Need some help with planning for plant-based meals? Is meal planning too intimidating or time-consuming for you to try? In this article, I will share simple strategies that may also help you ease the weekly menu planning, and focus more on nourishing your body and thrive on a plant-based lifestyle.
This COVID-19 pandemic made me learn to take charge of my food, which is a good thing for me, and I think most of you experienced the same. In my pre-pandemic life, my daily meals were provided by my former company. Breakfasts, lunches, and dinners were all covered five days a week. Yes, I’m so grateful for this employee benefit! We have Chefs to do all the work of planning, cooking, and serving our meals. When I communicated my goal to go plant-based, they immediately supported it and partnered with me until we have set a good system that made it work for both parties. On weekends, I explore plant-based dishes from canteens, restaurants, and food businesses. I thrived without the need to learn how to cook. Ha!
Then the pandemic happened, I started working at home for almost two months and then eventually, our company closed. Life happened.
When the work from home set-up started, I knew that it’s about time for me to relearn the art of cooking plant-based dishes. I know how to follow simple recipes when I was in college, but I never get to practice it. I cannot order all my meals outside all the time, because of budget and safety concerns. I created a system, developed habits, relearned cooking, and now, I’ve recently started a plant-based meal subscription plan with the help of my mother where we do what the Chefs were doing for me before with health and proper nutrition as one of the core considerations.
Why You Need to Learn the Art of Meal Planning
Meal planning is indeed an important skill to learn on your plant-based journey especially on your transition phase. It empowers you to take charge of choosing what foods will nourish your body and help you achieve your goals. It saves you the time and energy you will spend on thinking about what to eat on your next meal or day. Don’t get intimidated or overwhelmed with how much time and effort you need to put into it.
Just like any other skill, it may be easy or it may take time for you to master it, but as long as you keep practicing it and developing the system that works for you, then eventually, you can do your meal plan for the week in less than 30 minutes! Aside from the reasons I’ve shared, identify your reasons why you want to learn it, improve on it, or master it. Maybe you want to learn it to save on food budget, to eat more healthily instead of uncontrollably indulging in plant-based processed foods, to reduce the frequency of grocery shopping and many other reasons that are personal to you.
Ask yourself, “Why do I want to learn or improve on meal planning?” Pause. Ruminate. Muni
Once you’ve identified your reason/s, then you could proceed on learning these simple strategies that you can try and test if they will also work for you just like it worked for me.
The 5 Simple Strategies That You Could Try
1. Make Time to Plan Your Meals.
Though one of the benefits of meal planning is to save on time, there is a need to make time to do it because the time you’ll spend on meal planning will outweigh the time, energy, and money you’ll waste when you didn’t do it. Set a schedule in a week when you can sit down to do meal planning. Aside from this, set a separate schedule for grocery shopping or ordering, batch cooking and daily cooking. The factors may include your free time, preferred frequency of grocery shopping, ordering available resources near or within your location, and daily schedules.
What works for me is doing the meal planning and ordering the fresh produce weekly on Tuesdays, and buying the groceries monthly every first Wednesday of the month. Weekdays have fewer people than weekends. A mobile palengke can deliver our fruits and vegetable orders anytime but I prefer to do it weekly to lessen the exposure to other people. My mother and I cook all our meals for the day in the morning since we’re eating the same meals we serve in my Plant-Powered Meal Plan clients.
2. Develop Your System (and Template) in Planning Your Meals.
Start with your and your family’s favourite vegetable dishes on building your plant-based meal plan. Create a list of at least ten dishes that you could rotate in your menu cycle. If you’re living with your family, I suggest you try to involve them by asking their favourites or requests. One plant-based meal suggestion is one less thinking on your end. It will also help you generate more meal ideas and at the same time, you are making your family feel they’re involved and excited with your meal because they like it too.
From those favourites or requests, you may create a weekly or repertoire of meals. For example, my mother loves pasta, my grandparents like soup dishes, we all love having our rice once a day, we like eating bread for breakfast, and we all look forward to trying out new plant-based dishes and some indulgences. I also ask them if they have any requests or cravings which are plant-based, of course. I aim to cover all of these in our week’s menu.
Take into account what you already have in your fridge and cabinets. This may challenge your cooking skills, but if you need help, I suggest asking for ideas from your plant-based tribe like our Plant-Based Pilipinas Community Facebook Group or searching for recipes on websites. You’ll be surprised to learn new recipe ideas that you’ve never thought of. There was a time when I experimented with leftover vegetables and other ingredients in the fridge, and it surprisingly worked. It helps to have a good stock of your pantry essentials.
