes, onions, garlic and some dried oregano) in the oven
    Hope I’ve inspired you to leave meat dishes aside for a while!

  4. Lumi

    I agree with calliope, why only one meatless dish per week? I mean, I eat three meals a day, that makes 21 per week. Making just one meatless seems very little. Why not one a day? But I guess we’re all in different states of “greenery” and having eaten no meal with meat in the last 13 years does give me a different perspective I guess!

    Another good tip is to eat raw time to time to completely forego the heating. Especially in the summer it’s lovely to enjoy a salad with bread for dinner, or a gazpacho soup like we did yesterday.

  5. prerna

    Canning, is the one area I really need to work on in my green kitchen.. We already eat a mainly plant-based diet, use hypercooking, reuse, recycle and buy in season and in bulk. But I have never canned or dried fruits and veggies.. Time for me to start! Thanks for sharing the link to Canning 101.

  6. Anna B

    I struggle a lot with much of the philosophy behind the ‘green’ movement – in the area I live in, it turns into a lot of ‘anti-people (read: anti-babies), worship the earth’ attitudes.

    However, I do see that there are a lot of important truths in the idea of being a good steward of the resources we have on earth. What I really need to start doing is recycling – in my town, you have to pay for recycling whether you do it or not, so I may as well get off my bottom and get the bins!

    Already I eat little meat (this is mostly because I don’t care for it) – I think I EAT meat once a week! I do eat a lot of fish and eggs, though – my fave sources of protein. I also eat high-fiber bread and am looking to transition into making my own bread and pasta.

    Since I live alone in an apartment, things like saving and repurposing containers would never work (the clutter would drive me nuts). I already have enough cool-whip and sour cream containers for leftovers, so I need to recycle beyond that. Also, buying in bulk is very impracticle for me, I do much better when I meal plan and just stick to my list.

    That’s me! 🙂

  7. Joanna

    I’m working the hardest on changing my mindset that there needs to be meat to make it a meal 🙂

    One of the best things I’ve done is buy a huge package of the microfiber wipes and got rid of my paper towel holder in the kitchen. I had four rolls of paper towels left on 01/01/2010 and I still have two and a half rolls left. Not bad for someone who used to buy eight rolls a month 🙂 (Yes, I’m bragging!)

  8. S. M.

    Another simple idea that I’ve really worked on, is to quit using paper towels. Saves you money and less waste! Really enjoyed this list and I look forward to trying out the recipe.

  9. exhale. return to center.

    this is a great list! thank you.

    i absolutely agree with your point “eat more plants” and this is something we definitely do in our family.

    we also eat meat (locally, sustainably and humanely raised at the farm where i work 🙂 and have really been focusing our effort on “meat thrift” — as in making three meals from one whole chicken or taking one small package of beef and creating a vegetable-filled beef stew that serves 6+. and it’s working really well for our family!!

    the place i really need help is composting. we’ve been doing it for 10+ years (dumping food waste “out behind the barn”) but we’ve yet to take it to the next level and create a usable product (compost) for our garden.

    baby steps though, right?

    thanks again for a great article.


    • Cowpunkmom

      It’s really not hard! Just get out there and pile all that waste into one big pile, mix it all together really well. Moisten it, and it should start composting no problem!

      There are some things that can go wrong. Too much moisture: stir it around and let it air out. Slimy, ammonia smell: too much nitrogen (green stuff), so add some carbon matter (brown stuff–shredded newspaper, fine wood shavings, dry leaves). No heat, nothing happening: not enough nitrogen, add green stuff (veggie peels, grass clippings, chicken or horse manure).

      Just Google “composting”…it can be as simple or as complicated as you like. Your garden will thank you for getting that pile cooking!!

  10. Heather(eatwelleatgreen)

    I love this post. This is what my blog is all about, great food , that is also good for the planet. For me, it’s about making sure what little meat I do eat is grass fed, my eggs are organic, and any scraps go into a worm farm. I don’t have more than a few pots on my balcony so a full compost is impractical, but friends are very willing to take whatever the worms produce. Thank you for this post, I really believe that little things can make a difference.

