Hone Your Plant-Based Cooking Skills With These 7 Simple Tips

Photo: Getty Images/ andresr; W+G Creative
This isn’t your standard New Year’s plan. No restrictive diets, no weekly weigh-ins, no “whole new you” for this new year—because, hey, you’re pretty great already. These four expert-led plans—designed to help you move your body, eat more veggies, get a better night’s sleep, or show yourself some loving care—are all about developing healthy habits that better align with your goals.

Welcome to the second week of ReNew Year! You spent the first week of 2021 setting yourself up for healthy eating success. Your kitchen is organized and filled with plant-based foods from the farmers’ market and the grocery store, and now it’s time to start working them into your diet more.

This week, we’ll focus on meal prep and share some easy plant-forward dishes to make when life gets hectic. Plus, nab some more smart shopping tips to make sure your grocery store haul is full of real whole foods (not fillers). Hungry? Let's get going with this new batch of challenges.

week 2 renew year food plan challenges text
Graphic: W+G Creative

Day 8: Prep sweet potatoes for the week

Roast a big batch of sweet potatoes to use as a base for quick meals throughout the week—top them with beans, salsa, avocado, and a sprinkle of cheese for a taco vibe, or add some chickpeas, tahini, lime juice, and smoked paprika for a different flavor profile. (Check out this recipe for specific roasting instructions if you need them.)

Day 9: Get label savvy

Whether you’re ordering your groceries online or shopping IRL with your face mask on, spend some time checking out the labels of products before adding them to your cart. Do they have a lot of ingredients? Just a few?

Typically, fewer ingredients mean a product is less processed and closer to its natural form—something most health experts agree is beneficial. If a product contains lots of ingredients that are unfamiliar to you (and you can’t confirm their benefit or purpose easily), put it back on the shelf and seek out a swap with an ingredients list you can actually understand—there are plenty of great ones to explore!

Day 10: Roast some frozen veggies

Remember all of those frozen veggies you bought last week? Well, you can roast them straight from the freezer—and still get perfectly crispy, browned edges. Here’s the secret: Pour the veggies (I find broccoli, cauliflower, and cubed squash work best) on a parchment-lined pan and put into a 425°F oven with no oil. Oil actually traps the moisture, so without it, the liquid from the frozen veg can evaporate for crispy results.

Once the vegetables start turning brown (after 15 minutes or so), toss them with olive oil, fine grain sea salt, and a sprinkle of onion powder and garlic powder or any other spices you love. Roast for five more minutes. Use this trick to add a last-minute veggie side dish to any meal that needs a plant-based boost.

Day 11: Start to downgrade meat to a side dish

Instead of working to eliminate meat altogether, which isn’t suitable for all eaters, aim to have it be the side of your meal rather than the main event. This may involve re-approaching some of your favorite meals, but trust me, they can still be totally delicious. Instead of steak with veggies on the side, try a flavor-packed steak salad. Or add extra roasted broccoli and cauliflower and fewer meatballs to your spaghetti.

Day 12: Pinpoint 3 quick-and-easy meals you can make on busy days

Meal prepping can be super helpful for ensuring you stick with healthy eating habits, but let’s be honest: It doesn’t always happen. And that’s okay. That’s why it’s a great idea to figure out your personal “in a pinch” meals—that is, three pantry-staple meals that take less than 20 minutes to make that you can rotate through on nights when you’re stumped and uninspired. For me, it’s quick homemade hummus with tortillas and roasted frozen broccoli, a kale-spiked quesadilla, and this elote-style corn and chickpea bowl.

Hungry for other ideas? Check out these delicious pantry staple recipes.

Day 13: Swap half your ground meat for cauliflower rice

Ground cauliflower is a strikingly perfect sub for meat. Make yourself a quick taco dinner or a bolognese and sub out half of the grass-fed beef for cauliflower rice—add it when the beef is almost cooked, and then continue with the rest of the ingredients when both the beef and cauliflower are just brown.

Day 14: Add spices to every meal (even dessert!)

Remember when we restocked our spice cabinet on Day 2? Start really utilizing its contents so you can make every meal as delicious and healthful as possible. At breakfast, add a sprinkle of cinnamon or cardamom to your smoothie or oatmeal. At lunch, toss frozen squash in Herbes de Provence when you’re roasting them. At dinner, give a bland soup a dose of instant umami with garlic and onion powder. Cinnamon and cardamom enhance almost every dessert.

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