Plant-based Eating for a Healthier Planet

Happy Earth Day! What lifestyle changes are you making to help save our planet? You might be walking instead of driving to run errands or refashioning and recycling your house decors rather than trashing them. There is no change that is too small to make a difference in our environment!

The earth friendly changes I made consciously this past year include eating more plant-based food and reducing plastic bottles beyond disposable water bottles – think food containers and body care packaging. Eating more plant-based is not only better for the earth but it’s better for the body. Shifting to a plant-based diet contributes greatly to the reduction of greenhouse-gas emission. According to an Oxford University study, people who eat more than 0.1 kg (3.5 oz) of meat per day—about the size of a hamburger patty—generate 7.2 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) each day, while vegetarians and vegans generate 3.8 kg and 2.9 kg of CO2e, respectively. That means you can reduce your carbon foot print by more than 50% by eating a meatless meal. Just like any lifestyle change, it’s not easy to switch to a meatless diet overnight. You don’t have to go vegan if that’s not your thing. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Think of it as a sliding scale – the more plants you eat instead of meat the less CO2e is produced – and make that shift gradually!

As I push forward with my quest for a more plant-based diet, I want to share with you some flavorful and interesting ways to incorporate more grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables into every meal.

Have some fun making the shift to a plant-based diet

1. Explore some new plant-based foods

  • Try a new vegetable weekly. Don’t be intimidated just because you haven’t tasted or cooked it before. Check out your weekly farmer’s market for inspiration.
  • Buy fresh and seasonal to add interest and variety to your meals. Avoid processed plant-based food.
  • Experiment with high protein grains such as kamut, quinoa, spelt, teff, millet, and wild rice. They are easier to cook than you think. If you know how to cook rice, you can cook other grains.
Photo by Vie Studio on Pexels.com

2. Discover new seasonings

  • Use chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, cilantro, and dill to flavor your grains
  • Add nuts and seeds to vegetables and grains for texture and taste.
  • Try spices from around the globe. You can learn a lot about cooking with spices from visiting a spice shop. If you don’t have one near you, try Oaktown Spice Shop (one of my fave) and they will ship your order to your door.
  • Sauce it up with tahini, hummus, sriracha, pesto, etc to heighten the flavor.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

3. Learn new cooking techniques

  • Checkout Instagram and YouTube for cooking demos to learn various cooking techniques.
  • Invest in a couple good cookbooks. One of my favorite cookbook by a fellow dietitian is Vegetable Cookbook for Vegetarians. It’s a perfect book for newcomers to the adventure land of vegetables. There are 200 recipes from artichokes to zucchini so you can be sure to find something new to try!
  • For plant-forward global recipes, I recommend Spicebox Kitchen, a new cookbook released in March, 2021 that throws a healthy twist to traditional recipes, such as whole wheat onion pancakes.

My Cooking Demo – an easy delicious plant-based meal


How Does a Virtual Cooking Class Work

I took my first virtual cooking class last Saturday night! It introduced me to the flavors of Ethiopia, a cuisine I don’t know much about but eager to discover. I learned a few lessons, beyond the cooking lesson that will help you have a better experience at your first or next virtual cooking class.

This cooking class, Cooking with Mekdes: An Ethiopian Experience, was a fundraiser to support Rare Trait Hope, a non-profit organization with a mission to develop a cure for Aspartylglucosaminuria (AGU), a fatal genetic neuro-degenerative disease. A friend in Canada adopted a little girl, Makeda from Ethiopia who was diagnosed with this rare disease at a very young age. Her mother hopes for a cure in Makeda’s lifetime! If you want to support this worthwhile cause , the recording of Cooking with Mekdes is still available.

Virtual cooking classes offer you the opportunity to learn new knowledge of various ethnic cuisines and develop new cooking techniques. When traveling is limited by the Pandemic, this is a fun and entertaining way to escape to all corners of the globe and taste local food without leaving your home.

Ethiopian dishes I made when Cooking with Mekdes

  • Ginger with Garlic Paste
  • Asa Tibs Wet
  • Green Lentil Salad
  • Gomen Wet

Steps to consider for a Zoom cooking class

  • Register for the class well in advance! Some cook-along classes limit the number of participants so the chef can interact with the participants online and provide some handholding throughout the class. Some classes are more instructor-centric and done in a demo style so there’s no cap for the number of attendees. You can still submit questions in the chat box but the instructor may not get to your questions. The class I attended was a hybrid where you can choose to cook-along live or just watch and cook later at your own speed.
  • Check if the class is recorded, just in case you can’t attend at the scheduled time. Most class organizer will email the recording to you if it’s available. Cooking along side a class recording may not have the same energy as cooking with a live class. But the upside with a recording is that you can pause, chop, eat and sip at your own pace. Cooking with a live class can be very fast-paced and even frantic at times, especially if you are not well prepared.
  • Get menu, recipes and grocery shopping list before your class. Be sure to allow adequate time to locate specialty ingredients if necessary. I registered for my class early which allow enough time for my friend to mail me the Ethiopian spices (ground rosemary, berbere, and koreima). Some online cooking classes may include pantry ingredients delivered to your door but be prepared to pay a higher price for that kind of service. Review the steps of the recipes to make sure you have cooking tools in you kitchen. This is especially true if you are cooking global cuisine where you may need tools like a paella pan, a clay pot or a steam basket.
  • Get a link for the zoom meeting. It should be sent to you at least a day or so before the class. Be sure you have great working wifi to avoid interruptions during your class. Log in at least 10 minutes before the scheduled class time to test the link and wifi to avoid any snafu. Set up your device in a place where you can see what the chef is doing as you cook. Test the volume to ensure you can hear well over cooking noises. Consider lighting and reflection on the screen of your device for image clarity. The set-up can be tricky depending on your kitchen space and configuration. I used a laptop so I was able to move it to various parts of the kitchen. Don’t forget to cover your keyboard to protect it from food and liquid spills.
  • Set up all the ingredients and tools needed for the recipes within your reach before the start of the class. You don’t want to be digging in the bottom cupboard for your lemon squeezer while the instructor is already onto the next step of the recipe . It’s ideal to pre-squeeze your lemons, prewash and slice or dice any meat and vegetables, and even precook some ingredients. I made the mistake of not reading through the recipe instruction for the lentil salad, calling for cooked lentils. Luckily, my cooking partner caught that step early in the class so I was able to cook the lentils in time for the salad. Having a friend as a sous chef was invaluable and loads of fun – highly recommend it!

Now that you are all set for your virtual cooking class, make yourself a cocktail or pour yourself a glass of wine. Relax and enjoy your culinary experience!