Meal planning and weekend meal prep sessions are the top two systems that can save you time in the kitchen. They’ll also save your sanity! For anyone who wishes to eat more home-cooked meals and less processed food and take-out, vegan meal prep is a game changer. For vegans who care about optimal nutrition, but who do not have an hour to cook dinner every night, forethought and preparation are even more important, since the store-bought options often leave to be desired.
If you tried meal prep in the past, but fell off the bandwagon, it’s not too late to try again. If you haven’t yet given it a shot because you are a little intimidated, fear not! Gather these seven ingredients and you are guaranteed to have a better week, food wise, than if you just wing it.
Why do you want to do prep sessions? If you have almost zero time to cook on weeknights, you’ll want to have complete meals ready to simply reheat. Are you looking for grab-and-go lunches? You can cook whole grains, mix dressings and prepare other ingredients and pre-assemble in individual containers. Those whose priority is to avoid processed and store-bought food will dedicate some prep time to cooking up your own staples like plant-based milks and cheeses, beans from scratch, and seitan. Knowing what you need will prevent wasted time, food, and money.
Block 1 to 4 hours in your calendar every week or two, depending on your prep style and skill level. It gets easier and faster, promise. Put the time and dates in your calendar a few weeks ahead of time, so that if a conflicting activity comes up you’ll remember to reschedule your prep session. If you have children who are too small to really help, enroll another caregiver to take them out of the house. Important: start small! If you have never done this, do not attempt to cook five complete meals in your first attempt. Set a realistic goal, celebrate your results and take a slightly bigger bite next time.
Do not go into your meal prep session without a plan! Make a detailed list of your upcoming meals and break it down by component. For example, if you plan on having a Buddha bowl, you’d want to list: quinoa, baked tofu, shredded veggies, dressing. Identify what components can be prepared ahead and add to your session plan. (Need inspiration? Get one of my fill-in-the-blanks templates, then come back!) Remember that there is a learning curve, so make sure that the number of components to cook in your prep session suits your level of experience.
Make sure you have all the necessary ingredients at hand… unless you are a pro at substitutions. Many seasoned preppers prefer going to the grocery store the day before to break down the effort. My favorite sequence is to plan my meals on Friday night, get groceries Saturday morning, and cook Sunday afternoon.
While it is not a requirement, matching containers make it easier to fit everything in your fridge and freezer. Rectangular snap-top glass containers are my favorites. If using Mason jars, fill well below the top to avoid breakage. Also make sure the food has cooled completely in the fridge before freezing. There is nothing wrong with plastic as long as you wait until the food has completely cooled before transferring from your cooking vessel to the storage container.
Also make sure there is space in your fridge and freezer before starting. If your freezer is full, maybe you should focus on eating what’s in there before cooking up more. If you have spoiled food, or unidentified leftovers, feed your composting worms and clean everything before you start.
Consider this a (kitchen) workout! Playing some of your favorite tunes will give some rhythm to your chopping, making the time spent feel like a treat. Podcasts or audiobooks can make great partners, too! But for the sake of your fingers please don’t get too captivated by the content while the chef’s knife is out.
Bonus: kitchen buddy
If your kitchen size allows it, make it a prep party with one or two like-minded friends. This can also be a great bonding activity for sisters-in-law! Each cook brings a favorite recipe and the corresponding ingredients, and everyone goes home with a diversity of dishes to eat later.