It may be time for you to start plant-based vegan meal planning if:
- you want to feed your loved ones healthy home-cooked meals based on whole plant ingredients, most nights of the week,
- you are a busy person, suffer from decision fatigue, and/or need to decrease your mental load,
- you find it stressful to hit 5 pm without a plan about what’s for dinner,
- you dislike food waste,
- and/or you like the feeling of being organized.
If even only two of the above resonate with you, vegan meal planning will definitely improve your life. (Batch cooking would also be awesome- but that’s a topic for another day!)
If you need help with creating individual balanced meals, you may want to check out these posts: How to improvise balanced vegan meals from pantry ingredients and Vegan cooking for beginners.
This post will get you started with a vegan meal planning strategy. I recommend you download the basic vegan meal planning template and print it out right away to make it easier, but you can get started with just a big sheet of paper and your favorite pen.
Benefits of plant-based vegan meal planning
Meal planning can seem like yet another chore, so before we jump in let’s just remind ourselves of WHY we do it. In our “busy” civilization, planning meals for the week gives us a much higher chance to:
- Eat a diversity of tasty and healthy food throughout the week,
- Feed our bodies and minds all the nutrients we need from a diversity of foods and ingredients,
- Save money (and our waistlines) by avoiding restaurants and convenience foods,
- Help save the planet by reducing waste,
- Make our families happy because we can at least try to thoughtfully choose some meals that appeals to everyone’s needs (or that can be adapted as needed – see my post about vegan meal planning with picky eaters in mind),
- And have a (somewhat) peaceful meal because we’re less stressed out by preparing food at the last minute, especially when we are hungry and tired.
This is even more true for vegans because there is a lesser variety of ready-made, reasonably-healthy staple food options available on store shelves. (I originally wrote this in 2016 and the situation has really changed in my vegan-friendly town, but I know that is not the case everywhere so I’m leaving it. Either way, I prefer home-made versions.)
Four steps to streamline plant-based vegan meal planning
You too can adopt these routines to streamline the plant-based vegan meal planning process, cut back on food waste ($$) and feel more zen on weeknights:
1. Set daily themes
Creating a framework for your dinners will narrow down the range of options and speed up decision-making. Common themes for plant-based vegan meal planning include things like “bowl day,” “fun day,” “taco Tuesday,” “freezer day,” “pasta day,” etc. You can also go type of cuisine (Mexican, Indian, French…). The template has space to write those down. The themes can be the same throughout the year, or rotate a bit with the seasons. Just keep it simple!
2. Review your inventory
Open your pantry, fridge, and freezer. What do you find? Jot down a list of what you already have in the kitchen, starting with ingredients and leftovers most likely to spoil soon. If you find anything that’s already past its prime, get rid of it.
If there are leftovers that you can pull together to create a complete meal, slot that into a suitable space on your meal plan.
When you find interesting ingredients that you haven’t used in a while, start thinking about what kind of dish could make a use of it.
Shine a spotlight on fresh produce you already have. Vegetables and fruits are the most valuable part of your food inventory, from both financial and nutritional points of view. Jot down specific veggies under suitable themes in your meal plan. Be creative as needed! But don’t hit Google in search of recipes yet.
3. Fill in the blanks
Choose some simple, classic, standard meals that suit your themes and customize them based on your inventory, the season (seasonal veggies are cheaper and often more nutritious), and your family’s preferences. Take into consideration how much time you have to cook on certain nights of the week.
4. Complete your shopping list
Review every meal and jot down the ingredients you still need to buy to create your shopping list.
I know that, at this stage, many will turn to Google or Pinterest to look for recipes for the various meals they’ve planned. Resist the urge! You know more than you think about cooking and I bet you can improvise a meal based on your experience. Treat cooking like an experiment, notice the results, and repeat. If you find yourself missing a critical ingredient… just skip it! Or be creative about substitutions. The key is to pay attention to what’s happening – to cook mindfully – so you can apply the lessons learned next time.
Make sure to include on your grocery list items required for other meals (breakfasts, lunches, and snacks).
Now go get the groceries (or block the required time in your calendar), or order them online.
5. Optional: Break the meals down into building blocks (and plan to prep some ahead)
This step is optional, but once you master it you (may) unlock blissful weeknights. Here’s how it works:
Let’s say the planned dinner is “spaghetti Bolognese.” That meal has two essential building blocks: the pasta and the bolo sauce. Pasta is quick to make, but home-made vegan Bolo-style sauce requires more work. Plus, like most simmered dishes, its flavors will develop if a couple of days elapse between cooking and eating. That makes it the perfect candidate for weekend batch cooking, or at the very least weeknight double-batching (cooking double or triple the amount you’d normally eat and freezing the extra).
If you make the sauce ahead of time, you’ll just have to reheat it when dinner time comes. That way, you will enjoy its delicious and nutritious contribution to your meal with no weeknight effort. You can use the remaining time to toss a quick salad of mixed greens and fresh veggies… or read a book.
This strategy requires that you set aside an hour or two on the weekend to do a little batch cooking. If that’s a skill you’d like to try, check out my post about Minimum Viable Prep. You’ll be amazed at everything you can do in an hour.
If you are new to eating a plant-based diet, or you’re simply tired of deciding what’s for dinner, check out my Vegan Meal Plan service. It’s a collection of recipes covering the entire year, broken down into building blocks so you can practice “split cooking:” a weekend prep session combined with simpler weeknight cooking and assembly.
A good way to experience this lifestyle is to partake in the Planned & Plant-based Challenge.
If you need a meal plan that covers all meals for a week, check out my One Big Shop plan.