Focus your meals on the products that are available in your local market. It helps the farmers and businesses in your place and it’s cheaper than the imported goods and produce in the supermarkets. I was amazed to learn that our barangay has an area which grows corn, then a friend of my mom grows and sells shelled peanuts. Visit your market if you haven’t been there and ask your suppliers or vendors what produce is in season. Connect with them if you can.
Ensure quality, variety and diversity in your meals by being mindful of the food groups on a plant-based diet which are whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, herbs and spices. Having this in mind helps you eat more whole plant foods in your plant-based diet.
I consider all of these strategies in planning our meals for the week and I ensure that it is by creating a Weekly Menu Template, which you can check or download here for free. Use the template to give you an idea on how you
3. Enjoy Exploring More Plant Foods and Recipes.
Put fun and excitement on your plant-based diet by exploring plant foods and cooking new recipes that you’re most interested to try. You can allot a day in a week when you are most available to do it. A client recently started allotting his Tuesdays to exploring raw vegan recipes, and he and his mom were so amazed by the salad and homemade dressing they prepared. I’m so happy with the result and his appreciation for making time to do the recipes that he planned to learn three months ago.
Have a way to collect the recipes that you would like to try and once you’ve tried it, take notes of your comments on the recipe like modifications you want. I’m grateful to the “save posts” feature on Facebook, “save” in Instagram and Excel which are my way to save and collect recipes I found online and shared by loving plant-based people. Keep it if you would like to try it again, and scrap those which you don’t look forward to preparing again.
I use Excel to list and collect all recipes with the links for reference, categorize recipes into Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Salad, Fruits, etc. Depending on what I feel like doing, either I’ll personally pick the recipes or I’ll randomly select it for more fun. It is better to save recipes that already have a variety of plant foods on it than recipes that only contain one or two ingredients.
As of this writing, I have a total of 151 recipes on my list! There’s so much to explore in a plant-based diet, right?
4. Shop Smart and Build Your Plant-Based Pantry.
I know you’ve read this one before but I have to include it here because it’s an effective strategy. Always have a grocery list before shopping at the grocery or online. It saves you energy, time and budget when you stick to it.
Your grocery list should have all the ingredients you lack to prepare your planned meals, and at the same time, include all the essentials you will be needing until your next grocery schedule. Keeping a well-stocked pantry with a variety of plant foods helps you be more flexible in planning and preparing your meals. Stock more on fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds and spices.
From my current list of staples and ingredients, I gradually build my pantry by adding two or three ingredients every month. This doesn’t blow off my budget and it allows me to appreciate each new addition because I get to learn how I could add it in my favourites and other recipes. My most recent additions were tempeh as a good meat alternative, whole wheat flour for baking our wheat loaf and pandesal, and ampalaya leaves as an additional ingredient to our Munggo Guisado.
5. Be Flexible and Continue Learning Strategies That Might Work For You.
I haven’t tried these other strategies because I don’t need them yet, but they might work for you.
– Batch Cooking. This is a preparation method which may be cooking your meals for the week in just one day or two, cooking a large batch of one meal that you could use in several meals for the week, or cooking large batches of your plant-based staples for the week like rice, beans or potatoes. This might work for you if you don’t have enough time during the weekdays because of other life priorities, so you can try batch cooking on weekends.
– Outsource your plant-based meals. Subscribe to meal plans on days or weeks you need it most if it’s available to you. If you are willing to spend on meal subscriptions because it best fits your current needs, go ahead. It saves you all the processes and you’re sure to be eating a plant-based diet for those days or weeks.
Summary and Final Thoughts
What do you think of the strategies that I’ve shared here? Which one would you be starting to try if it also works for you? When will you start testing it?
- Make time to plan your meals.
- Develop your system in planning your meals.
- Enjoy exploring more plant foods and recipes.
- Shop smart and build your plant-based pantry.
- Be flexible and continue learning strategies that might work for you.
Choose one and start from there. Start small. You may initially plan for one day, then three days, and then slowly progress to one week.
And most importantly, enjoy the process. Meal planning is your partner. It is an effective strategy to help you thrive on a plant-based diet. Consider it as your friend, not as your burden.
I’m Here For You
In case you need my help to guide you as you incorporate these strategies in your plant-based lifestyle, feel free to connect with me or book a complimentary session with me if you’re interested in any of my services here. I’m here for you as your Nutritionist-Dietitian to be your partner in your plant-based journey.