You may wonder what on earth you’ll eat in a day, let alone all of Plastic Free July
I remember how proud we felt back in 2011 after we ate our first plastic-free meal (or at least, we thought we had eaten our first plastic-free meal). My daughter MK made mushroom-bean burgers, burger buns and some side dishes. Vegetables that you buy without plastic for sides require no additional effort to cook than vegetables bought in plastic—you roast, steam, sauté or ferment them. You may have trouble finding plastic-free veggie burgers or buns however. And most condiments are also packaged in plastic.
After eating our fabulous meal, we noticed a small overlooked plastic cheese wrapper. But still, no other ingredients packaged in plastic had made their way into our kitchen and we had reduced a great deal of single-use plastic packaging. And that’s the goal of Plastic Free July—to reduce plastic consumption.
So I thought some of you taking the Plastic Free July challenge might find it helpful to see an example of what I eat in a day. (Sign up for the challenge here.)
Buy these in bulk, start them before bed in a few minutes and then reheat in the morning. Ordinarily, steel-cut oats cook for about 40 minutes. Made this overnight way, they conserve energy and keep your kitchen cool on a hot July day. Cook extra, refrigerate the leftovers and reheat them to enjoy for a couple more breakfasts. I love mine topped with nuts (or nut butter), dried fruit and more (see below). Go here for the simple recipe.
Get this at the farmers’ market or grocery store. Most grocery stores have at least some loose and unpackaged fruit. Chop some up to top your steel-cut oats.
We buy milk in returnable, refillable glass bottles. Use that to make yogurt without buying any plastic tubs (or buy yogurt in glass containers).
Look for loose-leaf tea (or, if you drink coffee, bulk ground coffee or the beans). Many tea bags either contain plastic in the bag’s sealant or are made completely of plastic, such as those “silky” synthetic bags for which people happily pay a premium. One of those tea bags can shed billions of microplastics into a single cup of tea. According to The Guardian,
For context, a liter of water in a single-use plastic bottle contains 44 microplastic particles; a portion of mussels contains about 90; a kilogram of salt over 600. One study found we consume 70,000 particles annually just from the ambient dust that settles on our food.Those fancy tea bags? Microplastics in them are macro offenders
Please do not drink tea brewed with these bags.
Salad with olive oil and lemon juice
If you don’t have lettuce, chop whatever whole vegetables you do have on hand. Cucumbers, tomatoes and red onion, tossed with olive oil, lemon juice and a sprinkling of salt will taste delicious. Add black olives and a bit of feta if you have those.
If you’ve never made bread, you could make it your pet project for Plastic Free July—or not. Your grocery stores or bakery may allow you to put your loaf in a clean cloth produce bag.
But if you would like to try baking bread and sourdough sounds intimidating, you may want to start out with Charlotte’s Easy Whole-Wheat Sandwich Bread. As the name implies, it has that sandwich shape, unlike my sourdough boules, and so the slices fit in a toaster—one of the main reasons Charlotte started to bake it. To make sourdough, you’ll first need a sourdough starter. Go here for the starter recipe and here for a pile of FAQs to help you bring your new starter into the world.
Slather your bread with a spread. For this sample menu, I’ve chosen pesto, since basil is in season here in July and I’ve replanted some stems outside that I coaxed back to life. Pile the sandwich with sliced tomatoes, avocado and sprouts (or whatever else you’d like). Make extra pesto and cook another dish with it, another night, such as pizza.
Many grocery stores carry fermented vegetables in glass jars. Look for them in the refrigerator section. You can also make them yourself quite easily. Essentially, stuff vegetables into a clean jar either in their own juices and salt or in a brine. Wait. Eat.
I eat at least one fermented vegetable a day not only because fermented foods taste incredible but also because they keep my gut healthy. Our gut health affects our overall health, our mood and our weight. Other ferments, such as yogurt and milk kefir also offer these benefits. Read more about gut health here.
Simple sauerkraut calls for only salt and cabbage. You can add other vegetables and spices as well. Go here for the basic sauerkraut recipe.
A piece of fruit may not sound very exciting but it makes a simple, delicious, healthy snack. And in summer in North America, you can choose from so many types of fruit: peaches, nectarines, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and so on. Preparation requires washing and, if you want a more elaborate presentation, slicing.
More tea… I drink a lot of tea…
Not-too-spicy black beans
Almost all bulk bins carry at least a few varieties of dried beans—a low-waste, plastic-free staple. If you’ve never cooked beans before, Plastic Free July may motivate you to do so. The plastic linings of canned food, including beans, often contain BPA (a known endocrine disruptor) or something very similar to it.
