Sustainable Buffs: Green meal planning with plant-based foods | Division of Student Affairs

You may have heard that eating plant-based meals can help the environment—but that doesn’t mean eating a salad for every meal. You can achieve this by starting small, trying new recipes and planning out some meals.

Why choose plant-based foods?

Eating a plant-based diet means getting a majority of your nutrition from plants. Plant-based eaters enjoy animal products occasionally, but not with every meal or even every day. Eating plant-based is ranked fourth on Project Drawdown’s comprehensive list of global solutions to climate change. This solution is ranked highly because studies show meat and dairy products can have a significant impact on our environment, and plant-based foods have the smallest impact. In fact, beef has one of the highest greenhouse gas impacts of all meats.

If you’re concerned about the environment and looking for a simple way to help, consider planning out more plant-based meals. Even a few meals a week without meat and dairy can make an impact.

Try one new recipe a week

Finding a favorite food blog with plant-based recipes might be all the inspiration you need. We love Minimalist Baker and The Beet, or you could start small with Meatless Mondays.. Bookmark recipes you want to try and the ones you try. Take notes on what you liked and didn’t like, and any alterations that you made so you can make something again if it turned out well.

You could also consider ingredient swaps to make your favorite meals more plant-based. If your favorite dish calls for beef, consider new plant-based beef alternatives like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. These alternatives taste surprisingly like the real thing and are available at many restaurants, fast food chains and grocery stores.

Experiment with new foods and recipes to see what you enjoy. Then you can plan out some favorite meals to return to and expand on. If you are concerned about nutritional needs or have questions about eating a plant-based diet, check out the free Nutrition Resource Clinic on campus.

Make batches

When you find a few recipes that you enjoy, consider meal planning and making larger batches to eat throughout the week. Many students find that planning meals and snacks in advance helps them avoid buying more groceries than they need, save money and be more efficient with their time. 

Recipes like veggie stir frys or soups are great for making large quantities and eating leftovers throughout the week. As you meal plan and make larger portions, be mindful of avoiding food waste. If you know that you won’t want to eat the same thing more than a couple days in a row, consider making a smaller batch or freezing your leftovers. 

Keep healthy, hearty staples around

Heartier vegetables like root vegetables (carrots and beets), celery and red and green cabbages will last for multiple weeks in the produce drawer of the fridge (where they will last longer than in the rest of the fridge). All types of potatoes and yams, onions and garlic will last for weeks in a cool, dark pantry. Canned tomatoes can be a cheaper and healthier alternative to prepared pasta sauces – and more flavorful with a bit of fresh or roasted garlic or other spices.

Stocking up on these staples can ensure you always have veggies to cook with. Keeping a small supply of frozen vegetables in the freezer will also do the trick. If you have a busy week and don’t have time to plan or research recipes, apps like SuperCook can give you a recipe for things you already have on hand!

Remember, even a few plant-based meals a week can make a big impact. Have fun experimenting and trying new recipes—you might be surprised by what you enjoy!

Sustainable Buffs is a series brought to you by the Environmental Center. Learn more sustainability tips and ways to get involved at colorado.edu/ecenter.

Janelle B. Smith

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