By Fredrica Syren:
One way to reduce waste and live a zero waste lifestyle is to cook at home … from scratch. Now, when I tell people I do this, I get lots of questions about how I have the time and energy to cook from scratch for my family. I wish people knew me: I consider myself lazy, and I like to have things done quickly, especially when I have three hungry children standing next to me.
Processed and takeout foods in general come with lots of waste, from stickers to the petroleum-based plastic wrap, to Styrofoam and aluminum trays, cans to preserve them, and rubber bands to hold items together. Most of these things cannot be recycled. Besides the waste, the food packaged in these things also exposes us to Bisphenol A or BPA, so breaking free from processed and takeout food serves both the environment and our own health.
Furthermore, by cooking healthy meals at home, you are giving both you and your children a chance at health. Try to eat dinner together as a family and try to cook whole foods instead of processed foods. By cooking at home, you educate your children about what food is as well as teach them about “sometimes” foods or indulgences vs. everyday healthy options. In short, you empower them to make better choices.
It’s easy to think that processed or takeout food is a lot faster to make when, in fact, cooking some pasta, grilling some chicken and steaming vegetables take about 15-20 minutes max, almost the same as making Hamburger Helper. Believe me, the homemade food is healthier and tastes better.
How do we start cooking from scratch? First of all, if you aren’t a fan of cooking, then try to learn just a few recipes. My tip to reduce food waste and come up with creative recipes is to use fridge google. Since I’m cooking for a family of five, I have made my life a lot easier by creating a meal plan that includes very simple recipes, and I’m sticking to it. It saves me lots of time and money to plan things ahead. My meal plan is vegetarian, but even if you eat meat, it is still possible to cook from scratch without spending the entire day at the stove because chicken or fish does not take that long to cook. A great way to save energy and time is to multitask. For example, with a casserole in the oven, choose to roast veggies simultaneously. I love crockpots and use mine all the time to save time. This way I prepare food in the morning in order to have a healthy and delicious meal ready in the evening. There are tons of recipes for crockpot meals. Just check out google or Pinterest.
Second, make sure to use organic and fresh foods like onions, garlic, produce, fruit, fish, chicken, pasta, grains, beans and herbs. And to easily reach this zero waste style, shop at the local farmers’ market. At a farmers’ market, buying food without plastic wraps and plastic stickers is super easy; and the food has not traveled very far. I always bring my own containers for berries, and cloth bags for other foods so I don’t need to use plastic bags or containers to get the groceries home.
Here are some of my favorite healthy and vegetarian quick meals which can also be adapted for meat eaters:
One-pot Mexican Quinoa — One of my kids’ favorite ways to eat quinoa is in this Mexican dish I found on Pinterest. It’s very filling and satisfying, and I serve it with corn tortillas, salsa and guacamole. I love it because it’s a one-pan wonder☺
- 1 teaspoon Olive Oil
- 2 cloves Garlic, minced
- 1 stalk Celery, diced
- 1 small Carrot, diced
- 2 Spring Onions, chopped
- 4 Jalapeños, seeded and finely chopped
- 1¼ cups Uncooked Quinoa, rinsed well and drained
- 1¼ cups Vegetable Broth
- 2 cups of cooked Black Beans or one 15 oz. can Black Beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 (14.5 oz.) can Diced Tomatoes, with juice
- 1 cup Frozen Corn
- 1 teaspoon Cumin
- 2 teaspoons Sugar
- ½ teaspoon Kosher Salt
- ⅓ cup chopped fresh Cilantro
- 1 cup Baby Spinach
- Juice of 1 Lime
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Add the garlic, celery, carrot, spring onion and jalapeños, and sauté for about 1 minute, until fragrant. Stir in the quinoa, broth, beans, tomatoes, corn, cumin, sugar and salt. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and let cook for 20-25 minutes, until the liquid is fully absorbed. Remove from heat, stir in cilantro, spinach and lime juice. Season to taste.
Curried Carrot and Lentil Soup, serves 6 — This is a delicious soup. The amount of spice can be increased or decreased, depending on your kids’ liking. It’s packed full of iron and is low fat, to boot. It’s ready in under half an hour.
- 1 sweet onion, chopped
- 7 carrots, peeled, chopped (medium sized carrots)
- 1 cup spinach, Swiss chard or kale
- 2 cups red lentils, rinsed until water runs clear
- 2 Tbsp. madras curry powder
- 6 cups vegetable broth
Combine vegetable broth, carrots, curry powder, spinach and lentils, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer on low heat for 20 minutes, or until lentils are tender. Using a blender, blend soup until creamy.
Spinach Pasta Sauce, serves 4 — This is a pasta sauce my kids’ daycare would serve and the kids fell in love with it … as did I when I learned how easy it is to make. I serve it with pasta, of course, but also with cooked beans on the side, or topped with beans as well as roasted sunflower seeds.
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 2 cups fresh spinach, chopped (or use frozen)
- 1 small yellow sweet onion, minced
- 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
- 2 cups of milk (I use unsweetened almond milk)
- A small dash of fresh ground nutmeg
- Salt to taste
Heat oil on medium heat and sauté onion for 5 minutes. Add spinach and cook until wilted. Sprinkle flour over and mix quickly. Add milk and use a whisk to mix until all flour has been dissolved. Bring to a simmer while stirring constantly. Add nutmeg and salt. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Toss with favorite pasta.