Chef Sustainable: A Guide on Keeping Veganism Affordable, Nutritious, and Waste-free

What benefits do a plant-based diet have?

According to the EAT-Lancet Commission, food is the single strongest lever to optimize human health and environmental sustainability on Earth. Individual changes do make a difference. Making changes in your diet is a great way to be more sustainable. In fact, one study showed that meat from ruminant animals like cows and sheep have nearly 100 times the environmental impact over plant-based foods. In terms of health, a plant-based diet is significantly better for your artery and heart health than a diet that consists of many animal products. Cooking your own food is healthier than eating out, and it is cheaper. Many other benefits come from a plant-based diet, as explained thoroughly in documentaries like The Game Changers, What the Health, and Cowspiracy. Even starting small like skipping meat on Mondays or trying a week of plant-based meals can be beneficial.

Where to start: Building a plan for plant-based meals

The first step to starting a plant-based diet is finding meals to cook that interest you. It is good to begin with meals that you are familiar with. It is also helpful to plan your meals ahead and have a grocery list. Below is an example of meals for a week. I do not have 7 different dinners planned because there are often leftovers with 1 person meals. It is important to know how much food you will eat and plan on eating leftovers to avoid wasting food.

Example of meals for a week. Credit: Author

Here are some recipes that I am using in the example:

After planning out the meals you want to have, it is useful to make a grocery list with the ingredients you need. I like to separate my list into sections like produce, bulk items, canned or boxed goods, and others. This will save me time when at the grocery store. Purchasing items from the bulk section will be cheaper than buying the individual packages. Dry bulk food will also last longer, as long as you have room for it in your pantry! Knowing how much food you eat before it could go bad is a vital skill that takes practice, but if you pay attention it will save you a lot of money. I have specific amounts of what to get below because I know how much I will eat, but take into account how much food you will be making and how fast produce wilts when buying your groceries.  

Example of a grocery list. Credit: Author

Organization:

It is very important to organize. It may seem like it takes a lot of time, but in the long run it will end up saving you time. Planning your groceries for the week are a great way to organize, as well as organizing your pantry and fridge. You can keep the taller items in the back and shorter items in the front, as well as your food that has a short expiration date. This will remind you to use the item before it goes bad. You can also plan what food you will make on what days based on your schedule. When you have this planned out, you can meal prep some of the larger meals for later in the week. For example, pasta salad is a quick and easy meal to prepare before the week begins which will then give you a quick lunch option throughout the week. Here is an example of a simple weekly plan.

Example of meal schedule for a week. Credit: Author

Tips for Avoiding Waste:

One of the biggest problems of cooking for yourself can be food waste. However, there are many ways to combat this problem if you are smart and resourceful!

  • It is okay to defy the recipe a bit. Some recipes call for ¾ of a can of diced tomatoes or beans, it is fine to use the whole can.
  • Use all your produce! For example, if you are cooking broccoli you can add the stalk to your dish as well. If you do not want to use an entire head, throw the rest in a container with other veggie scraps and make a vegetable broth later. You can also freeze produce that is nearing the end of its life to give it more time. It is additionally great to donate and/or share leftover food to friends or a local organization.
Vegetable Scrap Stock. Credit: Merle O’Neal Tasty Team

Conclusion:

Some weeks are busy and hard to plan, and that is okay! There are many budget and time friendly recipes available on the internet. There are also multiple apps that can be very helpful for meal planning. If you are feeling uninspired and need ideas for meals, there are also a ton of video resources out there. Here some of my personal favorite YouTube channels with meal idea videos:

It is okay if you are not doing any of this perfectly. Any effort is good effort. Remember, you have the power to make a difference!

-Posted by Jess

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