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The Journey to Sustainable Eating

Our family recycles plastic, paper, bottles, and food waste. We don’t own a car. The house electricity is on 100% wind-power and we keep the temperature low enough that everyone needs to wear a sweater and put a blanket over their laps on the couch. Every year, I tackle another aspect of our family’s environmental footprint and this year is the time for food. Let’s talk about sustainable eating.

by Cathy Delhanty

The Delhanty Family’s 3 hot-tips to Sustainable Eating

This year we did a “deep-dive” into our food shopping habits with a focus on sustainability. We targeted three categories: how we shop, how it is packaged, and how we cook. These are the three big changes we made as a family and the results we achieved. Our remaining question is “Why didn’t we do this sooner?”

Complete Moratorium on Plastic: If it comes in plastic, we do not buy it

Standing in the Aldi in Delft, I complained to my daughter, “It is so hard to shop without plastic. I can’t find anything to buy!”

My wise daughter replied, “It is really easy. You skip most of the aisles.”

Exactly, Emma! Shopping without plastic is easier because you skip most of the aisles! We had to change how we shopped. Aldi has been replaced by the market (no plastic), the butcher (minimum plastic, but we are still working on this), and Jumbo (no plastic for everything I need). As a result, turning away from plastic made us change our shopping habits. Just say no!

Controlled Shopping: “We’re out of butter!”… “Then add it to the shopping list!”

At first glance, shopping at three stores looked harder than getting everything at once. Since living in the Netherlands, we have fallen into the habit of picking up a few groceries every day or so. We analyzed the time spent at the grocery store, including the travel time and the quality and sustainability of what we bought. The number of uncounted hours spent at the grocery store was alarming! I had to ask myself, “Why do we need to have everything at our fingertips every minute? Is there a reason why it is better to walk to the shop, stand in line, and walk home than to be out of butter for one evening?”

“Why do we have to have everything at our fingertips every minute? Is there a reason why it is better to walk to the shop, stand in line, and walk home than to be out of butter for one evening?”

And, eliminating plastic meant that we could not survive on what we could buy at Aldi. There had to be a better way.

We deliberately created a new routine:

1. Saturday

Buy everything we can at the farmers’ market in Oud Rijswijk. We bring our own containers and bags, get some fresh air, buy cheese and eggs, seasonally fresh vegetables and fruit; and all perishable items. The prices are about the same as the grocery store but the experience and quality are much better. Result: no packaging, higher quality food, time with my husband.

2. Once per month

Meat from the SK butcher in The Hague. This is a Turkish butcher and quality of the meat is so good that the children even commented that the chicken tastes better! We buy whole chickens, lamb roasts, and minced meat. On the day we buy the meat, we process the ground beef into meatballs, hamburgers, and other things to be used in the month. It all goes in the freezer. One busy day per month and we always have something ready to cook. As a result, we have better meat, drastic reduction in packaging, and an over 70% reduction in cost because a chicken costs €3 at SK instead of €10 at Albert Heijn (gasp!).

3. Every two weeks, shop for the pantry, not the recipe

We buy staples such as flour, sugar, rice, oatmeal, ketchup (a staple at our house), vinegar, etc. at the grocery store and specialty items at the Chinese Grocery. Choosing paper and glass instead of plastic packaging. We do this on Saturday morning when everyone is at the market. The Netherlands has really low cost staples available at most of the grocery stores but we usually go to Jumbo because they have more no-plastic options. And shopping for the pantry means that we always have everything we need to cook. As a result, we get less shopping time, less plastic, lower costs, reduced need to run to the shops midweek, moving us closer to sustainable eating.

4. Add it to the list

When we run out of something, we add it to the shopping list and buy it on the weekend. Result: time saved. And we do not fall victim to the “went out for milk and bought 10 items” problem.

Who has the time to cook from scratch? We do!

“But, I need Digestive biscuits and they only come in plastic,” says my husband.

“Surely you can find a recipe for them.”

And, he did. Cooking from scratch was difficult at first because we thought it was hard and time consuming. The trick to it is to use an old fashioned cookbook and we use my grandmother’s 1967 edition of the Five Roses Cookbook. (I don’t recommend this one for everyone because it is not in metric!) Why an old cookbook? Because they are designed to be used everyday, have clear basic instructions, and use seasonal, non-exotic (local) ingredients because they were written before we all started shopping at supermarkets. They focus on health, portion size, and balanced diets.

Now we use the time we saved from shopping to:

  • Bake cookies every Sunday afternoon.
  • Use whole chickens and roasts instead of buying cuts of meat (cheaper!). We roast the chicken and then use it for different meals throughout the week. Including sandwiches. This has eliminated expensive cold cuts and the associated plastic.
  • Learn to make pickles, sauces, and treats.

What did we achieve with sustainable eating in mind? With a full pantry of staples, a freezer full of meat, controlled shopping, and homemade tasty treats, we are very happy. Quality is up. Costs are down. Time is reduced. Packaging is drastically reduced. Everything tastes better. Even our need to recycle is reduced by over 80%. What a result!

That is right. Three big sustainable eating changes and we eat better, save time and money! Love it! Our only question is “Why didn’t we do this sooner?”


Cathy Delhanty is the founder and chairwoman of Stichting Wool for Warmth, a charity with over 75 knitting and crochet clubs – including DelftMamas. On 4 March 2020, Cathy was awarded the Parel Den Haag award recognizing her efforts in the emancipation of women in The Hague. You can reach her at



From DMM Blog Team:

If you like this post about sustainability, we recommend reading this article about recycling in Delft: How to reduce, reuse and recycle in Delft.

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