Batch cooking changes lives… it really does! In fact, vegan batch cooking probably also SAVES lives. Why? Because when you’ve got a meal all ready to eat in the fridge or freezer, you’re much less likely to eat unhealthy processed or delivery food (saves human lives!) or to revert to eating easier-to-prepare meat (saves animal lives!). It’s not that plant-based cooking is more difficult, but for those of us who have been raised as omnivores, it might not come quite as naturally. Plus, I also found out that googling the phrase “quick dinner recipes” yields mostly meat-heavy recipes with practically no vegetables. No good! To make it easy to stay on the path of eating varied, healthy, delicious and plant-based food, without starting to cook dinner at 3 pm every day, you need to get organized. Vegan batch cooking sessions are what you need! Thanks to weekend meal prep, your fridge will be filled with really good food. I have gathered here my best tips to get started without getting overwhelmed, along with awesome vegan batch cooking recipes contributed by all-plant-based bloggers from around the web.
Make a commitment that reflect your priorities
Eating better, and in particular cooking more plant-based meals at home, is a great idea in theory. In practice, if this is a new habit for you, it will require more than a collection of vegan batch cooking recipes to make room for the extra cooking time. You need to know in your heart of heart that it is important to you, and why. You need to decide whether or not it’s a priority for you to feed yourself and your family more whole foods plant-based meals cooked at home, mostly from scratch. Maybe it’s something you’re thinking about, but you have other more pressing issues you feel you need to deal with at the moment. That’s OK. But if you do decide that cooking better to eat better is a top priority, then you need to make space for the required actions in your life.
Are you still with me?
Now, before you hit the kitchen, take a step back and think about your life. Consider your obligations and schedule, along with the upcoming commitments on your calendar. Ask yourself some deep questions:
- What are the most important food values to us? Whole foods, home-made, affordable, zero-waste, varied?
- How important are those food values relative to other aspects of your life that require your time?
Then, make choices accordingly. Let’s think of a few examples:
- If whole foods and plant-based are your top priorities, affordability is not a concern, and you have other pressing priorities in your life, maybe hiring a personal chef is a better use of your time than trying to do batch cooking on a regular basis.
- Maybe you care a great deal about whole foods, but have very little time and money to dedicate to food. Then you’ll probably need to decrease the variety of the meals you prepare. You’ll have to make some judicious, nutritious choices of dishes, cook big batches of them, and eat them multiple times per week/month.
Knowing your priorities will help you make a wise cooking plan.
When to cook
Now let’s get practical. Look at your planner or calendar and ask yourself some questions:
- How much time do I have for cooking at meal time on a daily basis?
- Can I dedicate minutes or hours not at meal time to cooking? How much and when?
Be realistic! Maybe in theory you think you have an hour for cooking after picking up the kids from school, but in practice they are starving by the time you come home and if you don’t have a plan to feed them right away all hell will break loose. You better have either a nutritious snack available (calming their hunger without filling their tummy) or be ready to put dinner on the table. Either way, you need to plan – and cook – something ahead (or revert to food out of a box – again a matter of priorities in action).
When are the times when you can actually cook?
If you are lucky enough to have a partner or older child who can take charge of putting dinner on the table, factor them – and their schedule – in.
Find the right routine for you
Keeping your priorities in mind, blog some time on your schedule. If you have a carefully designed meal plan, you can probably get away with 15 to 30 minutes on weeknights and 2 to 3 hours on the weekend.
Don’t forget to make time for grocery shopping!
This is the routine that currently works for us:
- Plan meals Friday evening or Saturday morning
- Cook a huge batch of beans from scratch Saturday morning (I do them in the Instant Pot so I don’t have to keep an eye on them) and freeze what I won’t need this week (so I always have a variety of beans in the freezer instead of using cans)
- Get groceries Sunday morning on my way back from running or the gym
- Prepare a stew, a sauce or two, and another building block, plus a batch of muffins or healthy cookies, on Sunday afternoon – it takes me about 2 hours
- For nights when kids have activities that take us home past 6 pm, have dinner ready-made (e.g., a chili or pasta sauce) or something in the slow cooker
- For nights when we get home before 5 pm, cook something simple (stir-fry or salad with some components already prepared)
Lunches are mostly leftovers and breakfast are very routine, so I don’t need to worry about those so much.
