National Nutrition Month

By Laura Ritacco, RDN  – Gleaners Nutrition Education Team

Every year, as we start our transition from the cold winter months into the warmer, sunnier days of spring, everyone is invited to celebrate National Nutrition Month®. National Nutrition Month® is an annual campaign started by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 1973 that dedicates the entire month of March to public education with resources on how to develop healthy eating patterns and improve physical activity habits by making informed and empowered choices to support our health. This year’s theme, “Beyond the Table” highlights the ways in which making informed decisions around the foods we eat can also influence the health of our planet by using sustainable methods wherever we are—at home, school, or work.

Below are a few tips to get in the spirit of celebrating National Nutrition Month® with ways that can improve our overall wellness and impact on the environment.

1. Building a healthy eating pattern with sustainability in mind:

Have you ever heard the phrases “plant-based” or “plant forward”? Plant-based is a style of eating that places more emphasis on foods such as vegetables, whole fruits, nuts, whole grains, seeds, legumes, and soy-based products (such as tofu) and selecting meat products less often. This type of eating style can have beneficial effects on our health by lowering the risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes and can help with chronic disease management1. Because plant-based foods require less resources to produce than meat products, practicing a plant-based dietary pattern can support efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that affect climate change2.

Using your meal planning skills can be a great way to build a more sustainable, plant-focused dietary pattern: select one day or meal out of the week where meat is swapped for a plant-based protein. For example, instead of having meat in your tacos, substitute with your favorite beans and extra vegetables!

Additionally, select plant-based foods that are lower in sodium, saturated fats, and added sugars by looking at the nutrition facts label— a Daily Value of 20% or more is considered High and 5% or less is Low. Look for beneficial nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, protein, and dietary fiber.

2. Eating locally:

Engaging in local food systems by eating locally, when possible, can positively contribute to our overall well-being and stretches beyond our table by benefitingour communities. Purchasing foods that are in season from local growers can be more cost effective. Additionally, many vendors at farmers markets accept food assistance programs such as SNAP, Double Up Food Bucks, WIC Project FRESH, and Senior Project FRESH. Along with farmer’s markets, getting involved with a community garden can be a great way to learn new skills, make connections, and strengthen our understanding of food and food systems.
To locate a farmers market near you, check out the Michigan Farmers Market Association (MIFMA) tool: Home – Michigan Farmers Market Association (

3. Reducing food waste:

Planning meals, using leftovers in creative ways, and practicing good shelf-life hygiene of food items at home can have a large impact on reducing food waste. Organizing your fridge and shelves by perishability of items and expiration dates can help you keep track of what needs to be used first—foods that are highly perishable, were purchased at a grocery trip earlier in the week, and/or have earlier expiration dates than other products should be placed in front of other items to signify their need for immediate use.  

For example, if you have two cans of beans on your shelf and one has an expiration date of 5/2024 and the other reads 8/2024, the can that expires on 5/2024 should be placed in front and used first. Additionally, if you have fresh vegetables that are starting to wilt, use them in a soup recipe. This method helps twofold by helping plan meals based on which ingredients must be used and will also keep you from tossing away foods before they go bad!

4. Eating on the go:

Meal planning and prepping can really come in handy if you are always on the go. Planning nutrient-dense snacks can give you and your loved ones the energy needed to fuel your busy days and help keep health habits on track. A plant-forward approach can be used to build snacks, too! Pair your favorite fruit, vegetables, or whole grains with plant-based proteins to create delicious and nutrient-packed snacks. Overnight oats with fruit and nuts, trail mix, chopped vegetables with hummus, or apples and peanut butter are a few examples of great options. Be sure to practice appropriate food safety, such as proper refrigeration, depending on your snacks.

There are so many exciting ways to focus on sustainable habits that not only benefit our health, but the health of our communities and planet. One small step can lead to profound changes over time. To get started, discuss some of the above methods with your loved ones or accountability partner and determine one way you can engage in National Nutrition Month® together—try exploring a new plant-based recipe to share with each other, make plans to visit a local farmers market, or find a community garden near you! Wishing you a happy and healthy National Nutrition Month® and beyond!

*For more information and resources on National Nutrition Month®, check out: National Nutrition Month® (
*For great recipes and other nutrition resources, check out: Cooking Matters News & Recipes | Gleaners Community Food Bank (


  1. How does Plant-Forward (Plant-Based) Eating Benefit Your Health? | American Heart Association. Accessed 2/27/24.
  2. Plant-Based Dietary Patterns for Human and Planetary Health – PMC ( Accessed 2/26/24.
  3. National Nutrition Month® Photo: National Nutrition Month® ( Permission granted & accessed 2/23/24.