What is Plant Based Meal Prep?
If you have clicked on this post, you are in the right place to gain a better understanding of not only the basics of meal prep, but how to plan and prepare meals with plant based nutrition in mind. Plant based meals are emerging as not just a new food trend, but as a healthier way of living. So, what do I mean by “plant based meal prep”? You may have heard the term “vegan” before. Well, a plant-based diet is basically vegan.
The difference between vegan and plant-based is usually determined by the motive behind your food choices. Being plant based could simply just mean following the diet. When one chooses veganism or wants to be classified as vegan, they usually have religious, cultural, environmental, or social reasons (not always, but usually).
Typically, veganism can be considered more of a lifestyle than just a diet alone. Semantics, I know, but I wanted to set the record straight. One thing to keep in mind is that following a plant based diet means you are choosing minimally processed foods and choosing foods in their purest forms.
Many meat and dairy alternatives are highly processed, therefore can decrease their nutritional value. So, for the purpose of what I will be teaching you, I am keeping that point in mind.
“choosing minimally processed foods and choosing foods in their purest forms “
Why Choose Plant Based for Your Meal Prep?
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and the American Heart Association recognize that a plant based diet decreases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, and brain health. It can also help lower blood pressure, lower blood cholesterol levels, and decrease your chance of becoming obese. Sounds pretty good, right? Need I say more? As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I am all for disease prevention and promoting a healthful lifestyle. If becoming more plant based is one of the ways to accomplish this, then count me in! I promise you, eating more of a plant based diet does not have to be boring. There are so many great ways to enjoy whole foods!
How do you know if plant based meal prep is right for you?
Has your doctor told you that you need to lose weight? Lower your cholesterol? Lower your blood pressure? Are you feeling constipated? Are you just trying to find ways to increase the amount of vegetables in your diet? Are you a busy working mom or dad? Do you often find yourself starving by lunch or dinner time with no plan in place so you end up buying fast food, or another “fast casual” type of meal? Do you drive or travel a lot for work? Do you hate cooking all the time and are looking for ways to make your time in the kitchen more efficient? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are in the right place, plant based meal prep is right for you!
Reasons to Meal Prep (plant based or otherwise):
1. Saves Time
Have you ever had these thoughts come to mind: “what are we having for dinner” or “where should I go for lunch” or “what should I pack for lunch today”? Yeah, I have too. This happens when I fail to plan my meals and then I end up packing/making/eating something either not as healthy as I would prefer, or not as yummy as I would prefer. By preparing meals ahead of time, I prevent all of this!
2. Saves Money
So you then might be asking, “OK, it saves time, but how does cooking more save money?” By going to the grocery store with a list in hand usually means you will stick to that list. In fact, I encourage you to stick to that list and try to avoid impulse buying, because that is usually when you overspend. Also, don’t go to the grocery store hungry– you will buy more than you intend then!
3. Keeps you on track with your goals
So, meal prepping saves time and money, how does it keep you on track? Ever heard the term, “Failing to plan is planning to fail”? Well, it’s true. Especially when it comes to plant based meal prep. If you are just starting to incorporate plant based meals into your daily life, then meal prep is going to help keep you on track. You won’t be sitting at your desk at work, hungry at 12 pm and trying to find a restaurant nearby that will accommodate your plant based lifestyle. Same goes for dinner. Your meal prep is already decided, no extra thinking involved, and it will be healthier [usually] than anything you can purchase at a restaurant.
How to Execute your Plant Based Meal Prep:
Now its time to get to the practical application, and perhaps the only reason you are reading this post!
Write out each meal for the week. Don’t know what to do your first time around? You are in luck, I have a FREE 7 day Plant Based Meal Plan with recipes you can download and share with your friends!
There are a few ways to approach this and I make recommendations based on the personality of the person I am counseling in my office or online. However, the planning of the meals can usually fall into three buckets: 1) Simple Does It 2)Flexible Plan or 3) The Variety Act
- Simple does it: This is a great way to plan if you are OK with repetition or you are just dipping your toes into meal prep. For this method you would plan only 1 or 2 breakfast options, 1 or 2 lunch options, and dinners. An example might be:
- Breakfast: overnight oats / protein shake
- Snacks: chia pudding / apple + PB
- Lunch: Option 1: Sriracha Tofu + rice + broccoli Option 2: tofu wrap with lettuce and tortilla
- Dinners: tempeh stir fry / stuffed bell pepper / pasta bake / taco bowls
- Flexible Plan: For this method, you will prepare bulk items that you can assemble different ways throughout the week. For example: cook a batch of brown rice, a batch of tofu, a batch of beans three types of vegetables (broccoli, green beans, and zucchini for example), clean some lettuce to have ready, have tortillas ready, have some bread for toast available and maybe have an avocado on hand. So you would cook everything in advance then throughout the week decide how you would like to combine meals. With the above in mind this is what I would do:
- Monday Breakfast: oatmeal,
- Monday Lunch: the brown rice, tofu, and two of the veggies
- Monday Dinner: taco bowls with beans, rice, lettuce, avocado and tortilla.
