Packaged goodies: bread in paper, toothpaste, rice dream, massive bag of brown rice, pasta in paper boxes, bread flour, pickles, veganaise, earth balance, popcorn kernels in plastic, cereal, soy sauce, wine, olive oil, honey, coconut milk, canned tomatoes, veg broth, & olive oil.
Plus some canned foods for our outside supply.
Here’s our meal plan for week:
Spaghetti with tomato sauce, texturized veggie protein (TVP), and either roasted or sauteed veggies. We usually use canned tomatoes with a few dried herbs, maybe some sauteed onions, as the pasta sauce. Plus TVP for some protein. When I roast veggies, I usually toss them in olive oil, salt, pepper, and spices (whatever suits my fancy) and then cook them at 425F for about 30 minutes, stirring them halfway through.
Tacos with home cooked pintos from the pressure cooker. We soak the pintos overnight, then drain and rinse them. Toss them in the pressure cooker with chopped onions, cumin, salt, and bay leaves. Cook for 30 minutes to an hour. Homemade salsa is just cilantro, onions, jalapeño, tomatoes, lemon juice and salt. Shredded cabbage tossed in lemon juice or in veganaise. Simple guacamole of avocado, salt, and lemon juice.
Vegan mac n cheese with cashew cheese (check out Nora Cooks Vegan for recipes!), brussel sprout salad (my new fav). I make a honey mustard dressing and toss shredded brussel sprouts, chopped almonds, and chopped dried fruit like raisins, cranberries, dried cherries, or dried persimmons.
Red lentil soup with toast and a green salad. We add onions, spices, and a little lemon juice to the soup. Mmmm yum!
Homemade pizza (I like Bobby Flay’s dough recipe) with cashew cheese (same Nora Cooks Vegan recipe as for mac n cheese) and sauteed veggies (I love mushrooms, onions, and sweet peppers on top) and olives; green salad.
And I’ve got a few food storage tips for you in case you’re buying in bigger quantities right now:
Store your carrots in water to keep them fresher for longer. Change the water every few days – pour it on your garden :).
Clean your greens when you bring them home. Then store them in a cloth bag in the fridge. A little dampness helps keep them fresh.
Mushrooms last way longer in a cloth or paper bag than plastic.
Clean and dry/spin your fresh herbs and store them in a cloth bag to keep them fresh and breathing.
Nuts keep best in the freezer. We put ours in jars in the freezer.
Fresh nut butters keep great in the fridge but if you go through them fast, you can also store them in your cupboards.
If you have extra room in your fridge – keep extra fruit in there instead of on the counter.
Try pickling your veggies with a quick pickle recipe. If you haven’t seen Portlandia’s “We can pickle that!”, drop what you’re doing and watch it now ;). We’ve pickled carrots, cabbage, & beets. Other crunchy veggies like cucumbers (duh) and cauliflower would be delish!
There’s our week of low waste vegan meal planning! Are you getting into meal planning? Any tips or suggestions for me?
Thanks for reading and for all that you do for the earth.
It’s summer time in Santa Cruz and that means SO MANY PICNICS! We’ve got evening concerts at the beach. Potluck parties at friends’ homes. Lots of lunches and snacks at the beach. And dinners in the park.
In this post I’ll walk you through a low waste, easy picnic dinner that you and your kids will LOVE. And you can pull it together in an hour or less!
Last Friday was a picnic dinner in the park for an awards ceremony for my daughters’ junior lifeguards summer camp. Lots of families on picnic blankets with their dinners. And LOTS and LOTS of trash. Plastic forks. Plastic cups. Plastic takeout containers. You get the picture.
But a picnic doesn’t have to equal trash! I fed 9 of us – my family plus another that was visiting – with a super low waste and balanced dinner. And I spent no more than an hour prepping this simple meal for 9.
So read on and get yer easy low waste picnic started!
