What does my family eat for dinner? I thought I would share a pretty-typical week of vegan family dinners at our table. As usual, I followed the Vegan Family Meal Plan. I made a big effort to snap some quick pictures before starting to eat. I hope that new and aspiring vegans and plant-based cooks will find this real-life overview helpful. But, first, let me remind you how essential meal planning and weekend batch cooking are for stress-less weeknight dinners…
How to I plan my meals?
The Vegan Family Meal Plans were first and foremost a tool I created for myself. When I decided to go fully plant-based, I found meal planning extremely overwhelming. Even five years ago, there were already so many vegan blogs and cookbooks with delicious-looking plant-based recipes! What was I supposed to cook for dinner? What about nutrition, for our growing children as much as for my husband and I, two athletic and hungry adults? And how much time could I realistically spend in the kitchen?
My professional background was in project management for academic research, and I couldn’t help but apply that approach to meal planning. The taste and wholesomeness of the meals were most important, so I figured I would have to make trade-offs between how fancy the dinners could be and how much time I’d spend. Perhaps we could have had it all by spending money on a personal chef or even meal kits, but that was out of the question. I wanted to know what was going into my food, and learn how to cook plant-based meals for my family.
The importance of weekend prep
For stress-free dinners that are tasty and healthy, but don’t take hours to prepare, the key has been to break down the cooking into two phases. First, there is the prep session, which I prefer to do on Sunday afternoon. It takes between 1.5 to 2.5 hours, dishwashing included, and leaves me with a fridge full of building blocks for the week’s meals. On weeknights, final assembly and a little cooking remains to be done – sometimes just reheating, sometimes a little more involved – and it never takes more than 15 to 30 active minutes.
Following these principles, I created one year’s worth of dinner plans and decided to share them with other cooks who want to feed their families more plant-based meals cooked at home from scratch. I still use them at home myself! In fact, I am now in my third rotation through the Vegan Family Meal Plans, improving the plans along the way so they are easier to follow. Once in a while, I change a whole recipe because I’m no longer satisfied about how it comes out, because my husband finds himself hungry after dinner, or because I figure another dish would be just as good while streamlining the weekend prep session.
Here is an example of what we eat based on week 42 of the Vegan Family Meal Plan. I just re-released it this week after re-testing it on my family:
Warning: no slick photography tricks!
All the photos below were shots captured with my phone’s camera just before I sat down for dinner. There are no props, no sophisticated food styling using tweezers to adjust that leaf of parsley. And there isn’t great lighting, because it was at my dinner table at 6 p.m. (In case you didn’t know, those gorgeous photos you see on your favorite blogs are not based on real-life meals. Never compare your meals to what you see on Instagram.) What I can say for sure though is that everything was delicious.
Here we go: one week of real-life vegan meals on the Vegan Family Meal Plan.
Monday: Cheesy macaroni with broccoli
One of my favorite dinners that’s also super duper quick, even if it’s not the most visually appealing.
Advance prep: cheesy sauce.
Dinner time: cook the macaroni and broccoli in the same pot, drain (but save 1 cup of the cooking water), return pasta to the hot pot (but off the heat), add cheesy sauce and some of the cooking water to coat the noodles well. I like to top it with Vegan Parm Nuts.
My son loves the macaroni and the parm nuts, and he’s OK with the broccoli. My daughter is OK with the macaroni and had some hummus on the side, but no sauce or broccoli.
There are almost always some raw cut veggies on the table to snack on, too. My kids are particularly fond of tomatoes, cucumbers, red or orange bell peppers, and cauliflower florets.
Tuesday: Chana masala mini pizzas
Advance prep: toss the dough ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate; the chana masala is a leftover from week 41. (That was a slow cooker dish. Easy and delicious!)
Dinner time: kneed the dough a bit and let rise in a warm (not hot!) spot if there’s time, otherwise just roll it ’round (or whatever shape you want) and cover with chana masala. Bake that pie for about 10-15 minutes.
When we have pizza, the kids want to have their own, and they want pepperoni and Daiya shreds on it. I don’t mind indulging them…
Wednesday: Lazy bean risotto
Advance prep: cook the onion and garlic, add arborio rice, and refrigerate.
