Plan to stick to your ethics: Meal planning for new vegans
I wasn’t born vegan. I was raised on farmland and had access to amazingly fresh vegetables but otherwise my early culinary experiences were quite conventional. Every meal included a few portions of meat, dairy or eggs, sometimes all at once.
I started cooking as a child, and when I left the family nest to go to college, I loved hosting dinner parties with my roommates. We served luscious soups (with cream), filling pasta dishes (with meat and lots of cheese), and decadent brownies (more cream).
I liked to think that I was a pretty good cook, but really I should not have taken credit. The animals had done nearly all the work for me. Unfortunately, it took a few more years before I learned about and truly realized the scale of the harm those feasts were creating.
By the time I decided that I needed to become part of the solution instead of perpetuating the problem, my cooking habits were deeply ingrained… and they were not helpful anymore. As an omnivore, I used to be able to improvise a yummy meal from whatever was in the fridge. Now, I relied on recipes that I had to parse a few times before turning on the stove.
Cooking took me a long time, and often required an extra trip to the grocery store because I was missing ingredients. A last-minute pot-luck invitation caught me unprepared and mildly panicked.
After a few months of sub-par cooking, and too many take-out meals for those nights when I just couldn’t pull it off, I realized something had to change. I needed to acquire new knowledge and skills about those different ingredients and preparation techniques. I needed to take the time to learn.
The single kitchen trick that enabled me to get over this hurdle in my transition to veganism was meal planning. At 6 pm, I did not have very much willpower. On Sunday morning, my mind was a lot clearer to make important decisions about what I’d feed myself and my family the following week, and prepare accordingly.
Meal planning can help even the most seasoned plant-based cooks, but those who are just starting onto their vegan journey will benefit the most.
Here are five steps to get started.
Review your schedule
Sit down and think about the week ahead. When will you and your family members be home to eat? Are there nights that are more activity-packed (and possibly stressful) than others? When do you have time to cook and clean up without a nervous breakdown?
Identify three evenings in the week when you will actually be cooking dinner. Make a big batch of something familiar (this chili is a great choice – just double the recipe) and plan to eat it again later. Just don’t let the leftovers spoil out in the fridge!
If you must have variety, you can be creative with the second meal, making Sunday’s chili into tacos on Tuesday and burritos on Thursday. Keep it within your comfort level and take small steps.
As you become more familiar with plant-based cooking, you can add more days of the week when you cook from scratch… but remember it’s always a good idea to make a double batch and save it in the freezer for busy days.
Write down the meals you decided upon (you can use a template to help) and copy them into your regular calendar or planner if you have one.
Use what you have first
Save money and time by reviewing the contents of your pantry. Also, if you already have fresh produce in the fridge, use it first.
Then, you can use Google to search using ingredients as keywords, adding +vegan recipe to help you find dishes that are designed without animal products.
Read the ingredient list and the instructions for each recipe carefully to make sure that:
- you can find everything you’ll need either in your pantry or at the grocery store
- All the equipment required is in place, and
- you are familiar with the skills you’ll need. Because you are only cooking three different recipes, this should not take too much time.
Make a list and carry it to the store
Write down the ingredients you do not already have on your grocery list (or input them into your favorite app), snap a picture of your meal plan to carry along for reference, and off to the grocery store you go.
When you can find and afford it, buying local and organic is great, but remember that whatever plant-based food you eat is better than eating meat, dairy and eggs, so don’t fret.
There will be dinners when a new recipe blows your socks off. And there will be duds. That’s not failure, just an experiment. Take note of the meals you really enjoy and put them on the plan again in a couple of weeks. As you practice meal planning, it will become easier and faster.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Brigitte Gemme is a vegan food nerd. She shares the kitchen shortcuts and templates she develops on her site the Smart Vegan Kitchen.