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Food Swaps for a Healthier, More Sustainable Diet

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Excessive global agriculture and the food industry have greatly contributed to our planet’s environmental plight. Humans are certainly a major part of the problem, due to our wide consumption of animals and our support of factory farming. As our resources are being depleted, diversifying our diets and turning to the culinary traditions of older cultures can help us rethink the way we eat.

Here are some quick, delicious meat swaps to try at home!

Eat Less Meat

Switching from a meat-based diet to a plant-based one saves water, money and labor. When I teach Indian cooking, I tell my students that with Indian food, ‘they won’t miss meat’. Traditionally vegetarian, we have gotten our proteins from lentils and beans for thousands of years. Rather than steak, chicken or fish, which form the centerpiece of a Western meal, the Indian plate is a balance of flavors, textures and colors coming from lentils, grains and vegetables. These are enhanced by spices like turmeric, mustard seed, asafetida and cumin, which add flavor and nutrition.

With taste buds satisfied and tummies full, we don’t miss animal protein.

If we do eat meat, it is in very small portions, maybe half a pound for a family of six. That is why you’ll often find Indian-style meat dishes cooked in a sauce. The flavor of the meat spreads through and adds taste to the accompanying carbs, bread or rice, so you need much less meat to satisfy your craving.

Not ready to give up meat or fish yet?

Buy organic or free-range, humanely raised meats. You could also reduce your portion size, it’ll help your heart health and be better for the planet.

Try Plant Proteins

Dal with Fenugreek and Coriander | Avinash Bhat/Flickr/Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Dal with Fenugreek and Coriander | Avinash Bhat/Flickr/Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

If you are ready to switch, experiment with mung, French lentils, split pigeon peas and kidney beans. Some cook quicker than others, but all have a satisfying, meaty heft and are delicious in soups, stews and salads, as well as Indian food. And did you know that when you eat lentils and white or brown rice together, you get most of the amino acids that are found in meat?

Try this quick cooking lentil dish for dinner with white or brown rice, sautéed greens and a salad.

This easy, crunchy chickpea salad makes a great afterschool snack. Kids think it is delicious and it’s packed with the protein, fiber and vitamins you want them to get. 

Chickpeas | Jules/Flickr/Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)
Chickpeas | Jules/Flickr/Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Make a larger batch of salad for a family meal, adding ingredients like grated carrots, blanched broccoli, cooked wild rice, minced tomatoes and onions, that get more flavorful as they ‘pickle’ in the lemon juice. Garnish the salad with some finely chopped cilantro, which gives a hint of citrus and coconut flavors. 

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To Soy…

Here are some other meaty, hearty and satisfying meat-swaps. We all know about replacing meat with tofu. Tempeh is another great option. Like tofu, it is high in protein, cholesterol free and low in fat. Made with fermented soybeans, it is also easier to digest and it holds its shape and absorbs more flavor than tofu.

Think beyond stir-fry. Cut tempeh into steaks to marinate. Then grill, pan fry, or roast the steaks, topping them with your favorite tapenade, salsa or pesto to serve.

Or Not to Soy

Not everyone wants to use soy products. If you are one of those people, experiment with chunks of potato or sweet potato, artichoke hearts, Portobello mushrooms, or even Indian farmers’ cheese (paneer) instead for stews, soups, burgers or grilled ‘steaks’ where meat would usually be the go-to.

Portobello mushrooms | awee_19/Flickr/Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Portobello mushrooms | awee_19/Flickr/Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Top Image: Vegan salad bowl | Anna Pelzer/Unsplash 

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