If something matters to me, I know the only way to make sure it happens is to make it part of a routine. And there are few things in my life more important right now than feeding my loved ones home-cooked whole foods, plant-based meals. So I need to have a solid vegan meal planning routine that also involves setting time aside for meal prep on weekends.
Here is my weekly vegan meal planning routine:
Friday night dinner: use up leftovers and take stock of what else is left
Typically, I follow my meal plans (but it wasn’t always like that). Comes Friday night I just cook whatever the meal plan says I have to cook. But sometimes we have a buffet of leftovers, or a stir-fry with every vegetable we’ve got (and tofu). Or pasta with lots of roasted vegetables and maybe a light nut cream.
Friday after dinner: vegan meal planning
First, I open the fridge and take stock of what’s perishable that should be used ASAP. Then, these days, I just print out the next meal plan so it’s ready for the next morning when I wake up. (I may be superstitious, but I think my kids wake up every time I print even a single sheet of paper, even if our printer is pretty quiet.) Back when I was still building up my collection of meal plans, I would spend a bit of time with a pile of cookbooks, or browsing the Internet looking for recipes. I would decide on a couple of “star ingredients” based on what I had and choose some dishes accordingly, squeezing in remaining produce (if any). I hardly ever followed recipes to a T, but they were a big source of inspiration.
Saturday morning: compile shopping list
At 7:30 a.m., I start warming my cast-iron griddle because when the kids wake up they’re going to want a pile of my Whole Everything pancake. After that, I sit at the kitchen table with my personal planner and my meal plan (or list of meal ideas for the following week). I review the past week in case there are stray tasks that urgently need to be done, and I examine the coming week’s commitments. In addition to appointments, kid activities, and important work tasks, I write in “what’s for dinner” for every day of the week, tweaking the meal plan based on how much energy and time I will have when we come home. For example, on Wednesdays, it has to be a slow cooker or Instant Pot meal because we get back home at 6:30 pm after Irish dance and gymnastics, and everyone is famished.
That’s also when I compile the shopping list. I use the “Groceries” app on my phone (as basic as it gets) and I add in all the ingredients from my meal plan’s shopping list. That’s definitely a step that would take me longer – and require the kids to leave me alone for a few minutes so I can think!! – if I was to create a meal plan from scratch.
Usually I have most of the dry ingredients in the pantry already, but I do peek in there to make sure I haven’t run out of anything. I also add to my list the staple items we consume for breakfast and lunches, like fresh fruit, rolled oats, etc.
Sunday morning: grocery shopping
Typically, that is when I shop for groceries. I go to they gym, have a quick shower, and run to the store by myself while my husband takes the kids to the park or lets them play at home. I have about 6 grocery stores to choose from within walking distances, but usually I go to No Frills – kind of Canada’s Aldi. They don’t have bulk bins – I usually do a separate trip for all the bulk ingredients to a different store once a month or so. I have tried online ordering and I find that OK for dry goods, but when it comes to produce I just prefer to pick my own.
Sunday mid-day: vegan meal prep (or getting the building blocks ready)
When I come home, I unpack the groceries and get cooking, following the prep steps in the Vegan Family Meal Plans. Just to be clear, I am not cooking the whole week’s dinners right there and then! Maybe that works for some people, but for me the thought of eating a reheated stir-fry for dinner is kind of sad. I like my greens to be crunchy. So, instead, I prep building blocks: whole grains, sauces, stews, and dressings. And pizza dough! (It takes only 3 minutes and costs pennies.)
I don’t always do all the steps from the meal plans: sometimes I already have extra rice in the freezer so I can skip that, or I take shortcuts by buying ready-made hummus if the thought of washing the food processor makes me feel like bailing out of the prep session entirely. The *key* here is to have music on. Pumping up the tunes makes the process a joy. If I am focused and following the steps, this usually takes 90 minutes to 2 hours, including washing the dishes.
When I prepare the lunchboxes in the morning, I glance at my meal plan’s instructions for that night, making sure that I have all the ingredients and building blocks I need. Then, when I come home after picking up the kids from school, daycare, or activities, I pull everything I need out of the fridge and do the final cooking steps for dinner. By the way, that’s so much easier and less daunting if the sink is free of dirty dishes! Making sure the kitchen is clean(-ish) before going to bed every night, and again before leaving in the morning, seriously boosts my happiness.
If you think that sounds like a lot of work… well, what’s the alternative?
Option A: I could rely on processed, ready-made, and delivery foods more. Other than being very expensive and far-less-healthy than the home-made options, the packaging waste would drive me nuts. Plus, my picky kids would be eating crappy “foods” instead of wholesome plant-based ingredients.
Option B: I could plan two or three meals, and eat the same thing multiple times per week. If I was by myself, I would probably do that, but with a family of picky eaters, it would be tricky. Plus, I value the diversity of nutrients and flavors that come from eating a different dinner every night. (I do eat leftovers for lunch most of the time.)
Home-cooked whole foods plant-based dinner: a priority
A few years ago, I decided that cooking really good food for myself and my family was a top priority in my life, and that it was worth allocating my most precious resource – my time – accordingly. It wasn’t always like that in my life, and perhaps in ten years from now when the kids grow more independent my priorities will shift a bit. But for now, it seems like the best investment I can make for my own health and that of the people I love the most in the world. Plus, I believe it’s valuable to inculcate the importance of healthy, home-cooked plant-based family meals. Maybe there are activities that, as a family, we are less likely to engage in because I mightily protect my weekend cooking time. We all feel blessed and busy enough though, so it’s all good.
I hope this message has inspired you to get meal planning tonight so you can have a week of better dinners tomorrow. If you want to experiment with the Vegan Family Meal Plans without having to pay anything, you can take the Planned and Plant-based Challenge (again?) for free. It includes a one-week plan of dinners included, along with the shopping list and prep steps. You’ll be glad you did it.