If you eat a plant-based diet, you may find yourself spending a lot of money at restaurants or a lot of time in the kitchen. Many vegan recipes call for a long list of ingredients, which is great nutrition-wise, but it can get old if you’re pressed for time. Fortunately, there’s a great solution to solve this time and money issue: plant-based meal prep.
Why Should You Meal Prep?
When you prepare your own meals in advance, you’ll cook a few healthy meals ahead of time and portion them throughout the week. You decide what you eat, and you’ll only have to cook once a week if you choose to. Here are some potential benefits to creating a meal plan in advance:
- Save money
- Save time
- Contribute to less food waste
- Will help you eat a more balanced diet
- May help reduce stress (no more spontaneous decisions about what to eat, cook or purchase)
- May help control portions and lead to weight loss1
Meal Prep Tips To Set You Up For Success
Start Collecting Recipes
For many people, the planning stage is the fun part. Create a folder on your computer or use an app to collect recipes that you’d like to try in your meal plan. When you’ve saved several recipes that contain similar ingredients, set aside some time and try to cook them all.
Keep Your Nutritional Needs In Mind
Planning a week’s worth of meals has one big advantage: it’s easier to keep tabs on what you’re eating. When you spontaneously pick up food to go, you’re limited to whatever food options are available. If you plan in advance, you can ensure you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet.
As you’re planning your meals and recipes, think about the different nutrients your body needs on a plant based diet. Make adjustments if you’re missing anything in your meal plan. Here are some vegan nutrition basics to keep in mind:
- A source of protein, like beans, or nuts, in most meals
- A variety of fruits and vegetables
- High fiber and whole-grain starches
- Calcium-rich foods
- A reliable source of B12, either through fortified food or supplements
Stock Your Pantry With Vegan Essentials
Maintaining a well-stocked pantry is a great way to streamline your meal prep process. You’ll want to pick up food that is healthy, versatile, and easy to have on hand. Here are a few ideas of vegan diet staples to get you started:
- Beans, like chickpeas and lentils, and black beans
- Grains, like quinoa, brown rice, and farro
- Nuts, like walnuts and cashews
- Nut butters, like peanut butter and almond butter
- Healthy fats, like coconut oil and olive oil
- Long-lasting vegetables, like sweet potato and squash3
Buy (And Cook) In Bulk
Take advantage of the bulk section in your local grocery store. Buying in bulk may help you save money and ensure you always have food on hand for your recipes.
Once you’re loaded up with your vegan essentials, you can also take advantage of bulk cooking methods. Use your instant pot to cook a week’s worth of beans. Roast enough sweet potato wedges to last you several days. Prepare a huge pot of brown rice at once. In short: think big. Batch cooking will save you time and allow you to incorporate more recipes into your diet.
Here’s a tip: when you cook a large batch of food, keep your seasoning simple. This will give your food greater flexibility. For example, you can use the same plain pot of chickpeas to make hummus, spicy chili, or a lemony grain bowl.
Pick Up Several High-Quality Storage Containers
Food storage containers are one of the most essential elements of vegan meal prep. If you’re cooking lunch for a week, but all you have is mismatched containers with missing lids, you may become frustrated.
Consider picking up several high-quality food containers that can stand up to the freezer, microwave, and dishwasher.
Vegan Meal Prep Ideas And Recipes
Okay, you’re all set to jump into the world of meal prepping. But what do you make, and where do you start? Here are some great vegan meal prep recipes that fit with a plant-based diet.
Vegan Breakfast Meal Prep Ideas
Smoothies are a staple breakfast item for many, especially those who follow a plant-based diet. They can be easily customized and packed with nutrients. But can they be prepped in advance? Sure. Simply prepare the ingredients and store them together. You can also blend the smoothie in advance and store it in the fridge or freezer.