Here’s what we ate on our easy low waste picnic dinner:
-Local fresh BAGELS. Lots of bagel shops will fill your own bag with bagels. Our local one doesn’t but they do use paper bags instead of plastic. We reuse or recycle or compost it afterwards (if the bag gets soiled).
-Local fresh bread. Also came in paper bags, but lots of bakeries will let you put a loaf into your own bag!
We loaded up the bagels and bread with:
-homemade hummus. (See my super simple recipe below)
-cream cheese in paper and tinfoil – we don’t normally have this in the fridge, but got it for some special something or other.
-butter in compostable paper.
-homemade salsa in a jar.
Also, we brought:
-homemade popcorn with butter and nutritional yeast.
-homemade kale salad (recipe below).
-strawberries with brown sugar for dessert.
-beer in cans for the grownups 🙂 with cozies.
-plus we had some chips in a bag. You could avoid that trash if you ask for some in your own container from a taqueria!
Here’re the supplies we brought for our easy low waste picnic dinner:
-cloth napkins for everyone
-camping/small forks and spoons and butter knives
-small camping bowls
-small lightweight cutting board
-water bottles filled with water
We cut the bread and bagels while we were at the park on our cutting board. We also sliced up the tomatoes and avocados at the park. And we ate the bagels and bread without plates – just in our hands. Same for the popcorn. The bowls were perfect for the kale salad and strawberries. I sliced the strawberries and made the kale salad and dressing at home. When I slice up strawberries for the kiddos, there’s a lot less wasted fruit.
A dozen bagels and half a loaf of bread plus the popcorn, salad, and strawberries were plenty of food for the 9 of us.
We carried everything in backpacks on a 20 minute walk to the park. The food was pretty well secured in jars and covered bowls. I’d recommend keeping liquidy foods in a jar to minimize spills. The kale salad was in a bowl with a beeswax wrap on top, and I put the dressing on once we got to the park. The strawberries were in a jar, and the brown sugar in another small jar. The kids sprinkled the brown sugar on themselves after they finished their dinner. Popcorn was in a bowl that came with it’s own lid (plastic, but pretty handy!).
And here are the easy peasy recipes we used on our picnic:
Easy homemade hummus:
-2 cups chickpeas (we cook them in our pressure cooker for 30 minutes to an hour, depending on if we soaked them overnight or not).
-⅓ cup veg or olive oil.
-⅓ cup water (or less, if your blender is super powerful).
-¼ cup lemon juice.
-¼ cup tahini.
-1 tsp or less of salt.
-optional: garlic, cumin.
Blend everything except the water in a blender. Add the water slowly until you get the consistency you like.
Easy, scrumptious kale salad that EVERYONE likes
-raw kale torn into bite sized pieces (curly or lacinato are our favorite types of kale).
-finely sliced red onion.
-optional: shredded carrots, slivered almonds.
-dressing is about equal parts veg oil, soy sauce, and lemon juice
-mix dressing, pour it over salad ingredients, and toss.
This salad keeps GREAT for a few days in the fridge with the dressing on.
So that’s our easy low waste picnic dinner from the other night. Are you working on a low waste home? What are you picnicking on these days? Let me know and thanks for reading!
What our family eats in a week (working parents – you can do it!).
Yes, I have a job outside being a mom. And yes – we still eat mostly home cooked, zero waste dinners. My hubbie and I both work full time (and then some) and aren’t amazingly organized. But we still get it done. And you can too!
Now, I’ll admit that I work from home most days and don’t have a long commute on the days I go into the office. BUT – and this is important to keep in mind! – I RARELY start on dinner before 5:30pm. We put our kids to bed around 7:30 (they read, wind down, and pass out around 8) so we try to eat dinner around 6:30.
BTW, this is part 2 of my series on easy zero waste meal planning for families! In case you missed part one on zero waste breakfasts, check it out here!
Okay, back to easy zero waste, vegetarian dinners. We aren’t big planners but we know the kinds of foods that we all like to eat. So we shop for a lot of the same foods each week.
