7 Simple, Sustainable, Healthy Food Swaps


Recently I have spent a lot of time thinking about good food. We have high expectations of what we eat. It should be tasty, fill our bellies, feel good, get rid of that lingering cold and more. We want our food to do a lot for us. But good food doesn’t just stop at flavour and nutrition. It doesn’t just stop at how it affects us. Good food should also be good for the people who grow and raise it, and for the planet that supports us all. Here are 7 examples that meet that criteria – simple, sustainable food swaps that are delicious AND healthy!

7 Earth-Savvy food swaps that are delicious AND good for you

Here are my top picks that you can swap out in your kitchen today.

Swap out Red Meat for other proteins

You can choose poultry, fish or eggs. Or you could swap out for plant-based forms of protein. Whatever your choice, you will make a BIG difference. Eating less meat not only cuts down on our carbon footprint, but it also has a HUGE impact on our health. And when you do choose red meat, go for local and pasture-raised. I have visited livestock farms in Canada and learned that this is not only better for the environment, but also for the animals and for the eaters – people like you and me. In addition, in Canada livestock is raised on land that often can’t grow anything else.

I admit that grass-fed, pasture-raised beef is more expensive than conventional meat that is often found on most grocery shelves. This higher expense is mostly due to the fact that we are paying the true cost of the meat that takes into account the environmental and health benefits.

And to manage our expenses? Eat less meat.

Eat This Not That: 7 Simple, Sustainable food swaps | Healthy, Delicious and Earth-Savvy | Maple and Marigold

Blend and extend 

I first heard this term when I was reading about mushrooms a while back. That’s when I realised something about my mom. She is always ahead of her time. I remember eating keema matar (dry ground meat curry) with finely chopped mushrooms or mashed daliya (wheat bran). In those days meat was considered a luxury item and so was bulked up with other still yummy, but more inexpensive foods. With the environmental reality facing us today, that wisdom applies manifold.

Half the meat, and supplement with rolled oats, red lentils, mushrooms in your next meaty recipe. Share and tag me @MapleandMarigold; we all need a little inspiration.

Love your Lentils

Lentils pack a punch. They come in all matter of colours and textures. They are robust and they fill you up, and are a wonderful way to boost the flavour, nutrition and yes the sustainability quotient of a dish. Did you know they are a SUPERFOOD? Not only for us but also for the planet! Lentils have a very low carbon footprint and can be grown almost anywhere because they require very little water. Bonus: they also fortify the soil by capturing nitrogen from the atmosphere. This helps regenerate the soil for the next season of planting.

Try canned lentils or cook from dry. Double your lentils. As small an addition as two lentil-heavy meals a week will make a BIG difference in our health and that of the planet.

Red Lentil fritter with turmeric and broccoli | Crispy lentil fritter recipe | Maple and Marigold

Double Your Veggies

This sounds like an obvious solution, right? Canada’s Food Guide suggests we fill Half Your Plate with fruits and vegetables. But it’s hard with complaining kids, right? What has worked for me is choosing some of their favourite dishes like stews, soups, curries and stirfries, and then adding DOUBLE THE VEGGIES THAT I NORMALLY DO. This will pass muster with the pickiest of eaters. I know because I’ve tried it.

Onions, peppers and tomatoes in all matter of curries, snap peas and egg plant in stir-fries, parsnips and leeks and mushrooms in soups, the choices are many.

Swap out White Rice for Brown

Did you know brown rice is very similar to its white counterpart, just more unprocessed? Brown rice has more vitamins, minerals and fibre in the outer hull. In white rice, these outer layers are polished away leaving the inner kernel. So it’s still considered whole grain but with far less health benefits. Since it has taken way more resources to polish and package, white rice is way less sustainable.

This rice comparison is representative of all processed foods. Unprocessed foods are not only good for us they are also better for the environment. They do often take longer to cook but the benefits far outweigh the cons.

Eat This Not That: 7 Simple, Sustainable food swaps | Healthy, Delicious and Earth-Savvy | Maple and Marigold

Swap out salt and blends for lemon juice and whole spices

I love spices but often the spice blends you see in the grocery stores taste nothing like they are supposed to. Choose whole spices — they are unprocessed, last longer and have a fragrance that the blends can never compete with. And lemon juice? That’s my healthy trick to reduce added salt – the tanginess reduces the need for salt in the dish.

Choose Variety over the Routine

Try new grains. Have you heard of teff? It’s what the famous Ethiopian Injera is made of. What about millet? This humble grain (called bajra in Hindi) is an ancient food in India and is gaining popularity around the world. And then there’s this new “Not a Rice” that I’ve seen only at Costco Canada. It’s rice-like but made with chickpea and red lentils flour. My kids love it.

The same goes for veggies. Try new veggies. I have experimented with kohlrabi and beet greens in dishes to replace spinach, spinach to replace basil in pesto, and a host of other options.

Did you know that 75 percent of the world’s food is generated from only 12 plants and five animal species?

Diversity is a wonderful thing. In our life and on our plate. In agriculture, in particular, a variety of crops need different resources and help regenerate the soil in different ways. But farmers will grow different crops only if the eaters – shoppers and consumers like you and me – buy them. You see where I am going with this. Try new foods – it is good for your palate and for the environment.

Eat This Not That: 7 Simple, Sust

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About Puneeta

Author, Educator, Speaker

Puneeta is a writer, food advocate and guide for those who seek earth-friendly, delicious solutions that work for real life.

Puneeta Chhitwal-Varma, Food Writer, Climate Advocate, New cookbook - Good Food, Healthy Planet - out April 2024
Puneeta Chhitwal-Varma
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