How To Eat Less Meat and More Plant Foods, From a Chef

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This January, it’s time to take it easy and hone in on healthy habits that you can live with for an entire trip around the sun—and beyond. We’ve enlisted the help of industry experts to put together three four-week plans designed to help you move your body, eat more sustainably, or show yourself some loving care. Pick a plan—or three—and hit refresh. Get the Program

Minimizing waste through what you eat is important, but truly the best habit you can get into in terms of living a sustainable life is minimizing meat consumption. Experts have repeatedly expressed that this is the habit that has the biggest impact on the planet. Twenty-three percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, livestock, and the land needed to raise them, according to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The foods that are best for the environment include vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, and olive oil—all sourced from plants. And remember, these also happen to be some of the most nutrient-dense foods available; your health and the planet will both benefit from following a more plant-forward meal regime.

All to say, if you have a meat-centric diet, giving it up may sound overwhelming. Let’s just try it for one week to finish Well+Good’s 2022 ReNew Year strong—I’ll show you how and I promise you won’t miss out on any protein while we’re at it. Let the mini tips this week be your guide and for more in-depth tips, check out this advice from a registered dietitian.

Art: W+G Creative

Day 22: Get inspired to cook with new vegetables

Does anyone else feel like they do their grocery shopping on autopilot, filling their cart with the same old stuff? It’s great to have go-tos, but you don’t want to miss out on all the delicious produce that exists. Write down a list of veggies you don’t normally cook with (eggplant? portobello mushrooms? acorn squash?) and take a picture of it so it saves to your phone. Before your weekly grocery trip, pull up the list and figure out which veggie you want to experiment with this week. Then, Google some recipe ideas. The Internet is a treasure trove of recipe inspo, so you can literally search any ingredient and you’ll have a wealth of ideas in seconds. Remember that you should only buy ingredients you can use in more than one way (otherwise, it will likely end up unused fully), so be sure to bookmark a few ways to incorporate each ingredient. You just may discover a new favorite food this way!

Day 23: Center spices when you’re 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 to switch things up. Keep this in mind when you go grocery shopping this week, buying one 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 a must. As is ginger. One way that I like to extend the life of ginger knobs is by freezing them and then grating what I need directly into the dish that I’m making.

Check out the full ingredients list for the recipe below so you can plan ahead. You’ll also see beans on your grocery list. You won’t need them 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 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 4 cups cauliflower rice
  • 2 cup of mixed vegetables (frozen or fresh green beans, carrots, and peas)
  • 1 Tbsp grated ginger
  • 1 Tbsp grated garlic
  • 1 Tbsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 Tbsp cumin powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • Wedge of lemon

Day 2: Make olive oil and herb ice cubes

Think meat-free meals are bland? Think again. Here’s a genius tip for using leftover fresh herbs that also happens to be an easy way to add fresh, delicious flavor to dishes: Put them in an ice cube tray filled with olive oil, and pop them back in the freezer.

Use them when cooking, and they’ll add so much vibrance to sauteed vegetables, beans, tofu, and other meat-free 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 apply this trick to preserving fresh pesto sauce.

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

Remember a couple weeks ago when I showed you how to make sloppy joes (the ultimate meat-centered dish) with no animal products whatsoever? Now it’s your turn to come up with a way to swap veggies 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 hard up for ideas, here are eight ideas to get you started.

Day 26: Make your own cauliflower rice

Cauliflower rice is a high-fiber, versatile cooking ingredient, but you do shell out extra to have it prepped and ready to use (and talk about a purchase that goes bad in the blink of an eye). Believe it or not, this is something anyone can easily make at home in about five minutes and it’s a way to make sure you’re using the entire cauliflower—stems included.

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 pulse. Then, you can strain out the water in a colander and store your cauliflower rice in an airtight container and stash it in the fridge or freezer for when you want to cook with it. Just like that, you saved money while putting the entire cauliflower to use. Need some ideas on what to make with it? Here are ten!

Day 27: Embrace beans

When eating sustainably, one of the easiest ways to approach your diet is by embracing beans. Regularly consuming them can add years to your life, and they’re also one of the most sustainable foods in existence. This is because beans are known as “nitrogen-fixing crops,” which means that they utilize soil bacteria to draw nitrogen from the air. This natural process replaces the need to add nitrogen fertilizers in bean crops, which means beans (as well as other pulses) use half the energy inputs of other crops. Beans are also super cheap and versatile.

One tip that I like to remind people when using beans is to soak them overnight, which not only helps them to cook faster and gives a more even texture, it also removes oligosaccharides (a type of sugar) that is responsible for producing gas in our system, which makes them easier to digest. Today, think of one meal you can incorporate beans into in place 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 real fun part: eating it! One way I like to use my cauli rice is by using it to make biryani, an Indian rice dish full of veggies and anti-inflammatory spices. Think of it as the kitchen sink of rice dishes; throw whatever veggies you have on hand into the mix with your cauliflower rice and spices and you have yourself a fiber-rich dish. Use my personal recipe as a guide, but feel free to make it your own too. Check back on January 30, and I’ll give you the full recipe.

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

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