Big disclaimer: These aren’t gourmet dinners. If you’re looking for fancy, you’re on the wrong site! BUT – these are healthy, well-balanced, low waste dinners. And our kids LOVE them!
5 easy zero waste vegetarian dinners
Monday night’s zero waste vegetarian dinner
Pasta dinner with TVP and a big green salad
We’re lucky enough to have bulk pasta at two shops in Santa Cruz – New Leaf in Capitola and Staff of Life in Santa Cruz. We usually fill a big bulk bag once a month at Staff and it lasts us a few weeks (depending on how many dinner guests we have!).
Sometimes we’ll get a glass jar of tomato sauce (and reuse the jar) or canned tomatoes (and recycle the can – cans are generally valuable to recycle in our town). Other times we’ll toss the pasta in olive oil, nutritional yeast, salt, pepper and sauteed veggies. Think mushrooms, sweet peppers, onions, broccoli, zucchini. Or whatever veggies we have lying around in the fridge.
For protein, we’ll rehydrate some dried TVP (texturized vegetable protein). We can get this in bulk bins at Staff of Life and New Leaf. All we do is soak it in hot water for maybe 10 minutes, until it’s tender enough to eat. You could saute it with some seasoning, but we often just toss it with the pasta. The TVP in bulk at Staff of Life comes in 2 sizes – large chunks and small pieces – like ground-round sizes. The small pieces you can toss right into pasta sauce without rehydrating for added protein.
We make a super simple salad dressing from olive oil, balsamic vinegar, nutritional yeast, salt, and pepper – all available in bulk at Staff of Life. Or, we swap out the vinegar for fresh squeezed lemon juice (and leave out the pepper) for another super simple and delicious homemade dressing. If we have enough lemons (usually from our tree!), I’ll make extra dressing and put it in a jar to use for other dinners that week, or for lunches.
Salad includes whatever veggies and greens we have – usually lettuce, shredded carrots, sweet peppers, and cucumbers. Toss it with dressing just before you sit down to eat.
That, my friend, is our pretty well balanced, easy, zero waste dinner number one! Moving on…
Tuesday night’s low waste veggie dinner
Tuesday night is taco night, amiright???
Here’s what we usually do for taco night:
–Homemade pinto beans. We soak these overnight and then pressure cook them with bay leaves, chopped onions, salt, and cumin in about 30 minutes. SOOO delicious!
–Homemade rice. Just rice. Sometimes we cook it with chopped tomatoes or onions or canned tomatoes. Usually we skip the extras and make it plain.
–Shredded cabbage with a little lemon juice and olive oil or a little mayo
–Avocado, chopped tomatoes, and cilantro
Note: sometimes we have homemade salsa too if hubbie has time to chop tomatoes, cilantro, onions, jalapenos, and lemon juice. With a little salt. So yummy. Or we pick up salsa in our own container from a nearby taqueria!
–Corn tortillas. As of this writing, we can still recycle the plastic bags that we get our store bought tortillas in, so this is honestly what we usually do. BUT, there are zero waste options out there. We have a tortilla press and make homemade tortillas too when we have time. It takes us about 20 minutes to make everyone in the family a few tortillas. You might also be able to find a taqueria that’ll sell you homemade tortillas. Another option is to ditch the tortillas all together and use lettuce as your shell! We don’t do that but I’m sure it’s delicious.
–Cheese – we do a few things for cheese. The fastest homemade vegan cheese I’ve made so far is based on Minimalist Baker’s recipe for Mexican nacho cheese sauce. We use ingredients from bulk for this – everything straight into the blender and then warm and serve. Super yum.
Another easy homemade vegan cheese calls for nutritional yeast plus flour (chick pea or wheat or whatever flour you have). This is ready in about 10 minutes. All the ingredients are available in bulk. Check Bob’s Red Mill recipe here. Other times we buy dairy cheese at the store and ask them to cut us a piece off a big block. We also buy it in plastic wrap that, as of this writing, we can recycle. As fewer and fewer recycling centers take plastic wrap, we’ll probably be opting for store-cut and homemade cheese only in the near future.
