how I sImplIfy plant-based meal plannIng & cookIng

Hi, VegMichigan!

I hope you are all doing well and getting through these frigid winter months! January was busy for me, but it was a good month. I took a short trip to Florida, where I got to spend a few days with my 5 year old niece! It was so wonderful to spend a few days with her, especially in the sunshine! Also, I’m so proud – I’ve never seen a kid love English cucumbers as much as she does! 

I also received my second Covid-19 vaccine this month! As a front line health care worker I have seen the devastation that Covid has caused in our community. So I was incredibly grateful to receive this vaccine. After the first dose, I had very mild soreness at the injection site. After the second dose, I had fatigue and soreness again and then I developed a welt at the injection site that was sore for a few days. Some people are reporting other symptoms like chills, fatigue, or fever. It seems to be more common for the second dose to produce more symptoms. The symptoms are temporary and tend to last between 12-24 hours. This is your immune system ramping up a defense against the virus. As we make progress with distribution efforts in the months ahead, I hope many people consider getting the vaccine as part of a crucial step toward putting this virus behind us and increasing protection for both ourselves and our community. 

Whenever things get busier in my world, it takes a little extra effort to maintain a healthy diet. I’m sure it’s the same for most of you, as well. It can be challenging to eat healthy plant-based when our schedules fill up and we spend less time at home, but there are ways to make it work. For this month, I thought I would share what I try to do to simplify a relatively healthy, plant-based diet on a busy schedule. This is just my own example for the sake of ideas. If you try this, you can customize it to fit your own family structure, nutrition preferences, and dietary requirements. Also, *disclaimer* I am not perfect! Some weeks, everything is great and I am well organized. Other weeks, I’m having to grab a bean burrito at Taco Bell in a pinch. I do the best I can, and that’s all we can do.

why I love meal plannIng and preppIng

I definitely do better when I am dedicated to meal prepping, rather than relying on last minute decisions about what to eat. I’m sure many people will agree with this! Over the years my Sunday meal prep time has become my “me-time” ritual that I look forward to every weekend. I put my favorite comfy clothes on, light some candles, put on a record, audiobook, or Pandora station, and I turn this “chore” into something that I very much enjoy. For those of you who do not care much for cooking, this might be a good way to simplify things and get your cooking out of the way for the week. I highly recommend you try to turn it into something fun for yourself, as well!

how to choose your menu

I follow several plant based recipe blogs to get ideas and my mom (who is also plant-based) sends me lots of good recipes too. Each weekend I’ll choose 2 or 3 things that would work well for meals for the next week. We are not very big on breakfast foods at our house, so whatever I make works for any meal. Here are a few recipe blogs I follow that you might be interested in checking out for some new ideas:

Vegan in The Freezer – Favorite Easy Vegan Recipes for Everyone!

The Simple Veganista 

The Connoiseurus Veg – Delicious Vegan Recipes 

Nora Cooks – Simple.Tasty.Vegan. 

Rainbow Plant Life

If I don’t have enough time to be adventurous with recipes, I also have my staple things that I make often. You probably have some go-to meals of your own as well, but here are some examples of my favorites:

1. Vegetable Soup: I use vegetable broth and spices, and I chop up potatoes, carrots, onions, cabbage, celery, and any other vegetables I have in my fridge or freezer. I usually add some beans as well. And, as my mom always says, don’t forget to throw in a Bay leaf!

2. Power Salad: This is just a huge bowl full of all sorts of good, healthy stuff. You can use any combination of lettuces or greens you prefer. Then you add anything else to it that you like – chickpeas, beans, carrots, peas, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, peppers, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, nuts or seeds, etc. You roast your veggies for extra flavor. You can add marinated tofu. You can also choose any type of dressing you like. Here’s a link to a few good salad dressing recipes that are no oil as well.

3. Vegan chili: It’s easy, it’s filling, and you can’t go wrong with chili. There are a lot of different recipes online, you just have to find one that you like best.

4. Lettuce wraps: For these, I make a bowl of something like the power salad above, but I put the mixture into a big piece of romaine lettuce and experiment with sauces for a little something different.

5. Bean salads: There are a ton of recipes for different plant-based bean salads, with or without oil, on the web. I make a lot of these because they’re so simple and they have a ton of flavor.

6. Black Bean Burgers and Baked Potato: Sometimes I make a big batch of black bean burgers from scratch and freeze them. At other times I have to buy the frozen ones. A lot of frozen black bean burgers contain egg, so when I find brands that don’t, I buy some to have on hand. I usually steam broccoli for my baked potatoes as well, and I put salsa on top of all of it.

7. Stir Fry: Definitely a staple at our house. I prefer fresh vegetables in mine but frozen veggies work just fine too and will save you time. You can add a carb base if you wish to, it depends on your nutrition preference. If I use a carb, it’s typically Basmati rice, brown rice, or rice noodles. If time is limited, I will use a healthier, store bought stir-fry sauce. Other times I make it myself from a recipe like this one.

8. Fresh Rolls: This is one of my personal favorites! They are a little more time consuming to make but the process of making them can be fun and I love how I feel after a meal of fresh rolls. Here’s an example of how to make them. I add a small amount of black beans and some thin rice noodles to mine as well.

These are all simple meals and they don’t necessarily require a recipe once you get the hang of putting them together however you like them. I also like that for most of them, I can tweak and adjust the ingredients based on whatever foods I have available. They can be easily divided up into portions, and you can freeze some of them for future use, which is convenient.

addIng extra stuff

In addition to whichever meals I make, I also make sure we have plenty of snacks washed, cut up, and ready to go. I buy fruit based on whatever is on sale. At home right now, we have oranges, grapes, blackberries, and blueberries in containers. I make sure we have some carrots, cucumbers, celery, etc. to snack on. We have nuts, popcorn, and occasionally dried fruit as well. I also usually make a batch of potato wedges in our air fryer for another quick, easy snack.

puttIng It all together

Once I am finished preparing the meals and the fruit and veggie snacks, it’s time to divide everything up into grab-and-go portions that we can easily take with us wherever we are headed! To me, it feels really good to know that I invested time into something that will help keep me and my family healthy and feeling less frazzled about food at each mealtime. Seeing the finished product of everything prepared and knowing we are starting a new week off with healthy food ready to go is pretty rewarding. I find it to be a stress reducer as well.

If you are looking for ways to make cooking at home easier, to stay committed to healthy food choices, to rely less on fast food, or ways to simplify a healthy vegan diet, this should be helpful information for you. I hope you will try creating a little ritual of your own sometime. It’s an important time for self-care, mindfulness, and setting intentions about how you want to fuel your body in the week ahead. If you are new to this and do give it a try, I’d love to hear how it goes! I hope you stay warm and healthy this month. Spring will be here before we know it! Please continue to be diligent about social distancing and reducing the spread of Covid. I’ll see you here again next month – Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you!