The arrival of Spring is celebrated with an explosion of green vegetables at farmers’ markets. Maybe you have munched on big leaves of cold-resistant kale and collard greens all winter to accompany your root vegetable stews. Now is the time to switch to the fresh, sweet young leaves. What a welcome change of pace! I have prepared a vegan meal plan template to help you get going with the season change. (See below for download instructions.)
Depending on where you live, Nature’s offering in April, May and early June can be still somewhat limited. The stashes of carrots, beets and winter squashes are exhausted and the first strawberries and peppers are yet to come. Tomatoes are still only leafy starts. I won’t blame you for buying some greenhouse-grown or imported produce. But, oh! the greens!
Arugula, mizuna, mustard greens, stinging nettles, pea shoots, baby collards, chard and kale, bring them on! Practically everything that’s bright green is a solid source of iron and calcium, and will boost your fiber intake. Conveniently, their high vitamin K content supports calcium absorption. All those greens also contain a range of antioxidants with cancer-preventing properties. Don’t be shy! And make new green friends. There are so many varieties of leaves, make sure to include at least three different ones in your weekly meal plan. Eat three portions of greens every day of the week for maximum health.
This fill-in-the-blanks meal planning template features those seasonal greens prominently, plus year-round standards such as mushrooms. You can also fit in other, less-local veggies in the open spots. Let’s review each day.
Before you start planning
This vegan meal plan template encourages you to cut food waste and save money by first looking at what you already have at home. What leftovers, produce and other prepared foods do you have that you can include in the coming week’s plans? Jot those down on the left-hand side of the template. You can also write down what you plan on eating for snacks and lunch. The “Get It!” box if for your shopping list (notice how it is short?). The “Advance Prep” box helps you identify the components you can cook during the weekend in order to put dinner on the table faster on harried weeknights.
Sunday: slow day.
I recommend preparing a simmered dish that gently cooks your veggies while you can busy yourself baking muffins and prepping components for the week ahead. Recipes like chilis, curries, and rich pasta sauces are great for this purpose. Double or triple up the recipe so you have ample leftovers to freeze. If your freezer inventory is very low, save some for Wednesday.
Monday: quick and sizzle day.
Stir-frys make fresh, crunchy veggies shine. Pick a few of your favorites, heat up that pan or wok, and chop the produce into bite-size pieces. It’s a good idea to mix your sauce (if making from scratch) and cut everything before you start cooking because the high heat makes things go very fast. Don’t overcrowd the pan or your veggies will steam. You don’t want to turn it all into a soggy mess.
If you’d like to add a protein-rich ingredient like tofu or seitan, you will need to prepare those ahead of time, seasoning and cooking them separately then tossing them into the hot pan to bring to the same temperature at the end. Broccoli may look like an intruder here, but it is one of the most protein-dense veggies. Unlike tofu however you can cook it along with the other veggies, no need to pre-cook. Do plan on cooking your grains (rice or noodles) separately.
Toppings such as herbs and sesame seeds give a boost of flavor and nutrition to the dish. Yum!
Tuesday: pasta day.
Another opportunity to go green! You can blend a mix of dark leaves into a raw pesto (just add lots of nuts, a bit of garlic, and a splash of lemon juice), then complete the dish with some beans or grilled tofu. No blender or food processor? Cook your pasta, reserve a bit of the cooking water, and drain. Put the pasta back in the pot with a few big handful of cleaned leaves – arugula works great here for a spicy kick. Add a bit of pasta water if dry, and top with nutritional yeast and chopped nuts.
Of course, you can also go for a more traditional tomato-based sauce (a great way to use stray veggies and to hide some lentils if following my bolo anti-recipe) or indulge your taste for luscious, creamy sauces. Either way, vegan parm nuts will be delicious on top.
Wednesday: Freezer day.
Take a break from cooking tonight. Pull something out of your freezer (preferably the night before) and just cook some grains to accompany it, and/or prepare a simple side. Here at the Vegan Family Kitchen, I add new dishes to your freezer at least twice a week, and it builds up quickly so I have many options to choose from. Assuming you already have a stash, opt for the dish that has been frozen for the longest time.
Thursday: soup day.
Depending on the veggies you have at hand, you may choose a creamy soup or a bowl of chunky goodness. Many types of soups freeze really well so consider saving some for later. (If your soup uses noodles, take a few portions out to freeze before adding the noodles in. You can cook the noodles at the last minute on the day when you eat the soup. You will save yourself from mushy noodles.)
If you pick a creamy soup, unless it’s a cream-of-something-green, make sure to serve with a side salad to meet your daily target of greens.
Friday: flat day!
Keep Friday fun by keeping it simple: two, perhaps three toppings or fillings are allowed, max! Home-made pizza is a great way to use all sorts of veggies and leftovers (curry pizza anyone?), and leftover pasta sauce (pesto, tomato or creamy) from Tuesday will make a great base. If it’s hot outside and you’d rather not run a 500F oven, consider making crepes instead. Crepes can be prepared and frozen ahead of time. My favorite spring combination: a few stems of roasted asparagus and a big dollop of cashew cheese. Roll and devour. Great with leftover soup, if you have some.
Saturday: a different day.
I have made it a rule to only cook from a book on weekends. Saturday, if not too busy, is a great night to try a new recipe and expand my repertoire. I like to experiment with new ways to make vegan meatballs or burgers, in order to find the best recipe to double or triple on prep day at a later date. I can also opt for an old-standby that’s slightly more involved, like making lasagna, and make extra for the freezer.
Because there is no school the next day, it’s also a great night to have some company over and share the joy of vegan cooking!