Here’s a basic smoothie recipe that can be adapted to your taste and the contents of your fridge. Simply add these ingredients to your blender and mix together:
- 1 cup frozen fruit, like strawberries, peaches, or blueberries
- 1 cup greens, like kale or spinach
- 3/4 cup non-dairy liquid-like unsweetened almond milk, oat milk, or coconut milk
- ½ cup of something to make it “smooth and creamy” like non-dairy yogurt, or avocado (optional)
- Scoop of protein powder (optional)
- Add-ins like chia seeds, oats, and flax seeds can boost nutrition and the body of the smoothie (optional)
- Spices like cinnamon and nutmeg can make the smoothie more flavorful (optional)4
Breakfast bars are perfect for meal prep. Just bake a full sheet on a Sunday afternoon and slowly eat them throughout the week. Here’s a basic breakfast bar recipe that can be customized to your taste:
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1 cup flour (oat or almond flour can be used for a gluten-free option)
- 1 tsp cinnamon, nutmeg, or spice of your choice
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- Optional add-ins: nuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, coconut flakes, dried fruit, carob chips
- 2 ripe bananas, chopped
- ½ cup of your favorite non-dairy milk
- 1-2 tbsp maple syrup or agave (optional)
Cooking Instructions: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Combine your dry ingredients and your wet ingredients in two separate bowls. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and spoon the combination into a baking dish making sure to evenly cover the bottom of the pan. Top with optional toppings. Bake for 18-20 minutes. Cut into bars and store in the fridge.5
A little advanced planning can set you up for a delicious and easy breakfast. This dish is almost entirely hands-off, which makes it perfect for meal prep. The oats and seeds magically transform overnight in the fridge while you’re busy catching up on sleep or Netflix.
Here’s a basic recipe that you can cater to your tastes:
- 1 part oats
- 1 part non-dairy milk
- ⅛ part chia seeds (optional, but gives a nice texture)
Preparation Instructions: Add the oats and chia seeds (if using) to a glass. Pour in the liquid and stir. Cover and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours (or overnight). You can eat this cold or heat it up when you’re ready.
To mix things up, you can also stir these things into your oats:
- Vanilla extract
- Dairy-free yogurt
- Maple syrup or agave
You can also add these optional toppings:
- Fresh fruit like strawberries, blackberries, or chopped peaches
- Dried fruit
- Nut butters
Vegan Lunch And Dinner Recipes That Can Be Made In Advance
Grain bowls are a vegan diet staple. They don’t really need a recipe. Most contain a mix of these components:
- A grain, like quinoa
- A roasted vegetable, like sweet potato
- A fresh vegetable or green, like kale
- A plant-based protein, like chickpeas
- Some sort of dressing or sauce, like olive oil pesto
- And a topping, like sesame seeds7
Psst. You can turn any grain bowl into a salad by substituting greens for your grains. Just wait to dress your salad or drizzle it with olive oil until you’re ready to eat.
Sandwich And Wraps
Sandwiches and wraps can make a great office lunch because they tend to be easy and low fuss. If you plan to prepare these items ahead of time, consider prepping all of the ingredients at once and assembling the sandwich right before you eat it. This can help you avoid the dreaded soggy bread situation that sometimes comes with pre-prepared sandwiches.
Here are some ideas for what to put in a vegan sandwich or wrap:
- Vegetables like greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, and sprouts
- Mashed chickpeas and avocado
- Vegan meat alternatives, like tempeh or seitan
- Nut butters
Other Ideas For Vegan Lunches And Dinners That Can Be Prepared Ahead Of Time
- Vegan enchiladas. Assemble them in advance and bake them when it’s time to eat.
- Vegan meatballs. Cook a large batch in advance and reheat them throughout the week.
- Vegan chili. Cook a pot on a Sunday and slowly eat it throughout the week.
- Vegan burger patties. You can make these in advance and freeze them.
- Vegan soups. Keep a batch in your fridge or freezer to heat up when you’re ready.
- Vegan pasta dishes. Cook the toppings or sauce in advance and mix them into freshly-boiled pasta when you’re hungry.8
The options really are endless. This is where your hunt for exciting recipes can really help you. When you look at a recipe, make a mental note of which components can be made in advance. Things like roasting vegetables, chopping hearty greens, and boiling rice on a Sunday can save you a lot of time as the week progresses.
Make It Your Own
Planning your meals in advance doesn’t have to feel confining. In fact, taking a step back and looking at the week as a whole will give you a chance to add even more variety into your diet.
If you find yourself making the same thing over and over, come back to this article and use some of these ideas as a springboard.