Wednesday night’s zero waste vegetarian dinner
Okay, I don’t know what your Wednesday’s are like, but I’m usually feeling the mid-week hump by this day! So I love a super easy meal we call
Yes, it’s toast for dinner. But we make it extra specially with some homemade hummus. We might make hummus on the weekend or that night. It’s super fast and easy if we remember to soak chick peas the night before. Then 20 minutes in the pressure cooker. Then blend with tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, a little water, and garlic. I put out cheese slices, olives (Staff of Life has delicious bulk olives), sliced tomatoes, and sliced avocado. For veggies, we have roasted cauliflower or a big green salad.
The bread we get from local bakeries (Gayle’s and Companion) in our own bags usually. Sometimes we get bagettes in paper bags if we can’t get to the bakeries.
Super easy and tasty!
Thursday night’s zero waste vegetarian dinner
If we have extra chick pes aafter making hummus, we’ll often saute them with canned tomatoes, onions, and seasoning (garam masala, tumeric, ginger, a little lemon juice) to make Chana Masala. Served with with rice and sauteed broccoli or some other fast cooking veggie. We usually have a jar of mango pickle in the fridge for a little tang and heat. The jar gets reused or recycled. We put a little salt or soy sauce (from bulk) on the rice. Super yummy.
Friday night’s easy low waste vegetarian dinner
I usually don’t cook on Friday nights so we usually either have leftovers, go out to eat, or order a pizza. I know, pizza delivery isn’t the most sustainable option. But sometimes, especially if hubbie is out of town, it’s what I have the energy for. We ask for it without the little plastic do-hicky and we compost the box at home in our compost. If you want to invent a reusable, plastic-free pizza take-out box, PLEASE DO IT!!! I will totally buy one from you. The world needs a reusable option!
So that’s a pretty typical week of zero waste vegetarian dinners for our family. Is that helpful for you? What are your favorite low waste weeknight meals? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
Do you feel overwhelmed by going for zero waste or low waste living? Not sure how to make the switch? I’ve got a few posts for you on easy zero waste meals to help you cut your waste.
How about we start with zero waste breakfast?!
Beginning your day with a belly full of whole foods – easy to prep, easy to find in bulk, and good for you – is a win-win-win! Maybe we should call it a win cubed? To the third? You get the point here…
Going for zero waste means eating more whole foods and fewer processed foods. Lots of packaged food is also processed food. So when you cut out packaging, you cut out some less than awesome food choices too.
But packaged food is so convenient – I get it! And there are lots of healthy packaged options out there too. Your mornings are probably busy and maybe even a little hectic, without loads of time to spare. So how do you get a nutritious breakfast without reaching for something packaged?
I’m here to help! Check out these top 5 zero waste breakfasts that whip up super fast. Bonus: total kid-pleasers! Vegan options! And gluten free options! You ready? Zero waste breakfast, here you come!
1. Ugly smoothie
This is one of my favorites and I crave these some mornings! If you have kids, you have food scraps. (BTW – if you have kids and you don’t have food scraps, please call me right away and tell me how you do this). Okay, so those scraps – carrot sticks, cucumber slices, half an apple, orange slices, etc. You know the ones. At our house, they sit in the fridge. Pulled from lunch bags at the end of the day, shoved into the dark corners of the fridge. And forgotten. I beg the kids to eat them but it doesn’t always happen.
So here’s the solution: pop those forgotten fruits and veggies in the blender for an ugly smoothie! I add a spoonful of coconut butter, a little sweetener, a little water, a little ice. Blend it up and pour! So easy. And super refreshing. And vegan and gluten free! Another option – add cocoa or cacao powder for a richer flavor with added iron.
