When people first go plant-based, it can be quite the learning curve, and it can seem to take a lot of time. It’s critical to find strategies to make it manageable; otherwise you may not stick to it. But there are a few things you can do to make your meal planning and prep a whole lot easier, and I’m going to be dedicating a section of this blog to that very topic. This week, we’ll start with some ideas for batch cooking.
It just makes good sense that if we have healthy things to eat in our fridges that are ready to go, or require just a little re-heat, it will be SOOO much easier to stick to healthy choices. We don’t always have the time to spend an hour or more on dinner during the week, so it’s very helpful to do a little planning ahead on the weekends. There are lots of foods that you can cook up in quantity to keep in your fridge. These are some of the things I batch cook/prepare on the weekends so that I can pull them out in days to come:
- Grains. When you are making rice, quinoa, millet, barley or another grain, cook enough to see you through several days. Once cooked grains can be reheated with a curry or sauce for a quick dinner, or you can include a handful of them in a salad to make a hearty lunch. All of these grains keep well in a tightly-sealed container for several days; just make sure you cool them properly before covering and putting them in the fridge so you don’t get condensation that makes them mushy. I especially love doing this with rice since it typically takes longer to cook; however, I still almost always make more quinoa than needed so that it can be reheated for a healthy breakfast the next morning.
- An added benefit of having grains in the fridge at the ready is that lots of recipes call for cooked rice IN them, so if you are making something like that for dinner, you’re already one step ahead of the game.
- You can also batch cook oatmeal a few days at a time and re-heat, instead of having to cook from scratch every morning. I usually do at least enough for 2 meals at a time.
- Beans. If you soak and cook most of your beans from scratch (which is MUCH cheaper than buying in cans, and a good way to avoid added sodium), it’s a great idea to batch cook beans. A pressure cooker or a tool like an Instant Pot makes the process of cooking beans faster, but it’s still a process. In order to get the recommended 1.5 cups of legumes/beans into your day, it’s very handy to just keep some in the fridge ready to go at all times. This will remind you to toss them in salads, wraps, or even smoothies (white cannellini beans are nice for this because they don’t have a strong flavour). Beans keep well in the fridge for a few days, but to avoid letting any go to waste cook up a big batch, make some hummus, put whatever you think you will eat over the course of a few days in the fridge, and freeze the rest in 1 or 2-cup packages. That’s right – freeze them! Then, when you need some beans for a chili, stew or sauce, you can pull a small package out and presto!
- Hummus. Speaking of hummus (above), it is a GREAT thing to make in batches. If you’ve been plant-based for any length of time, you probably know by now that hummus is actually a vegan food group. 😉 Seriously, unless you have a huge, hungry family you may only eat one recipe’s worth in a week, but the secret to batching hummus is freezing it. The amazing vegan chef Dreena Burton introduced me to the idea of freezing hummus in an interview I did with her, several years ago, and I have been doing it ever since. Hummus freezes beautifully! So whenever you make some, double (or triple) the batch and freeze it in manageable quantities.*
- Fruit and Vegetables. I’m not always a huge fan of chopping vegetables up days in advance since as soon as you cut into a fruit/vegetable it starts to lose its vitality; HOWEVER if chopping ahead makes it that much more likely that you will actually eat what’s in your fridge, DO IT! There are definitely some vegetables that stand it better than others – i.e. roots like carrots, beets, radishes – all of these veggies stand up for a few days, especially if you store them in cold water. With other more sensitive vegetables, and fruits, there are a couple of things you can do to make prepping them a lot faster:
- wash, clean and organize them in your fridge as soon as you bring them home from the grocery store. This way you can bring the older food to the front of your fridge to make sure it gets eaten first. Having everything washed and dried doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it takes one step out of your food prep on a busy day.
- learn how to chop things quickly, so that chopping doesn’t seem like such a big task. Practice your knife skills and study tips and tricks (I see another blog post here…) so that you can cut up vegetables in a jiffy – this makes a BIG difference!
- **There are some vegetables that are great to batch cook ahead of time to have on hand for quick meals – like sweet potatoes! Bake them up in their jackets and keep them in the fridge. Pull them out for soups, sauces or to include in wraps.
- Sauces and dressings. I have a few favourite sauces that I like to make in big batches to keep in my fridge, and when I make a salad dressing I do the same thing. I usually make enough to last a week or two, depending on how well they keep – sauces and dressings are not a thing to overlook since they can take a mediocre meal to something really tasty. Stir frys and rice bowls are staples in our weekday menus, and somehow making a sauce always seems like such a big deal to me, so this is a key part for me to making those weekday meals easier.
- Soups and thicker sauces. Of course! Soup, pasta sauce, curry, chili – these are all great things to batch cook and freeze in manageable quantities. This is a great time-saver when you are working and really need something to pull out of the fridge/freezer, heat and serve. Taking some time on a Sunday to make a big batch of something delicious is a great way to get ahead on a few meals of the week – and SO MUCH healthier than stopping for fast food on your way home! Pull out a bowl of soup, heat it up, make a little salad and you’re all set to go with a healthy meal in just a few minutes.
- Burgers. Veggie burgers are one of my favorite things to make in batches because they’re a bit of effort to make from scratch and they almost always freeze well. They’re such a nice thing to have in the freezer for a quick meal, and they’re very versatile – if you don’t feel like having a burger, you can crumble them up in a hearty salad, or serve them as part of a wrap. I usually do a pre-cook of my burgers, eat some for dinner, put a few in the fridge for the week to come, and cool the rest completely, then wrap them in parchment and foil or plastic in sets of 2.
- Freezing things in manageable quantities* i.e. quantities that you will want to take out of the fridge and eat is key – don’t freeze all your beans/hummus/sauce in something huge – then you have to thaw it out and use it all at once, or a lot of it may go to waste. This may be a no-brainer, but it took me a while to figure that out! 😉
- LABEL THINGS – I’m speaking from experience here. Label and date everything that goes into your freezer, and use a label that is not going to fall off or get smudged. Make a point of going into your freezer regularly and taking things out! Keep the items rotating – make sure you’re not just making batches, freezing and forgetting!
To show you how you can make some easy meals out of the things I have recommended batch cooking/prepping above, here are a few example meals you could make using these items:
- BUDDHA BOWL – quinoa, roasted chick peas (or if you don’t have time to roast, you could eat them plain), a few vegetables: lightly steamed broccoli, raw red pepper, grated carrot and some lightly steamed corn. Top it with a lovely peanut sauce: heat and eat! For more info on the buddha bowl, check out this other recent post on component meals.
- RICE-VEG CASSEROLE – brown rice, lightly steamed veg (a mix of cabbage, squash and frozen organic corn), black beans with a cheezee sauce – assemble and put in the oven for 20 minutes to set and warm. Dinner!
- BURGER AND SOUP – take out of the freezer, warm and go!
- WRAP – chop up some fresh veg, get out that hummus and sweet potato, and you have a meal.
So if you’re struggling and feel like your plant-based shift is taking up a lot of time, try setting aside a Sunday afternoon to prepare some of these items (OR if you don’t have time for that, just make a plan to make extra whenever you DO make these things), and see how it makes your week easier. If you have other suggestions or ideas, please feel free to share them in the comments below.