If the thought of meal planning sounds intimidating, stay with me! It can actually make sticking to a vegan diet a whole lot easier, especially before eating this way becomes second nature.
Meal planning has other benefits, too. It can help alleviate the daily anxiety about what to eat and it can help you gain confidence in your ability to whip up a great meal with what you have on hand. Meal planning can also help you eat healthier because you’ll be more likely to eat at home, where you’ll have better control over ingredients and portion sizes. And you might even save money on groceries because you’re more likely to shop for the meals you planned for, instead of buying on impulse.
So let’s dive right into how to plan meals in advance. (Keep in mind that you may have more or less time to cook during COVID-19, so feel free to tweak these tips accordingly.)
Here are 10 time-saving tips for easy meal planning:
- Plan meals for one week at a time. — Look at your schedule for the week to see which days and evenings are extra busy. You can make quick and easy meals on those days or heat up food that you’ve batch cooked ahead of time.
- Batch cook on the weekends. — Pick a Saturday or Sunday to make a big pot of whole grains, like black, brown or wild rice, quinoa, millet or barley, and then portion them out and freeze them in airtight containers for weekday meals. To determine how much to cook, just follow a whole grain recipe (see my whole grains cooking chart) and double, triple or quadruple it. You can also batch cook a big pot of vegetable soup or beans, like black beans, red beans or lentils, and freeze them for the week ahead.
- Wash and dry dark leafy greens in advance. — For fresh greens, like collards and kale, wash them in advance (see how to wash fresh produce), dry them in a salad spinner or pat them dry, and store them in the fridge. Then during the week, they’ll be ready to add to salads, wraps or stir-fries. If the greens start to wilt before you use them, just freeze them in airtight containers for cooking or smoothies, or make a pot of vegetable soup or broth and freeze it.
- Freeze bananas for smoothies. — If you like adding bananas to your smoothies, peel a bunch and store them in freezer bags. They’ll make your smoothies creamier and save you a little more time in the mornings. You can also freeze other fresh fruit, especially berries, or just buy them frozen.
- Chop staple ingredients in the food processor. — Chop onions, garlic, mushrooms, peppers, carrots, cabbage (or any of other faves) in the food processor and store them in airtight containers in the fridge. Then, voila! They’re ready to add to your weekday meals. If you have any left over, just freeze them or add them to that vegetable soup or broth mentioned above. Right about now you might be thinking about all those airtight containers you’ll need, but, trust me, they’re worth it. They’ll save space in the fridge and they’ll look nice and neat. 😉 I personally recommend glass containers in various sizes for maximum freshness and sustainability.
- Plan your meals with similar ingredients. — To keep your meal planning as simple as possible, choose meals for the week with similar ingredients, so you can make multiple meals out of them. For example, black beans can be used for tacos on Tuesday and black bean soup on Thursday. Or wild rice can be used in wraps for Monday and stir-fries for Wednesday.
- Plan the same meals for lunch and dinner. — You can also streamline your meal plan by focusing on dinner and just making extra for lunch the next day. That way, you can save you time, energy, and stress around what to eat for lunch and dinner each day.
- Keep it simple for breakfast. — In addition to making smoothies with frozen fruit (as I mentioned above), you can also have overnight oats or granola with nondairy milk for a quick and easy weekday breakfast.
- Make a grocery shopping list based on your meal plan. — Once you’ve done your meal plan for the week, create a grocery shopping list on your phone to update weekly, as needed. Then go out and get those ingredients — and stick to your list!
- Keep your meal plan for the week where it’s visible. — Whether it’s on your phone, fridge, blackboard, cabinet, or wall, keep your meal plan where you can see it. You’ll spark anticipation for all the healthy and delish meals you’ll be enjoying during the week!
So there you have it. Ten tips that will make meal planning easier. Try it next week and let me know how it goes. And if you have other meal planning tips that I didn’t mention here, please share them in the comments below.