Okay, it might sound dull, but we LOVE toast in our house. LOVE IT! We usually buy bread straight from the bakery – either Gayle’s or Companion Bakeshop. They’ll put it in our own bag (check these bags out here). If we can’t make it to the bakery, we’ll get bread in paper bags – bagettes come in paper bags at most of the big grocery store chains. We recycle the paper if it isn’t stained. Otherwise, we add it to our compost. Not ideal, but better than landfill or plastic!
Lately we’ve been eating toast with Miyoko’s vegan butter – it comes in 100% compostable packaging. 0% plastic or bio-plastic. And it’s DELICOUS! But some other awesome toast ideas: peanut butter from bulk and sliced bananas on top. Avocado with tomato and cucumbers, and a little salt and pepper. Almond butter with sliced apples. Or homemade cashew cheese (check out my post on that here) with tomato slices. And homemade jam (I admit, I don’t make this, but I’m lucky enough to have a mother in law who does 🙂 ).
So fast and easy. The kids make their own toast. Actually, they make most of these recipes on their own!
3. Oatmeal with the works
This has been another go-to for me lately. I make oats with the works and all of it can be found in bulk! We get gluten free rolled oats at Staff of Life. The ratio is easy – cook 1 part oats to 2 parts water. These cook super fast – about 5 minutes for 1 to 3 servings (½ cup dry oats per serving). I add ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 to 3 tablespoons of raisins (1 T per serving) at the start of cooking. I like the way the raisins plump up and add natural sweetness to the oats. And the cinnamon gives it a nice flavor.
Once the oats are cooked, I add peanut butter, shredded coconut, chia seeds, chopped fruit, a little sweetener, and sometimes coconut milk or water (from a can of coconut milk. Although not totally zero waste, cans from the coconut milk are relatively valuable to recycle, so I don’t worry too much about the can ending up in the landfill). Or you can leave the coconut milk/water out.
These oats are super filling and full of awesome fiber.
4. Vegan pancakes
Okay, before you skip ahead, let me say that you CAN whip up pancakes from scratch and FAST. We love the pancake recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance (and can find all the ingredients in bulk). The recipe says to let the batter sit for 10 minutes before cooking (or even overnight, covered with a beeswax wrap), but skip that step if you’re in a hurry.
Here’s what you need for 6 big or 10 medium pancakes:
1 ¼ c flour
2 t baking powder
½ t salt
1 t cinnamon (optional)
2 T veg oil (we use safflower oil)
⅓ c water – or less, if you use water instead of non-dairy milk (see below)
1 to 1 ¼ c non-dairy milk OR water (we always use water because we never have milk on hand)
1 t vanilla extract
2 T maple syrup or sugar (if you use agave syrup or beet syrup, you’ll need less than 2 T – probably 1 T only).
Mix the dry ingredients together, then add the wet ingredients. DON’T OVER MIX! Mix just enough so that most of the lumps are gone.
Cook on a hot skillet until you see bubbles form on the top, then flip it over and cook a little longer.
We love these vegan pancakes with Miyoko’s butter on top and either brown sugar, fruit, jam, agave syrup, or maple syrup (which we can’t find in bulk, unfortunately, so don’t get that often).
If you eat ’em, you know that eggs cook up sooo fast. Sometimes we make omelettes with leftover veggies from the night before. Or omelettes with cashew cheese – yum! Or real cheese, if you can get that without too much waste wrapped around it. We love them soft-boiled, fried, and scrambled at our house. They seriously only take a little time to cook – fried eggs especially can be done in about 5 minutes. And you get some protein for the day! We save our egg cartons and return them to either Staff of Life in Santa Cruz or direct to egg farmers at the farmers market, and they get reused again and again. Love that!
That’s what we usually eat at our house – fast, easy, (mostly) zero waste breakfasts. And our kids love these zero waste breakfasts!
If you can spare 10 minutes in the morning, you can make any one of these (or all of them!) and avoid packaging waste.
What do you eat for breakfast? I’d love to hear in the comments below!