Explore these helpful vegan meal planning tips that are especially designed for vegans and vegetarians, but which can be used by anyone who wants to eat well every day. Here you’ll find grocery shopping, meal prep, pantry tips, and more, that will ease the daily “what’s for dinner?” dilemma.
Whether you’re a single person with a demanding job, a two-income couple, or part of a family with one child or seven, then by definition, you’re a busy cook.
Many people say they’re too busy to cook, but no one is too busy to eat. Even among plant-based food fans, this is often remedied with lots of eating out, take-out, and prepared entrees.
I like to encourage people cook and eat at home, so here are some of my tried-and-true tips for making cooked-from-scratch meals a daily reality, even after the most exhausting days. The two main ingredients for success among these meal-planning tips are a little advance planning and keeping things simple:
1. Stock your pantry, freezer, and fridge with basics
Keep good-quality ingredients for quick and/or “emergency meals” on hand as a matter of routine:
Pantry standbys include canned beans, canned tomatoes, quick-cooking grains (like couscous and bulgur), white, golden, and/or sweet potatoes, and pastas.
Prepared sauces like marinara, barbecue, Thai peanut, and salsa are a busy cook’s best friends. Keep a few of these bottled sauces in the pantry as well, then obviously, in the fridge once opened (if not finished). Keep prepared hummus in the fridge — it’s such a versatile staple!
If you’re more of a DIY person, you can make any of these sauces and/or hummus at the start of the week and store them in airtight containers in the fridge for up to a few days. Here are our easy recipes for the aforementioned:
- Easy No-Cook Vegan Barbecue Sauce
- Coconut Peanut Sauce
- Fresh Tomato Salsa
- Homemade Hummus, 12 Easy and Delicious Ways
In the freezer, keep whole-grain English muffins and or pita bread, vegan burgers, corn and/or wheat tortillas, and pizza crust. Basic frozen vegetables to have on hand include corn, peas, green beans, broccoli, and cauliflower (organic if possible).
Have enough fresh produce in the fridge but not so much that it will be wasted from disuse. With fresh produce at the ready, there are a myriad of nearly-instant meals that can be created with these basics listed here.
2. Shop for three full meals for the week ahead
Allow for two nights of leftovers. Plan your meals before you go grocery shopping to prevent running back and forth to the store all week for ingredients.
There’s nothing worse than walking into the kitchen after a long day without a clue as to what you want to make. I try to practice what I preach, but whenever there is a week that I’ve left unplanned, I really regret it! Just 15 or 20 minutes of meal planning per week saves lots of time and simplifies your life immeasurably.
Planning your grocery shopping can also save you money, as you’ll find in 10 Money-Saving Tips for Vegan Grocery Shopping on a Budget.
3. Indulge in prepped fresh vegetables from time to time
Your local supermarket has gotten to be better than the proverbial Mom in getting people to eat their veggies. Supermarket produce sections offer vegetables that are cut and ready to go — a great shortcut to stir-fries, sautés, and salads.
These include diced butternut squash, coleslaw cabbage, broccoli slaw, grated carrots, trimmed green beans, and more. Now there really is no excuse for not eating your 5-a-Day!
4. On Sundays, prep a few basics for the week ahead
Knowing that you have even one item that’s already prepared when you enter the kitchen at 6:00 is a sweet feeling, and the rest of the meal then comes together quickly. Here are more ways to prep ahead, in addition to those mentioned above.
- Cook a big pot of pasta and toss with a little olive oil.
- Clean, stem, and chop kale, collards, or other sturdy greens; store in and airtight container.
- Cook beans (if you prefer cooking them from scratch).
- Make hummus or another kind of protein spread.
- Prep a few sturdy cooking vegetables that keep well. Cut broccoli and/or cauliflower into small florets, Stem and halve Brussels sprouts, pre-bake winter squashes.
- Prep a variety of easy-to-grab fresh veggies and fruits that keep well when cut, like peppers, carrots, that can be used as snacks or tossed into salads.
5. Once a week, make a big one-pot meal
Then, all you need little more than salad and a green vegetable to accompany the meal. Leftovers of this kind of one-pot dish can make great portable lunches as well.
Easy Vegan Mushroom and Tempeh Chorizo for tacos
6. Develop meal repertoires and routines
If you don’t mind a little repetition, you can choose just a few menus that your family likes and rotate them throughout the month. An example of a routine would be something like that described in suggestion #4, above, where you prepare certain ingredients in advance.
Another would be to get your older children and teens to take turns making dinner, or at least part of it, once a week.
Or, try designating each night of the week for a certain kind of meal. Monday could be soup and salad night (with the soup having been prepared on Sunday), Taco Tuesday, Wednesday can be pasta (or noodles) night, one night to clean up all leftovers, and so on. This kind of predictability makes meal planning easier when you’re strapped for time.
Keep it simple when it comes to meal planning!
This brings me back to the most important point — keep it simple! You need not spend hours cooking or use dozens of ingredients to create tasty meals. I truly believe that it’s the quality of ingredients, rather than the quantity, that matters most when it comes to meal planning.
Here are more vegan meal planning tips:
- Meal Prep 101
- Meal planning from TheVegan Society
- How to Create a Vegan Meal Plan (Taste of Home)
- Vegan Meal Plan for Beginners
Here are more tips and trends to make plant-based living easier and more fun!