GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Sustainability is a 2020 buzzword: global warming, greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation – it can all be so overwhelming. Yet, if we choose to focus on our own behavior, there are several small changes that can make a significant difference. 

Katie Francisco, registered dietitian from Mercy Health, shares ideas on how to reduce your environmental impact.

How you can make a difference

Choose reusable mugs, water bottles, grocery bags, straws and lunch boxes. Did you know that 60 million water bottles go into landfills daily and 25 billion paper coffee cups add to our trash each year?

  • 1 reusable bag = 738 plastic bags
  • 1 reusable water bottle = 83 plastic water bottles
  • 1 reusable cup = 1,256 plastic cups
  • 1 reusable straw = 295 plastic straws

Eat more of a plant-based diet. Decreasing meat and dairy consumption will decrease your carbon footprint and improve your health. It can be a small change like participating in Meatless Monday, swapping flax seed for eggs in recipes or a more significant change like a true vegan diet. Either way, eating more fruits and vegetables provides your body with more vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants to help fight disease and keep you well.

Support local buying. Did you know that the average meal travels 1500 miles? Try finding a local bakery, farmers markets and locally grown produce when available.

Reduce your food waste. Bring left overs for lunch, split entrees when going out to eat, and plan your weekly menu in advance to help avoid over-buying.

Plant-based Recipes

When trying to choose more meatless meals, Katie suggests starting with subtle changes to recipes you already know, like meatless chili, marinara pasta and bean burritos.

Portobella Mushroom Fajitas


  • 1 large portabella mushroom sliced
  • 1 yellow pepper sliced
  • 1 red pepper sliced
  • 1 small onion sliced
  • Olive oil
  • 1 avocado diced
  • 4-6 whole grain tortilla
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Lime slices
  • Salsa or pico de gallo (optional)
  • Hot sauce (optional)


  1. In medium pan, sauté mushrooms, peppers and onion in olive oil until soft. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 
  2. Warm tortillas in oven at low temp. 
  3. Fill each tortilla with mushroom mixture. 
  4. Add avocado, fresh cilantro and salsa or pico de gallo. 
  5. Spritz with a squeeze of fresh lime. Enjoy!

Vegan Kale Caesar Salad


  • 1 large bunch of kale
  • ¼ c plain hummus
  • 1 tsp spicy brown mustard
  • 3 T lemon juice
  • 2 tsp capers
  • 3 tsp caper brining juice
  • 2 T fresh minced garlic (4-5 clove)
  • Dash sea salt and pepper
  • 2 T olive oil
  • *Nutritional yeast (optional)
  • Roasted chickpeas


  1. Remove kale from the stems, rinse and pat dry with a paper towel. Set aside.
  2. In a blender, add all the remaining ingredients (except for the nutritional yeast and chickpeas). Blend until smooth to make the Caesar dressing.
  3. Add additional sea salt, pepper or lemon juice to taste.
  4. Pour dressing over kale, shake on a small amount of nutritional yeast, and mix through well.
  5. Top with roasted chickpeas.

Roast Broccoli Pesto Pasta


  • 2 small heads organic broccoli, chopped 
  • 1-2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp each sea salt and black pepper
  • 1 ½ cups (dry) gluten-free pasta (brown rice quinoa fusilli works well)
  • 2 cups packed basil
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup hemp seeds (or pine nuts)
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 3-4 Tbsp nutritional yeast
  • sea salt 
  • 3-4 Tbsp olive oil 
  • 2/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes 
  • 1 sprinkle red pepper flake (optional)


  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Add broccoli and toss with oil, salt and pepper. Cook for 15 minutes or until lightly golden browned.
  2. Cook pasta according to package instructions or until al dente. Drain and set aside.
  3. To prepare pesto, add basil, garlic, hemp seeds, lemon juice, nutritional yeast and sea salt to a blender or food processor; mix to combine. Add olive oil a little at a time until a creamy paste is achieved. Cover with lid and set aside.
  4. Add cooked broccoli and drained pasta to a large serving bowl. Mix in sun-dried tomatoes and red pepper flake (optional). Top with pesto; toss gently to combine.
  5. Enjoy immediately or refrigerate up to 3 days. Enjoy chilled or at room temperature.

Information and recipes courtesy of Katie Francisco, RD - Mercy Health Saint Mary’s.


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