Are you feeling stuck with meal planning? Each afternoon does that, “oh crap, what’s for dinner?” thought hit?? You’re not alone. I asked on my Instagram stories the other day about meal planning and SO many people reached out saying that meal planning was definitely something they struggled with. I get it – with crazy busy lives, multiple responsibilities, and limited time, planning and preparing for nourishing meals can be tricky.
Lucky for you, meal prepping and meal planning is my jam. I love thinking about how I can re-purpose ingredients, save time, and keep foods tasting fresh, new, and fun. So I thought it was about time to start sharing my tips and tricks that I’ve learned along the way. Stick around until the end of the post, because I give you a free 5 day meal-plan with 21 shopping ingredients and each recipe is an easy, flavorful, time saving gem. The best part? I’ve also included suggestions on what to do with any leftover ingredients to reduce food waste and keep budget in mind.
OK, let’s do this…
1. Try 1-2 new recipes per week
It’s so important to stick with only trying 1-2 new recipes per week, especially when you’re starting out. It’s easy to find meal plans and want to tackle it all at once. Don’t. Even if the recipes are super easy, it will still require retraining your brain to potentially follow a recipe and cook differently than you may be used to. Plus, a lot of recipes online are poorly written and hugely underestimate the amount of time it takes to prep/cook (or at least from my experience).
Think about meal planning a little like this:
What are some of your favorite meals or your family’s favorite foods? Aim for including these a couple nights a week.
Routine is comforting for a reason. Here’s the thing, when we have a a couple routine meals thrown into the mix, it requires little additional effort grocery shopping and cooking because it is already habitual.
Now, if you’re like, “I’m just soooo sick of broccoli, I don’t think I can have it again this week,” then that would be where I would insert a new vegetable or a new dish to try. However stay close to comfort for sake of ease. So do you always eat broccoli and roast it? Perhaps try roasting cauliflower instead or try curry seasoning instead of the usual salt and pepper.
Again, this whole “try 1-2 new recipes per week concept” is especially important if you’re new/new-ish to meal planning/prepping or you have the tendency to bite off more than you can chew and not always follow through 110% (this is me lol).
2. Keep it Simple
On a similar note, it’s important to not get too carried away with recipes. Again, the more you look at recipes, the easier it becomes to tell which ones are actually a long complicated process of a recipe and which ones are straightforward and simple. I don’t know about you, but opt for straightforward and simple. I enjoy cooking but I also enjoy walking, chatting with friends/family, chill time, reading, yoga, and far too many activities to be cooking all the time.
So if you feel me, keep in mind the special sauces, the veggie burgers, layered dishes, and honestly anything other than throw together meals or sheet pan dinners should be limited (in my opinion). Here’s why: life is complicated, crazy, and there are a million curve balls thrown our way everyday (especially at dinner time!). However, by having simple, easy to prepare meals ready to go, you’ll be more likely to follow through.
Keep the more complicated dishes with multiple steps for weekend meal prep (if that’s your thing) and aim for the bulk of your meals during the week to be simple. Not sure what simple means?
This is what I mean by simple meals:
- roast/grill/saute some veggies + pair with a protein of your choice that you also roasted/grilled/sauteed (I find similar cooking methods to work well) + starch/grain + toppings (nutritional yeast, dressings, vinegar, easy peanut sauces, marinara, soy sauce, etc)
What this could look like:
- Brown Rice + Vegetable and Tofu Stir Fry (only soy sauce, dash apple cider vinegar, onion, garlic, ginger)
- Pasta of Choice + Frozen Spinach sauteed/microwaved + garbanzo beans or meat + topped with nutritional yeast and crushed red pepper flakes
- Microwaved Baked Potato + Grilled Tempeh with few dashes of soy sauce and onion/garlic powder (or meat) + grilled eggplant/peppers
- Take out with more frozen veggies added/sauteed
…..y’all, the possibilities are endless but I help that stirs the pot of inspiration for simple meals.
