Reducing the amount of meat we eat is a good way to live a more environmentally friendly family life.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (Livestock’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options, 2006) livestock production is a large contributor to many environmental problems including pollution (water and air), erosion and loss of topsoil, excessive usage of energy and resources such as oil, degradation of biodiversity and deforestation.
“Environmental Vegetarianism” is a term coined to describe people who make a conscious decision to remove meat (and sometimes all animal based foods including dairy products and eggs) in order to benefit the environment.
However, if you and your family are not prepared to give up meat, simply eating less meat and more vegetables and other plant based produce is a great way to reduce your family’s carbon footprint. And it can be fun, simple, good for your budget and best of all, really tasty!
Meat as a Garnish
In our home, meals took a turn for the tastier when we started thinking of the meat, chicken or fish part of the meal as a garnish rather than the centerpiece of the food. Instead of having a big piece of meat, a generous helping of potatoes or rice and then adding one or two vegetables as an afterthought, I would focus on the vegetables first.
I’d figure out what tasty vegetables I could prepare as the largest part of the meal? Then I’d add some meat as a garnish.
Of course in order to do this successfully, you need to be confident about cooking your vegetables. Luckily this is really easy to do.
Easy and Delicious Ways to Cook Vegetables
What puts many kids off vegetables, even through to adulthood? Overcooked vegetables that have been boiled to a point where they have lost all of their texture and most of their taste!
Boiling is not a great way to cook vegetables as much of the taste and nutrients seep out into the water during cooking. If you do boil vegetables, follow these tips to ensure they retain some goodness, flavor and texture:
Bring the water to the boil before putting the vegetables into the pot
Check the vegetables with a fork and as soon as they are soft enough to easily pierce through, remove the pan from the hob and drain the vegetables
Remember that slightly underdone is much tastier than slightly overdone!
If you want to retain the maximum goodness and flavor in your vegetables, try roasting or pan frying them. Both of these methods of cooking are very easy and produce delicious results.
Peel your veg and chop into largish pieces (approximately 2” x 1” is about right, don’t be fussy, the size is not all that important). Place into a baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Shake the pan to coat the pieces with the oil and roast in a medium oven. Allow about 35 minutes for hard vegetables like carrots or sweet potatoes and about 20 minutes for soft vegetables such as peppers and tomatoes. Give the pan a thorough shake about half way through the cooking time.
A particularly nice variation on the above is to drizzle the veg with runny honey as well as olive oil. Kids will love the resulting sweet flavor.
Pan Fried Vegetables
Slice the vegetables (as thinly as possible for hard vegetables like carrots, but thicker for soft vegetables like mushrooms). Warm a small amount of olive oil in a large wok or frying pan, add the vegetables and cook over a low-medium heat until soft enough to eat (a bit of crunch is nice so don’t over do them).
Which Vegetables Should I Use?
The great thing about the two methods of cooking vegetables described above is that they are so versatile.
To get you started, here’s a basic list that will give you a nice pan of roasted vegetables:
Red, yellow or green peppers
And for pan frying a starter list might be:
Thinly sliced carrots
Bear in mind that pretty much any kind of vegetable can be pan fried or roasted. Why not experiment with new types of vegetables? In particular it’s a really good idea to try to use seasonal vegetables, preferably locally produced ones. This means fresher produce, better taste and of course less negative environmental impact.
Cooking with Your Kids
If you are able to involve your kids as you experiment with cooking different kinds of vegetables, they are more likely to be willing to try out new flavors. Children of all ages will enjoy joining you in the kitchen and if you play your cards right, you might just find that after a while you’re getting a night off as they enjoy cooking for you for a change!