  11. Maryann @ Raise Healthy Eaters

    Thanks for the great tips and reminders. I believe the best way to make positive change is little steps. Over time this makes a huge difference.
    Will post on my facebook page!

  12. Bryony Boxer

    “Multiple small changes add up to big changes” – very true. We actually cook very little in the summer and eat lots of fruit, salads and sandwiches.

  13. Kara

    Yum! I love using whole wheat flour. I’ve tried it in several of our favorite cookie recipes and everyone loves them. It’s gotta be freshly ground though. 🙂

  14. Megan@SortaCrunchy

    Aimee – I’m sure you know I am LOVING this post! I surprised even myself by how many of the things on this list we do – and have BEEN doing for quite some time. Switching to pastured meats caused us to cut way back on meat consumption. We don’t have the budget to eat meat for dinner every night of the week now!

    We do all cloth in the kitchen, and I had no idea there was a name for not pre-heating and turning the heat off early! I’ve been hyper-cooking for a long time! I am all about recycling and repurposing containers as well, and I started a compost heap this year.

    Great list, Aimee! My biggest area of growth is more locally grown foods. I can never give up my avocados though. 🙂

  15. Rachel

    The biggest things I would like to accomplish right now are starting to compost and being more conscious about coming up with meals to clean out items in my pantry, rather than always thinking I need to get more things from the store. I so often buy something for a recipe, use it once and then the remains of the container sit unused in my pantry until I clean it out and realize it is not good any more. Such a waste!

  16. Alissa

    I was pleased to see that we do most of the items on this list. I’ve actually stopped repurposing containers because we seem to have enough for our needs. I love that our recycling bin is TWICE as big as our garbage bin these days. We pay a flat fee for recycling but garbage is more for a larger can, so recycling saves the planet and our $$.

    I agree with some others that I REALLY want to get rid of the paper towels and paper napkins, but have a hard time implementing. I think we just need to go cold turkey and make the switch!

  17. Michelle @ Traditional Simplicity

    The biggest area I really need to get doing is composting and gardening. We tried a garden for the second year this year, without much success. So, I’m looking into joining a local CSA. I don’t think we have quite enough sunlight in our backyard, but we will try salad lettuces again in the fall. We already reuse many of our containers and I have been doing the hyper cooking for sometime. I just didn’t know it had a name. 🙂 Great post Aimee!

  18. Cowpunkmom

    Those cookies look wonderful, I may have to try them!

    The key to greening IS small steps and just don’t stop! I have been learning over my 20 years of marriage many little things to feel better about my time in the kitchen. Recycling, composting, cooking from scratch, growing lettuce and herbs (at the VERY least), walking to the store for my daily veggie needs, eating meat once or twice a week (at the VERY most), leaving the lights off, allowing no water drippage…there are many things! And yet there are many more steps to take. Why did I never think of using the lettuce water on my house-plants? Brilliant!

    I want to keep learning until the day I turn into compost myself. Thank you for the great encouraging blog!

  19. Suzanne

    Great tips! We’re buying as much local produce as we can right now; it’s the perfect time of year for it and it is always far better tasting that store-purchased produce.

  20. Lou Smitty

    Aimee, I like your post but am shocked to find you recommending CANOLA oil in ‘Happy Planet Cookies’!!! Only a little research will tell you how unhappy this oil is capable of making the planet. Good old fashioned butter (from grass fed cows) makes the best and most healthy cookies by far. Check out the Weston A Price institute for reliable traditional nutritional information.

  21. Lou Smitty

    Sorry, that’s the WESTON A PRICE FOUNDATION.

  22. Ross

    I am definitely verging on green burnout at the moment!

    My household has started making small changes such as recycling, composting and even a wormery but we still seem to be generating way too much rubbish than a family of four should be! Food packaging seems to be the killer as we eat a hell of a lot.

    Any advice would be much appreciated!

  23. Ana Young

    I like your points on making sustainable food choices. Especially to eat locally. A few years ago we realized how many local choices are around us. A good way to find local ingredients and happenings is Twitter

    Once you start looking in your area you will realize that there are so many sources are right here, practically under our noses!

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