- Then the next day I would either repeat or decide to change things up again. For example for dinner instead of taco bowls I would do a veggie wrap using the lettuce, zucchini, tofu and rice)
- Variety Act: This plan is for those who don’t like to repeat meals a bunch and want plenty of variety throughout the week. This also requires a bit more time and practice, but once you get the hang of it, it will be glorious. My FREE 7-day Plant Based Meal Plan falls along this plan– plenty of variety and plenty of taste. If you are new to plant based meal prep, I would not recommend starting with this method as it can be overwhelming. If you do want to dive in, I recommend pre-washing and chopping all the veggies, boiled prepare grains (like rice and quinoa) and perhaps prep 2-3 days at a time.
No matter what style you choose to plan your meals, the important thing is that you plan. Write it out, it doesn’t have to be fancy but writing it out will help you develop your grocery list and keep you organized throughout the week. If you are anything like me, I will forget unless I write it down.
Once you figure out what you are going to eat throughout the week, now it’s time to head to the store. Before you do, though, check out your own fridge and pantry and see what you have on hand already.
Again, I cannot stress enough: Write it down! Don’t go to the store trying to remember everything you planned. It won’t help. My 7-day Meal Plan has the grocery list for you already. You’re welcome.
When you are at the store it can be overwhelming with the number of options for each item on your list. Just breathe and do the best you can, especially if you are a newbie at this. Does everything have to be organic? No. Only if you want it to be. Does everything have to be a name brand? No. Only if you want it to be. Don’t get hung up in the minutia. Not at first at least. We can talk more about that later.
3. Wash and Chop
If you have decided to shop and meal prep all in one day, it is likely that you will be spending the majority of your day meal prepping. So I have a tip for you: shop one day, put groceries away then prep the next day. It will seem less tedious that way.
Once you have everything you need, it is time to get washing and chopping. To wash vegetables: soak in a vinegar and water solution (3 parts water, 1 part vinegar). If your veggies are particularly dirty you will have to scrub them a bit. No biggie.
Then it’s time to chop. I would put on some music, or listen to a great podcast. By chopping everything in the beginning means you will save time while you are cooking. You don’t want to suddenly have to dice an onion while your tofu is already cooking, right? There is french cooking term called “mis en place,” meaning everything in place. By having everything ready to go before you cook, you will be setting yourself up for success. If your week is set up to have broccoli, then make sure you read the recipes that you are using broccoli in to assess what size you need to chop. Same goes for onion, carrots, zucchini, etc. Some recipes will have you dice, some will have you slice, some will have you coin. Make sure you know how you will be chopping!
You have planned, shopped, and chopped. Now the real fun begins. How on earth do you cook all this food and not have it take the next 12 hours?! I have some tips:
- Some foods are sort of “set and cook” foods. They do not require too much monitoring and you can step away and work on other things because they take longer to cook. Examples of these foods are: rice (I usually start my rice first in this rice cooker), beans (if using dried), and roasted sweet potatoes (large chunks baked at 425* for 20 minutes). Get those going, then start working on your other veggies
- While my “set and cook” foods are going, I tend to work on my proteins next. Depending on what is on the menu, I will drain my tofu and try to get as much liquid out of it as possible. If I have tempeh on the stove top to brown, I will get that pan out and go. If I am baking tofu, then I will get that oven going (tofu can be considered a “set and cook” food depending on the recipe). If I have my black bean burgers on the menu (it is on my FREE 7 day plant based meal plan), I will assemble that and start to cook. Again, plant based proteins tend to be “set and cook.”
- Finally, I will work on the veggies. Some veggies you will be eating raw and some are cooked. You have to “watch” veggies more, so I leave those until the end. If you are roasting veggies, set yourself a timer so you don’t forget them in the oven! Other veggies are sauteed, so if you are a multi-tasker, you might have to stir veggies at the same time as something else. I like to think of myself as sort of a musical conductor: bother arms doing something at the same time. Whatever you decide to do, you will find your rhythm the more you practice. I promise.
Now that you have cooked all this food it is time to store it. If you are pre-packaging your meals, I highly recommend these meal prep containers. Portion out what you will eat for each meal, then when you are getting ready for work, you just grab and go! If you are using the variety act, then you will like need larger storage containers to store larger quantities of food.
And you’ve done it!
Congratulations! You will be a plant based meal prepper in no time! Don’t forget to get your Free copy of my 7 day Plant Based Meal Plan below!
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