Meal Plan Like a Pro
As a vegan (or when you take on any new diet or lifestyle) it’s important to carefully plan your meals each week, for a few reasons.
First: You want to make sure that you know what you’re doing. Being overwhelmed and unprepared may cause many people to give up on their new vegan diet and go back to eating the foods that they’re trying to avoid. Being unprepared may cause the people who have just watched Forks Over Knives or Food, Inc. to result in hamburgers and chicken fajitas simply because they get stuck in the same meal routine and don’t know what else there is to make.
In a world of endless food options and tons of variety – one does not need to fear. Trust me, you’re not going to starve on a vegan diet! Starting out, it just takes some research, time, and some meal planning.
Second: Meal planning will save you time during the week when you simply don’t have the patience or the willpower to find a recipe, and you’ll even save money on your grocery bill.
Third: Meal planning is important, especially for someone who is new to plant based living. You want to make sure that you’re getting a nice variety of nutrients in your diet and it’s easier to be sure of that when you’re planning your meals ahead of time and seeing them written down throughout the week. Otherwise, it’s easy to reach for pre-packaged meals or processed foods. These foods are great for transitioning to a plant based diet or for occasional meals, but variety is always a good thing!
Set aside an hour each week
Typically, I like to devote about an hour of each Sunday afternoon to meal planning. I keep a Monday through Sunday dry-erase calendar stuck to my refrigerator at all times so I can write down each meal of the day and easily glance at it throughout the week. You can decide if you want your meal planning to include breakfast, lunch, and dinner – or just dinner.
In my household of two, we usually eat leftover dinners for lunch the next day (which usually requires doubling the recipe you’re making – or even tripling if you have children), and we eat something light like fruit, whole grain toast (we love Food For Life Ezekiel Sprouted Bread or One Degree Organic bread), or smoothies for breakfast during the week. Weekends are when we usually eat pancakes, waffles, tofu scrambles, muffins, baked oatmeal, etc.
Before I get started, I like to take a minute to flip through my cupboards and refrigerator to see which items I already have and if there is anything that can be put to use before I start my grocery list. Typically, I have a variety of canned beans stocked, as well as different variations of rice, quinoa, organic extra firm tofu, unsweetened almond milk, non-dairy butter (such as Earth Balance or Melt) and frozen corn or flour tortillas (which I like to freeze immediately after buying if I don’t plan to use them right away – or I simply freeze half of the pack and refrigerate the other half).
If I have any leftover greens or vegetables, I like to make freshly-squeezed juices and smoothies, or I feed the greens to my companion rabbits! However, you can saute greens such as kale, spinach, swiss chard, collards, cabbage, etc. in olive oil and season them with some minced garlic for a healthy side dish to accompany any meal.
If you have leftover romaine lettuce, whip up a side salad and season with a little olive oil, garlic powder, and lemon juice and add other veggies of your choice. If you haven’t picked up a salad spinner yet, now would be the perfect time!
An effective way to meal plan
Now that you’d made a mental note of which items you have in stock, you can begin meal planning.
With my dry-erase calendar on one side and a notepad for writing my grocery list on the other, I start flipping through cookbooks or scrolling through Pinterest until I find a recipe that catches my eye. I try to find recipes that allow me to utilize the groceries I already have, or at least as much as possible.
As I find meals that I want to make, I also jot down the groceries that I need to pick up. If a recipe calls for an ingredient that I don’t have and probably wouldn’t need very often, I always weigh the pros and cons of buying the item or I Google a substitution for that item. Many recipes will allow you to use olive oil, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, another spice, or even ketchup as substitutions! I don’t always see the point in spending $5 on a new jar of spices if I’m only going to use once per year.
When I have one day settled, I just write the name of that recipe on my dry-erase calendar, and I either keep the recipe open on my phone so it’s ready to access on the day-of, or I flag the page in the cookbook so I can easily flip to it later. If it helps you to remember where you found the recipe, you can also write down the source on your dry-erase board.
Your step-by-step guide
Meal planning is easy and it saves you time and money! Just give yourself an hour each week to flip through cookbooks or scroll through Pinterest until you find seven great dinner recipes, and then make your grocery list and record your meal ideas on your dry-erase calendar.
- Make a mental note of the groceries you have in stock.
- Browse for recipes on Pinterest or flip through vegan/plant based cookbooks.
- Based off of those recipes, make a grocery list of any ingredients you’ll need for the week – I like to list every ingredient I’m unsure about and I can always cross the ingredients off later if I find them in my kitchen or find a good substitution for it.
- Write the name of the recipe and the recipe location on your dry-erase board.
- Don’t forget your reusable bags before you head to the grocery store!
- When making your grocery list, remember to factor in any additional fruits or veggies that you’ll want to eat for breakfast, smoothies, or snacks. I like to make sure that I have raw cashews and almonds in stock (for making plant based cheeses or raw desserts), unsweetened almond milk, at least a few bushels of bananas (to freeze for smoothies) and vegetable broth. Check out my post about pantry essentials for more grocery shopping tips and tricks!