3. Use 1 Grain/Starch for the Week
Again, I love re-purposing food and one of my favorite ways to do this is with grains and starches because they act like blank canvases. This blank canvas allows for so much freedom and creativity when it comes to how whole plant-based foods are served and prepared. I suggest making double or triple of the grain that is needed for a recipe and use it for multiple meals. Keep your family size in mind. So for example, if you are cooking only for yourself, you wouldn’t make 8 cups of brown rice. Meanwhile, if you’re feeding a mini Army, you may need this much.
Here are some of my favorites:
- Brown Rice: Taco/Fajita Bowls, Stir Fries, Curries, Fried Rice
- Farro: Vegetable Soup, Hearty Salads with Beans/Veggies/Greens, Pairs with Italian Flavors well
- Potatoes: Mash double – Eat mashed potatoes one night and consider a Shepard’s Pie a few nights later
- Quinoa: I’ll be honest, I have to be in the mood for quinoa but when I’m feeling it, I love it! I especially adore it in chilis, bowls creation meals, as taco “meat” with lentils/walnuts and seasoning, and mixed with rice as a pilaf
4. Consider Theme Nights
I find theme nights can be super helpful for myself and my clients. For example, Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Pasta Wednesdays, Leftover Thursdays, and Pizza Fridays are all great examples. I especially love having “mini challeneges” on leftover night to see who can concoct the most creative meal (this is especially great if you have kids who are at the cooking age). It’s a fun twist that starts to get that cooking/creative part of your brain going. Remember – this is a great time to switch things up a bit with different add-ins and toppings so you don’t get burnt out.
Theme nights give your meal planning/meal prep some framework but still allow for so much flexibility. Choose which one makes the most sense in your world and start there. Trust me, you’ll find more actual Pinterest inpsiration for “vegan tacos” instead of “vegan dinners” that pulls you into a rabbit hole of pictures and recipes. Theme nights help structure and streamline the process.
5. Opt to Double the Recipes and Freeze Leftovers
Some meals freeze better than others and foods like soups, stews, chilis, and some curries freeze fantastically well. These often one pot meals should be a focus of your meal planning because they tend to be easy to make but allow you the possibility to double the quantity (which save you time in the long run).
Because here’s the thing: if you’re already going through the effort of making a meal once, double down! It will take just a bit longer to cut more carrots and chop more celery. Yet, a month down the road when you’re staring at the fridge/freezer for answers to your dinner dilemmas, you’ll be so thankful to see that frozen soup staring back at you.
I do have a pro-tip for you…be sure to label the containers (no one likes mystery containers). It’s also a good idea to think ahead in terms of serving size. For example, does your spouse/partner despise leftovers and you’ll be the only one eating that leftover chili for lunch? If so, put it in more of a single serving container. Meanwhile, if you plan on serving the leftovers as a meal (or part of a meal) for multiple people, store it in a larger container.
I know that sounds crazy, but the size of the container can be a huge unconscious deterrent in whether or not you use it. For example, if my mom doesn’t freeze leftovers in tiny containers, she thinks it’ll take too long to cook/defrost or it may be too much food for her at lunch time. If either of these are true, the food will very likely sit in the freezer for a year until I come home and eat it up. 🙂
Ok, so there you have it folks, 5 tips to help you start meal prepping like a boss! If you want to see what these tips look like in action, check out my free week meal plan below that features fall festive foods like butternut squash and farro. If either of these are new to you or you’re interested in trying them out, definitely give it a try!
A few more words about the seasonal plant-based meal plan:
- You’ll see that it re-purposes foods to save you time, reduce food waste, and reduce your grocery bill.
- You’ll find easy plant-based vegan recipes and a grocery list of under 21 ingredients. The grocery list does not include spices that you likely already have. PS: If you’re not vegan, that’s cool too – I’ll tell you what animal based protein would go with some of the meals if you wanted to include them. My husband doesn’t eat 100% plant-based, but he knows the value of eating more plant-based meals and I usually cook meals that he can add meat too (so you can too if that’s your jam!).
If you find the meal plan helpful, let me know! I’d love to hear what recipes were your favorite or which ones you’re most excited to try!