Cooked dried beans also taste better than canned and, generally, cost less. For best results, soak the beans the night before. Go here for the simple and comforting not-too-spicy black beans recipe. Cook rice to go along with your beans. I often eat these beans with fermented hot peppers on the side.
Corn on the cob
Save the cobs, silks and husks to make fabulous broth for any soup, but if you buy extra corn you’ll have a head start on corn chowder (I included a fabulous recipe for that dish in my cookbook). This is how I meal plan—always thinking ahead to what I can make the next day with what I’ve already prepped.
Between the farmers’ markets and your garden—if you have one—you may want to take advantage of all the local, fresh produce and have a bit more salad.
Limoncello mixed-nut biscotti
If, like me, you can’t handle caffeinated tea late in the day, enjoy a cup of decaffeinated tea for biscotti dunking. If you don’t have limoncello on hand, use lemon juice. After baking these, I stash most of them in the freezer where they keep well. Not being able to see them also prevents me from eating so many… otherwise what I eat in a day might be mostly biscotti. Went I crave something sweet, I grab a couple and wait a few minutes for them to thaw. Go here for the recipe.
How to shop for this sample “what I eat in a day” menu
Before going to the store, do a quick inventory of your refrigerator and pantry. Although this list looks very long, you likely have many of these ingredients on hand already, such as the flour, salt, olive oil, sugar, tea and so on. I almost always have ferments such as yogurt and sauerkraut prepared in the refrigerator.
If you have absolutely nothing on hand, including salt and flour, you’ll need to buy the following for this menu:
- steel cut oats
- brown sugar
- baking powder
- olive oil
- whole wheat flour
- all-purpose flour
- active dry yeast (or buy the bread)
- dry black beans
- nutritional yeast or cheese
- yogurt or milk to make yogurt
- various fruit
- cabbage (or buy sauerkraut)
Below I’ve listed what I’ll actually buy because I stock many of these ingredients at all times (including lemons from my lemon tree). I do often run out out steel-cut oats and nuts though:
- steel cut oats
- active dry yeast
- dry black beans
- various fruit
I’ve called this a “what I eat in a day” menu but you will actually buy enough food to eat for several days. No one (I don’t think…) buys 2 teaspoons of baking soda for one recipe (here, the biscotti) unless they never plan on cooking again for the rest of their life.
Reusables to bring to the store
Use these for the various fruit, vegetables for salads, corn on the cob, lemons, limes, basil and onions. Not everything needs a produce bag. If you buy one cucumber, it can roll around in the bottom of your shopping cart. You’ll also need a few for dry goods—steel-cut oats, walnuts and dry black beans—and one for a loaf of bread if you buy the bread. So take 12 to be safe. (If you sew, you can make these produce bags for next to nothing.)
You’ll need about 10 of these glass jars for the dried fruit, nuts, salt, flour and other dry goods. But like I said, you likely already have a bunch of these ingredients on hand.
Some bulk stores will not allow customers to use their own jars during Covid. In that case, if you will eat it all, buy the largest packages of food you can find in order to reduce overall packaging waste (one large plastic bag versus 12 small plastic bags).
How to cook this “what I eat in a day” menu
Food to start in advance
I don’t cook all of this food from scratch in one day. No one has time for that. Even if you wanted to cook all of this from scratch in one day, the fermented foods would not be ready immediately. They need time (often days) to culture.
Save time and cook large amounts of food at once. For example, you can cook a vat of black beans in a pressure cooker quickly, freeze a bunch of them in their liquid and have beans on hand to cook with later.
Prep the following early:
- Sprouts. Sprouting dry beans makes a fun science project. Buy extra black beans and begin to sprout some about a week before you need them. (Go here for the instructions.)
- Yogurt. If you don’t buy yogurt and make it instead, do so any time. It keeps for a few weeks. (Find the recipe here.)
- Bread. If you bake bread, do that the morning of the day you’ll have it for lunch. Or bake it a week or so in advance and freeze it. Pull a frozen loaf out of the freezer early in the morning.
- Beans. Soak the beans the night before you cook them.
More recipes to get you through Plastic Free July
To help you create your own menu, I’ve recently updated my recipe index just in time for Plastic Free July. There, you’ll find recipes for breads, nut or seed milk, natural sodas, yogurt, broths, crackers and other staples that food manufacturers package in plastic or plastic-lined containers. And you’ll find more recipes in my book!LEARN MORE