Planning meals for the week not only saves time and money, but restores sanity. Last-minute shopping trips, expensive convenience foods, makeshift meals, and take-out dinners will become the exception rather than the rule if you take even a half hour each week to do some basic meal planning. These plant-based meal planning tips are general enough to provide inspiration to anyone who wants life in the kitchen to run more smoothly.
Whether you’re single, part of a couple or a family, or live with a house full of roommates, you’ll find some tips following that will make the daily dinner task easier.
At first, it might be challenging to get into a regular meal-planning session that includes making a shopping list. If you do your grocery shopping on the weekend, that might mean making your meal plants on Friday night or Saturday morning, but that sounds like about as much fun as getting your teeth cleaned or taking your car in for an oil change. But you’ll be amazed at how much time is saved by a brief meal-planning and shopping list-making session.
Wouldn’t you love to come home to leftovers of Cream of Broccoli Soup?
#1 Plan three meals per week that will yield leftovers. No matter the size of your household, make ample quantities so you can count on leftovers for three more dinners. Leftovers can be tweaked so that they’re slightly different the next day.
For example, today’s salad can be tomorrow’s wrap; tonight’s soup-and-wrap dinner can become tomorrows soup-and-vegan quesadilla dinner. Grain dishes can be stuffed into squashes or made into wraps with leafy lettuces. And the seventh day, as since you’ve now dealt with six, can be the wild card — make something special (or not so special), have a breakfast-y dinner, invite friends over for a potluck, or go out!
Get in the habit of doing your meal planning and food shopping on a consistent day. This can be once or twice a week, depending on your need and schedule, and the size of your household. Browse your favorite cookbooks or blogs; ask other members of your household to participate and offer ideas on what kinds of meals they look forward to.
#2 Stock your pantry pantry and freezer with basic ingredients. Making sure your pantry and freezer are stocked with healthy staples that you use most will go a long way toward making meals a whole lot less stressful. After a long day, many of us are lazy about chopping a lot of vegetables, so frozen vegetables can come to the rescue. Because they’re flash-frozen, they retain a lot of their original nutrients.
It’s so much easier to tackle meals when your pantry is stocked with useful staples. Even when you haven’t planned ahead — and we all have those kind of days — there will be something great to fall back on at home, like easy pizzas or burritos, or a veggie burger accompanied by a coleslaw and steamed veggies that takes you minutes to prepare.
#3 Plan meals before going shopping. Planning your meals before you go food shopping will ensure that you don’t waste time, money, and energy running back and forth to the store all week. A mere 20 to 30 minutes of meal planning per week will simplify your life immeasurably, especially if you have a tight schedule, young children, or both.
That said, sometimes you need to do your meal-planning after you go shopping. Let’s say you picked up some real bargains at a Buy One, Get One Free promotion, or you stopped at a farm market for a bumper crop of tomatoes. Maybe you grow some of your own vegetables. It’s times like those when it’s preferable to do your planning around ingredients you have in abundance.
#4 Prepare basics for the week ahead. On whatever day or evening is the most home-centered, prepare a few basics for the days ahead. Sunday afternoon and evenings are ideal as you’re looking to the coming week, but do whatever fits your schedule.
Even the simplest things can ease weeknight meal preparation immeasurably. Cook some plain brown rice (or other grain), bake some potatoes, sweet potatoes, or squash. Knowing that you have even one item that’s already prepared when you enter the kitchen at 6:00 or later is a sweet feeling, and the rest of the meal then comes together quickly. Here are some things you can do:
- Bake or microwave potatoes, sweet potatoes, or winter squashes.
- Cook a big pot of pasta and toss with a little olive oil.
- Cook some quinoa, brown rice, and/or other grains.
- 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 healthy, 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.
- Make homemade salad dressings and/or dips.
Lasagna-Like Pasta Casserole can usually stretch to two meals
#5 At least once a week, prepare a big one-pot or one-pan meal. This kind of meal can stretch to at least two nights. Such meals include hearty soups or stews, bean dishes, abundant pastas, or casseroles. Double recipes if you need to, if you have a larger family. Then, all you need little more than salad and fresh whole grain bread to accompany the meal.
#6 Try weekly repertoires. Make slight variations on that each week, not letting things get boring. It’s like that old commercial, where Wednesday was always spaghetti day. These kinds of rituals can bring comfort and order to our occasionally chaotic lives. As an example, your week could look something like this:
- Sunday can be the day to make a big soup or stew that will stretch over at least a couple of nights, as well as provide extra portions for lunches and possible freezing.
- On Monday, you’ll enjoy the fruits of Sunday’s easy labors. Soup can be served with sandwiches or wraps, and/or salad, depending on appetites.
- Tuesday that soup is still looking good, so it’s soup and wraps.
- Wednesday can indeed be spaghetti day, but by spaghetti we mean any kind of pasta and any kind of sauce. Your favorite veggies and/or salads are on the side.
- Thursday’s meal can be your household’s favorite kind of restaurant food, but in easy homemade versions. Tex-Mex style dishes are so easy to make at home; so are Asian-style stir-fries. Keep a few favorite recipes on hand that you can rotate.
- Friday is your night to kick back and watch a movie. The perfect companion is an almost-instant pizza with fresh veggies. Or, vegan burgers and fries (or oven-roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes), is another kind of meal that’s easy to make in healthy plant-based form.
This just an example of a meal plan. And it’s just one idea. The goal is to make your meal plans your own, centering them on the kinds of meals and foods you and your family enjoy most.
Fully Loaded Vegan Nachos take minutes to make
#7 Keep things simple. Let go of the idea that healthful cooking is complicated and time-consuming. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. The quality of ingredients and the care put into meals far outweighs any other consideration. Don’t settle down with a bag of potato chips when a plate of nachos, made with good quality tortilla chips, black beans, corn, vegan cheese, and salsa, served with fruit, can take only 10 minutes to make.
Photos of pastas in jars, broccoli soup, countertop meal prep, and vegan nachos by Hannah Kaminsky, BitterSweetBlog.com. These plant-based meal planning tips were excerpted and adapted from Plant Power by Nava Atlas.
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