What would work for you right now?
Have a plan
Unless you have excellent improvisational cooking skills, and a perfect track record when it comes to managing your fresh produce inventory, I really recommend drafting a meal plan for your week. Jot down what you’ll eat for at least five days of the week. (If you need help getting started, you can try this basic meal plan template. If you’re out of inspiration, pick a seasonal template to help you out. Here is the one for spring.)
Then, break down your meal plan into the various recipes’ components. For example, if you plan on eating spaghetti on Monday, that would mean at the very least pasta + sauce, and possibly also a side salad or soup appetizer. What items can you cook ahead? Those are the candidates for your batch cooking plan. In this case, I’d say the priority is to get the sauce done. Pasta is always better freshly cooked!
To make the most of your time, try to come up with items that you can “cook once, eat twice” (or even thrice!). I love making vegan Bolognese sauce and eating it one day on pasta, freeze the leftovers and eat next week in stuffed bell peppers and maybe another time on polenta.
Keep your gear and space in mind
Get started with what you have. How many pots can you run at the same time? Are there two shelves in your oven? Do you have an electric pressure cooker (Instant Pot)? Can you borrow a slow cooker from your neighbor just to try it out? What about your containers – will you have enough to store the cooked food? Just as important – is there space in your fridge?
Avoid using multiple small appliances every week. Choose recipes that, say, make use of your blender one week, and the next week choose food processor recipes. another week. It will streamline your cleanup time.
If you are heading into a big batch cooking session, make sure to wash any dishes that may clutter your sink and clear the clutter from your countertops before you start. You’ll be so much more efficient! And less likely to injure yourself, too.
And don’t forget the labels! Unidentified foods are more likely to end up wasted, sadly.
First things first
Start your batch cooking session with items that take a long time but are relatively hands-off. For me, it usually means cooking a gigantic batch of brown rice (takes about an hour but hardly any hands-on time) and roasting vegetables.
Save the light tasks, such as mixing dressings, for last.
Keep cleanup in mind: if using a blender for a few different items, start with dry or light-colored mixes. For example, I always make cashew cream before pesto. That way I don’t even have to rinse the blender: leftover cashew cream just makes my pesto slightly more delicious!
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Get inspired with these vegan batch cooking recipes
I asked vegan bloggers from all over the Internet to contribute some of their favorite recipes that are prep-friendly. Here is what they came up with! Many of those recipes are an excellent base to double or triple so you have extra to freeze! I hope you get inspired.
Every batch cooking session should include some basic ingredients that you will need in a few future meals. Cooking big batches of grains, sauce and beans will make your life so much easier!
Soups and stews
Soups and stews are my favorite dishes to prep ahead. They are great to keep as “emergency meals” in the freezer and, best of all, their flavor tends to improve within a day or two of cooking. Just add fresh pasta or hot rice!
If you cook any of these on a weeknight, double up – it won’t take you much more time to chop the extra veggies, but you’ll have a spare meal to freeze for another night. (Just don’t forget to keep track of what’s in your freezer.)
I love burgers even more since going vegan… but there is no way I can cook them on a weeknight! And home-made is so much better than whatever you can buy in a box. I prefer making a double or triple batch in the oven, freezing whatever we won’t eat in the next few days (separating the patties with parchment paper helps) and just grilling in the pan, about 4 minutes per side, to reheat.
Keep in mind many burger recipes are also excellent as “meatballs”: just form into a different shape and cook for a slightly shorter time.
Instant Pot wonders
Electric pressure cookers are fabulous tools to help you cook when you have time and eat when you’re ready. (Not sure if the Instant Pot is right for you? Check out my ad-free thoughts on IPs here.)
In the oven
I rarely fire up the oven on weeknights, but I make the most of it during my batch cooking sessions. I love roasting big batches of vegetables for simple weeknight pasta dinners, or preparing fancier, multi-component dishes ahead of time. Some dishes can also be assembled and refrigerated, then popped in the oven at the last minute. (That works if you have at least 40 minutes before the hungry hordes raid the kitchen.) Here are some ideas:
Don’t forget about salads and bowls
Prepping all the ingredients of salads and bowls ahead of time guarantees a quick and crunchy experience on weekdays!
… and sandwiches!
Weekday lunches will be a breeze to pack when you are prepared.
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