Dinner time: add 4 cups of warm vegetable broth to the onion and rice mixture, plus 1 can lima beans. Cover tightly and bake for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, grill Portobello mushroom slices. The key to a creamy baked risotto is to stir continuously for 3-4 minutes when it’s done baking. Beats standing at the stove to make risotto the traditional way, and tastes just as good. Serve sprinkled with Vegan Parm Nuts and a few drops of truffle oil if available. YUM!
Risotto is a favorite for my husband and I, but the kids aren’t fans. I made plain rice for them to go with some beans I had set aside.
You can read the full details and general recipe on how to make a risotto, along with lovelier pictures, here.
Thursday: Cauliflower walnut tacos
Advance prep: chop cauliflower and walnuts in the food processor and roast a bit. I think I processed just a bit too much – I prefer a chunkier taco filling; also used red rice I had cooked and frozen the prior week.
Dinner time: reheat the rice and taco filling, warm the tortillas, lay out all the works on the dining table and let everyone make their own tacos. (So empowering for the little people!)
My husband was doubtful about the cauliflower “meat” but loved it! My daughter enjoyed it as well. (My son sticks to plain cheesy quesadillas with rice…).
Friday: Oops – forgot to save some risotto!! Improvised dal (instead of the risotto cakes)
The Vegan Family Meal Plan said I was supposed to keep some leftover risotto to make risotto cakes along with steamed greens… but we love risotto too much, and gobbled it all up for lunches. Oops!
When Friday night rolled around and I discovered out gluttonous mistake, I had to improvise a plan B. As one should do when improvising a vegan meal, I started by opening the produce drawer. I found cauliflower, onions, and carrots. Good! The cauliflower would get roasted and I’d cook a quick red lentil dal, my daughter’s favorite dinner. Since the oven was on for the cauliflower, I decided to throw in leftover vegan pakoras from the freezer.
There was also leftover rice, which my son ate, along with some cut veggies and maybe some beans. He tried the pakoras but was not a fan. My daughter, however, was pleased as punch with her dinner. Can’t win them all!
Off-plan weekend cooking
The Vegan Family Meal Plans do not make suggestions for weekend meals. For ourselves, we normally visit family or friends on Saturday or Sunday, and my husband cooks the other night. We aren’t sharing meals with people outside of our bubbles these days, and my husband hates going to the grocery store in the covid era, so we often eat a remastered version of the weeknight meals.
Since cauliflower is in season, we had some more on Saturday. My husband whipped up a delicious cauliflower curry and added lots of spinach. The spinach was really the highlight! It was a rather dry curry, whereas I tend to cook things a bit saucier, so it made for a lovely change! Thanks babe. 🙂
Sunday night was a bit of a scramble and the fridge looked quite bare… but look what I found! In the freezer, I found two remaining burger patties from the Very Good Butchers (a Canadian vegan meat company with lists of ingredients I can recognize…) and some sweet potato fries. There were leftovers carrots and a chunk of red cabbage, which I tossed with leftover maple-tahini sauce from the prior week’s prep, diced apple, and sunflower seeds for a great slaw. At the last minute, I added some sautéed mushrooms leftover from the risotto, and even rescued a bit of guacamole before it turned brown. I was really proud of how empty the fridge was when I was done, ready to receive the coming week’s groceries.
The kids are against burgers (go figure) so instead they enjoyed some Gardein chick’n nuggets and fries, and were very happy.
Try the Vegan Family Meal Plan lifestyle next week
What about I plan your meals for next week? Help yourself to a free sample of the Vegan Family Meal Plans. It’s not the one with the dinners featured above, but you’ll get a taste of how pleasant weeknights can be when you know what’s for dinner and when the building blocks have been prepped (by you!) on the weekend. There is a 2-week sample plan you can download for free. Beginners might be more comfortable with the 1-week Planned and Plant-based Challenge. Do not hesitate to reach out to me at any time if you’d like some help with your vegan meal planning and batch cooking. If you’d like to learn more about the meal plans and perhaps subscribe (it’s less than $2 per week!), visit this page: Vegan Family Meal Plans. You’ll be glad you did.