When you live a busy lifestyle, it’s understandable that you’d rely on the convenience of prepackaged meals or takeout food at least several times a week. However, those convenient meals have a downside: the packaging.
Restaurants and other businesses that offer food to go often package it in hard-to-recycle polystyrene foam containers and plastic clamshells. Or, with a nod to the environment, they might offer compostable containers that won’t biodegrade in your backyard compost. (Those containers require a commercial composting facility that is equipped to handle them.) In fact, even normally recyclable packaging like cardboard can’t be recycled if it’s contaminated with food. To add to the packaging conundrum, recyclable plastics are manufactured from nonsustainable petroleum — and processing those recyclables consumes energy at the recycling plant.
The ideal solution is to eliminate all disposable packaging completely — one source at a time.
If you’re ready to replace those packaged meals with your own healthy, quick meals, here are some ideas to get you started.
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Replace Taco Meat With Quinoa & Chili Beans
You might think beef tacos are delicious, but they’re not environmentally friendly.
The meat industry has a devastating impact on the environment. For example, scientists have found that methane (cow flatulence) plays a large role in warming oceans. Raising cattle requires enormous water and crop resources, and biodiversity takes a hit when a region is converted into farmland.
On the other hand, quinoa doesn’t cause harm to the environment, requires minimal irrigation to grow, and is readily available in almost every grocery store. Quinoa is a protein-dense plant-based food containing 11 amino acids. Although it’s technically a seed, it looks and feels like a small grain.
Recipe: Quick Quinoa & Bean Taco Filling
- 1 cup uncooked quinoa
- 2 cups of water
- 1 can seasoned chili beans
- Cumin (seeds or ground) to taste
- Salt & pepper to taste
To prepare the quinoa, bring the water to a boil and stir in the quinoa. Cover the pot, reduce the heat, and simmer the quinoa until the liquid has been absorbed (about 20-25 minutes).
Next, add a can of your favorite chili beans to the mixture to make it flavorful and chunky. Add cumin seeds or ground cumin to your mixture if you want more chili flavor. You’ll likely find that cumin seed provides a more intense flavor than ground cumin.
Add the mixture to taco shells, add your toppings and hot sauce, and enjoy healthy, planet-friendly meatless tacos. Store the rest of the mixture in a glass container in the fridge and you’ll have a quick way to make tacos for several days.
Make Meals You Can Enjoy Cold
If you don’t have time to heat up your meals, make large batches of dishes that taste great cold. You can portion recipes like this zesty potato salad into Mason jars and stash them in the fridge. Many pre-made dishes you store this way will be good for at least three to five days after you make them.
Recipe: Zesty Dill Potato Salad
- 8 medium-sized red potatoes
- 1 cup chopped, raw cabbage
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 1 cup black olives
- 1 cup chopped chives
- 1 cup chopped Italian parsley
- Mayonnaise to taste (or Greek yogurt if you don’t like mayo)
- Stone-ground mustard to taste
- 1 cup pickle relish
- Fresh dill weed to taste (dried is okay)
- Pepper to taste
Cook your potatoes according to your preference: boiled, steamed, just get those taters soft!
In a large bowl, whisk your mayo, mustard, and pickle relish together. When the potatoes are done, dice them up and add them to the mixture. Add the cabbage, celery, olives, chives, and parsley. Season your mixture with dill and pepper to taste.
Transfer the potato salad into wide-mouth Mason jars and place in the refrigerator to chill. When you need a quick bite, you can grab your potato salad and eat it right out of the jar.
Try Some Dairy-Free Recipes
Why are more people eliminating dairy from their diet? Aside from lactose intolerance and animal welfare concerns, the dairy industry has a significant carbon footprint. Manufacturers are addressing consumer concerns about dairy by offering a wide variety of plant-based milk alternatives.
There are plenty of tasty recipes that don’t require any dairy whatsoever. GoDairyFree’s rice and vegetable bowl with lemon herb sauce and raw pesto zucchini roll-ups are just two examples. If you’re looking for a quick side dish, try this recipe for rosemary mashed root vegetables from GoDairyFree.
Recipe: Rosemary Mashed Root Vegetables
- 1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
- 2 white potatoes, unpeeled and chopped
- 8 baby carrots or 1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
- 1/3 cup unsweetened dairy-free milk beverage (like almond milk)
- 1 teaspoon fresh, finely chopped rosemary
- 1 teaspoon dried chives
- ¾ to 1 teaspoon salt, to taste
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
Boil the sweet potatoes, white potatoes, and carrots together for about 20 minutes. Drain the water from the pot. Place the veggies into a bowl and add the milk, rosemary, chives, salt, and pepper. Mash everything together or blend with a hand mixer until creamy.
Enjoy some now and portion the rest out into reusable stainless steel lunch containers for the week.
Preplan Your Quick Meals for the Week
Once you start prepping your quick meals ahead of time, you’ll get into the groove and it will become second nature. You can dedicate a couple of hours at the end of each week to prep your meals for the upcoming week.
For safe and sustainable food storage, you have lots of options. Whether you reuse glass jars or buy long-lasting reusable containers that are easy to grab and go, you can enjoy your meal knowing that you’ve eliminated all that food packaging waste. And as you eat your homemade meals, each tasty bite will be a reminder that you’re not only eating healthy, but you’re doing your part to eat a more sustainable diet.
Originally published on October 7, 2019, this article was updated in July 2021.