How to eat less meat and more plant foods, from a chef

This January, it’s time to relax and focus on healthy habits that you can adopt during your entire journey around the sun and beyond. We enlisted the help of industry experts to craft three four-week plans designed to help you move your body, eat more sustainably, or show affection. Choose a plan – or three – and press Refresh. Get the program

It’s important to minimize waste in what you eat, but the best habit you can adopt to live a sustainable life is to minimize meat consumption. Experts have repeatedly expressed that it is the habit that has the greatest impact on the planet. According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 23% of greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, livestock and the land needed to produce them.

Foods that are best for the environment include vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and olive oil, all of which are plant-based. And don’t forget that these are also some of the most nutrient dense foods available; your health and the planet both benefit from following a more plant-based diet.

All this to say, if you’re on a meat-centric diet, giving it up can feel overwhelming. Let’s try it for a week to end Well + Good’s ReNew Year 2022 strong – I’ll show you how and I promise you won’t miss any protein while we’re at it. Let this week’s mini tips guide you, and for more in-depth advice, check out these tips from a dietitian.

Graphics: W+G Creative

Day 22: Get inspired to cook with new vegetables

Does anyone else feel like they’re shopping on autopilot, filling their cart with the same old stuff? It’s nice to have go-tos, but you don’t want to miss out on all the delicious goodies out there. Write down a list of veggies you don’t normally cook with (eggplant? Portobello mushrooms? Acorn squash?) and take a picture to save it to your phone. Before your weekly trip to the grocery store, make a list and figure out which vegetable you want to experiment with this week. Next, Google some recipe ideas. The internet is a treasure trove of recipe inspiration, so you can literally search for any ingredient and you’ll have a wealth of ideas in seconds. Remember, you should only buy ingredients that you can use in more than one way (otherwise they’ll probably end up not being used completely), so be sure to bookmark a few ways to incorporate each ingredient. You might discover a new favorite food this way!

Day 23: Center the spices when shopping this week

As any chef will tell you, spices are key to taking any dish from mediocre to amazing. If you use the same five spices to season all your dishes, it’s time for a change. Keep that in mind when you go shopping this week, buying a new spice you’ve never tried before. Spices will be key in the recipe we’ll be making later this week, a cauliflower rice biryani. Garam masala, turmeric, cayenne pepper, coriander powder, and cumin are all must-haves. Just like ginger. One way I like to extend the life of ginger buds is to freeze them, then grate what I need right into the dish I’m making.

Check out the full ingredient list for the recipe below so you can plan ahead. You will also see beans on your grocery list. You won’t need these for the biryani, but we’ll be using them later in the week, so make sure you have some on hand. Here’s what you’ll need this week:

  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 4 cups cauliflower rice
  • 2 cups mixed vegetables (frozen or fresh green beans, carrots and peas)
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 1 tablespoon grated garlic
  • 1 tbsp coriander powder
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • lemon wedge

Day 2: Make ice cubes with olive oil and herbs

Think meatless meals are bland? Think again. Here’s a great trick for using up leftover fresh herbs that also proves to be an easy way to add fresh, delicious flavor to dishes: place them in an ice cube tray filled with olive oil and return to them in the freezer.

Use them when cooking, and they’ll add so much vitality to sautéed vegetables, beans, tofu, and other meatless ingredients later. Basil, mint, oregano, thyme and rosemary are especially good for this. You can even get creative and come up with your own combinations, or use this trick to keep the pesto sauce fresh.

Day 25: Swap veggies for meat in a meal you love

Remember a few weeks ago when I showed you how to make sloppy joes (the ultimate meat dish) without any animal products? Now it’s your turn to find a way to trade vegetables for meat. For example, can you use jackfruit or beans to make tacos instead of beef? Lentils in your favorite chili instead of meat? Here’s your chance to get creative – and if you’re really out of ideas, here are eight ideas to get you started.

Day 26: Make your own cauliflower rice

Cauliflower rice is a versatile, fiber-rich kitchen ingredient, but you have to shell out extra to make and prepare it (and talk about a purchase gone wrong in a heartbeat). Believe it or not, it’s something anyone can easily make at home in about five minutes, and it’s a way to make sure you’re using all the cauliflower, including the stems.

All you do is cut the cauliflower into smaller one to two inch florets. Add it to your food processor or blender, fill about ⅔ of the blender or food processor with water and blend. Then you can strain the water in a colander and store your cauliflower rice in an airtight container and store it in the fridge or freezer when you want to cook with it. Just like that, you saved money while using whole cauliflower. Need ideas on what to do with it? Here are ten!

Day 27: Embrace the Beans

When you’re eating sustainably, one of the easiest ways to approach your diet is to embrace beans. Consuming them regularly can add years to your life, and it’s also one of the most sustainable foods out there. Indeed, beans are known as “nitrogen-fixing crops,” meaning they use bacteria in the soil to extract nitrogen from the air. This natural process replaces the need to add nitrogen fertilizer in bean crops, which means that beans (along with other legumes) use half the energy input of other crops. Beans are also very inexpensive and versatile.

One tip I like to remind people of when using beans is to soak them overnight, which not only helps them cook faster and gives a more even texture, but also removes oligosaccharides (a type of sugar) which are responsible for producing gas in our system, making them easier to digest. Today, think of a meal in which you can incorporate beans instead of meat. And if you need some ideas, check out these seven recipes.

Day 28: Use your cauliflower rice to make Cauli-Biryani

Earlier this week, we made homemade cauliflower rice together. Now it’s time for the fun part: eating it! One way I like to use my cauli rice is to use it to make biryani, an Indian rice dish full of vegetables and anti-inflammatory spices. Think of it as the kitchen sink of rice dishes; throw all the veggies you have on hand into the mix along with your cauliflower rice and spices and you have a fiber-rich dish. Use my personal recipe as a guide, but feel free to customize it as well. Come back on January 30, and I’ll give you the full recipe.

Looking to refresh your healthy habits in January? Check out our full ReNew Year 2022 program for expert-led plans for better sleep, nutrition, exercise, and self-care routines.

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