Imagine having a stressful day and no dinner plan… and then remembering that, in your freezer, you have a few vegan building blocks that you’ll be able to pull together in 10 or 15 minutes to create a delicious and nutritious home-cooked dinner. No expensive take-out. No wasteful and processed convenience food. Just wholesome ingredients cooked together from scratch in last weekend’s vegan batch cooking session. Wouldn’t that be amazing?
YES! Bring it on. The best part is that it’s totally within reach, even if you have a busy schedule, limited cooking skills, or suck at planning anything. If your life is not completely over-scheduled all the time, you can even get away with monthly batch cooking sessions only. Here’s how.
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Setting aside the time
Unless you pay someone else to cook for you, there is no way around it: you need to take the time to make the food. But it doesn’t have to take the whole day! If you follow this batch cooking plan, you’ll have everything done (including the dishes) in under 3 hours. That’s as long as you have two separate pots you can use at the same time. You could save even more time by chopping all the vegetables before you start, but I find that it requires me to get more dishes dirty (all those bowls to hold the pre-chopped veggies), so I don’t usually do it.
Put on your favorite playlist, or a favorite podcast, and time will fly. Or invite a friend, double up the recipes so you both have plenty to take home, and enjoy the conversation.
Pick your recipes
In a typical vegan batch cooking plan, I typically include a variety of building blocks:
- two sauces,
- two bean-based entrees, and
- two bases (such as rice or roasted potatoes).
I like to add bonus items that freeze well, such as vegan cheesy spreads, hummus or seitan.
When combined, those building blocks make some lovely dinners!
In the free vegan batch cooking plan you can download here, you will find:
- sauces: pesto and cashew cream
- bean-based entrees: seasoned black beans and chard and black-eyed pea curry
- bases: brown rice and roasted sweet potatoes
- bonus item: beefy seitan
Here are some other ideas:
- sauces: cheesy sauce, marinara, cauliflower-based creamy white sauce…
- bean-based entrees: bolognese-style pasta sauce with lots of lentils, chili…
- bases: quinoa, barley, farro…
- bonus items: vegan cheese, hummus, muffins, banana bread, pizza dough…
Find the critical path
You will save a ton of time in your batch cooking session if you take a moment to plan it first.
- Start with recipes that use the oven.
- Estimate cooking and cooling times and begin with the recipes that will take longest.
- Plan your blender or food processor use so you don’t have to thoroughly clean them between recipes.
- Clean up or do food processor/blender tasks while other dishes are simmering.
In the sample vegan batch cooking plan you can download here, for example, I start with the roasted yam and soon after roll with the seitan. I make cashew cream first, then pesto. There is no need to scrape the cashew cream until the last ounce and clean the blender before starting the pesto: any remaining cashew cream will only make the pesto more delicious!
Aim for zero-waste
Cooking up a big batch of food all at once makes you realize how much packaging and waste is involved. But a few tweaks can make a big difference.
First of all, there is no need for those individual plastic produce bag! Most vegetables and fruits hold very well on their own, thank you very much. You’ll be washing them at home anyway. For the leafy types, I like to use reusable produce bags. I wash those regularly, as I do my shopping bags in general.
Shopping in bulk is also a great idea. Ounce for ounce, the price may not always be very much cheaper, but you are saving by buying only what your recipes call for. Chickpea flour (an ingredient in the seitan recipe from the free vegan batch cooking plan you can download here) is a good example here: it goes rancid after just a few months, so you are better off just getting a small quantity in the bulk bins if available near you. Otherwise, it might go to waste in your cupboard or, worse, ruin the next dish you try to make with it.
Cutting back on canned ingredients is also possible. I used to make my coconut curries with coconut milk. Unfortunately, coconut milk comes in a can. It can be recycled, but the re-manufacturing process takes a lot of energy… plus I hate having to take down the recycling bin more than once a week. I changed my recipes so that I add about 1/2 cup of unsweetened shredded coconut at the same time as the vegetables, and use vegetable broth as a liquid instead. I usually reconstitute my broth from bouillon powder (and occasionally make my own at home), so the net environmental footprint of this method is lower than using canned coconut milk.
What about the vegetable trimmings? You can make vegetable broth with most of them. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to wash those onions before you chop them! Save the scraps in a container in the freezer for when you have enough for a batch. Remember also that a lot of vegetables do not need to be peeled. In the sample batch cooking plan you can download here, I do not peel anything! I actually eat the yam skins, and leave the potato skins on for the curry. I am grateful to have public composting in my city. If you don’t, and not have your own garden, ask around to see if there is a gardening group – or animal sanctuary – in your town that might be interested in your food scraps.
You are welcome to share your zero-waste tips in the comments section below!
Have your containers ready
If you are cooking up a storm, you’ll need a few teapots to contain your tempest. I prefer using glass containers because it allows me to transfer the food when it is still warm, helping it cool faster. If freezing, use only containers with straight sides to avoid breakage.
If using plastic, you’ll need the food to be completely cooled to safely transfer it.
Label, label, label
Seriously: just do it. Write down what it is and when you made it. Settle on one way to write the date. I prefer YYYYMMDD myself but if you are used to MM/DD/YY, and always do it that way, you’re fine.
I prefer writing on paper labels with a Sharpie and sticking them to the lids.
Download this sample vegan batch cooking plan to get started
If you are not totally confident in your cooking or planning skills, you are welcome to download this sample vegan batch cooking plan. It includes eight recipes, plus instructions to cook your own beans from scratch. I have carefully chosen the recipes to go well with each other. Combined together, the recipes from the plan will form the base of 4 to 8 meals for a family of four (including two young children), depending on your appetite.
The plan includes:
- Seasoned black beans (from dry beans, or you can use canned)
- Chard, potato and black-eyed pea curry
- Beefy seitan
- Roasted sweet potatoes
- Brown rice
- Cashew cream
Here are some meal ideas using those components:
- Pasta with pesto and steamed cauliflower
- Stir-fry with beefy seitan, bok choy and brown rice
- Black beans on sweet potatoes, topped with cashew cream
- Curry and brown rice, with a dollop of cashew cream
- Beefy seitan and broccoli bowl with brown rice
- Roasted veg and pesto panini
- Black-eyed pea curry pizza (using naan bread as crust)
- (Low-oil) “Fried” brown rice with beefy seitan dice and assorted veggies
- Pesto pizza with mushrooms and caramelized onions
- Beefy bourguignon (works great in the slow cooker)
- Mushroom stroganoff with slices of seitan
– Tosha Lobsinger, my test subject for the vegan batch cooking plan you can download here for free
Thanks to Tosha Lobsinger for lending her kitchen and for the wonderful photographs. Aside from being a great photographer, Tosha leads the Peace People Project: she buys used quality garments from thrift stores and turns them into fabulous vegan apparel. Check out her designs on Facebook and ask your local vegan-friendly shop to stock her shirts!