Follow these simple vegan meal planning steps to keep up a solid vegan diet.
Simple Vegan Meal Planning
1. Start with what you already have (especially if it’s going to go bad soon).
Before you start coming up with meals for the week, take a look in your kitchen to see what needs to be eaten.
Check for the following items and prioritize using them in meals this week:
Use Up What You Already Got
- Fresh produce (in the fridge and on the counter)
- Vegan milks and yogurts
- Those oils, dressings, spices, etc. you still haven’t used or have too much of.
- The boxed or canned goods that have been in your pantry for way too long.
I myself have these rice noodles that have been around too long. I incorporated them into my week’s planning and was done with it, finally!
Of course, you don’t want produce to go bad – that’s wasteful on too many levels. Make sure to add the produce you already have into your meals at the beginning of the week.
2. Keep it simple with no-recipe recipes.
Once you have your list of ingredients to start with (you’ll add to this list of ingredients, of course), it’s time to brainstorm what meals you can use them in. If you want to keep it simple (goal of this plan!), stick with no-recipe recipes.
No-recipe recipes are perfect for the busy vegan (and for using up ingredients). You might not want a 20-step recipe on a Monday night. Instead, how about packaged vegan dressing, a grain, some canned beans and some raw veggies?
Check out the no-recipe recipe system to get started:
If you are just starting to spread your cooking wings, it might take some time to get comfortable improvising like this. If that’s the case, start with the recipes of others (Isa Chandra Moskowitz has good, simple recipes) and then move on to cooking on your own (you’ll fail but you’ll learn too!).
Also, I always do a mix of no-recipe recipes and actual recipes. I need the recipes of others for inspiration and to learn new skills.
3. Use a digital calendar.
You’re going to want to note your meal schedule somewhere. I recommend using a calendar that you can access online and on your phone (while you’re in the grocery store or headed home to cook).
I use Google Calendar for everything. So, it was easy to create another dedicated calendar called “meals” for my meal planning.
On your digital calendar:
- Make the color scheme a bright color so you can easily spot it when mixed in with your regular calendar.
- Note what you want to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the week. Add some snacks in if you want to make sure to use up some, say, bananas that need to be eaten (though, of course, you can always make nice cream with bananas!).
- Put links to any online recipes you’re using in the “description” box of the meal “event” so you can easily find them again. Note which cookbook the recipe is in if that’s where you found it.
- Include ingredients you want to use (or use up) as notes in the description box (for those hodgepodge meals like salads).
4. Don’t over-shop.
If you have planned your meals well, the ingredients you need should be a mix of what you already have and what you still need to get. You’ve done a bunch of work on this – don’t let it all fall apart once you actually get to the grocery store!
Shopping “off list” is a recipe (ha) for money and food waste. Don’t let those clever grocery store merchandisers trick you with tiny deals (5% off!) and checkout items into getting items that you might not use.
If you unexpectedly move through your week’s groceries faster than you wanted, it’s not the worst thing to have to hit up the store again but it is a problem to end up throwing rotted veggies in the trash (or compost bin).
5. Check in the night before.
You have done great prep work with simple vegan meal planning. Now, you just have to act on it!
To be sure you stick to schedule, check in on your calendar regularly.
- Are you all set for your busy day tomorrow?
- Do you have everything you can prepped?
- Do you need to adjust your calendar for the week because house guests are eating you out of house and home?
Make this a part of your routine of shutting off the lights and heading to bed or take care of it after you clean up dinner. Glance in the fridge, set out breakfast stuff… just take a moment.
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6. Then prep everything you can: to-go lunches, breakfast, coffee…
In the summer, I make up a batch of cold brew concentrate so that I can quickly make iced coffee in the mornings (ok, I don’t do this for speed but because it’s delicious – but speed is a good side effect!).
While you’re preparing a meal, always think,
can I make or prep extra of this to make my life easier?”
Make enough steel cut oats for the week, tofu scramble for the week, spring roll ingredients for a couple of nights – you get it.
This is why microwaves were invented.
7. Do overcook.
Unless you’re some monster who doesn’t love leftovers, make enough for leftovers! Leftovers can often be frozen, taken to work or school as lunch or fed to ravenous guests. They’re the absolute best.
Plan for leftovers during your simple vegan meal planning and mark them as meals on your calendar. You know that you alone aren’t going to eat 1 lb. of pasta in one meal but you’ll make it Sunday night and have it for leftovers on your calendar for other meals.
8. Have backup food: freezer, can and boxed.
You can also proactively make up some food stores. Take one of your days off and spends some time in the kitchen on this project for future you. (I love when past me hooks up future me with solid planning and prep!)
Make up a bunch of burritos, burgers, curries, etc. and freeze them. Watch a stupid show, listen to a podcast, put on some music and take care of some meal prep one night instead of sitting on the couch. You’ll be glad you did, I promise!
There’s even an entire website with inspiration for freezing vegan meals: Vegan in the Freezer!
Also, when canned soup or boxed meals (or bagged, for that matter) are on sale or when you remember to get them, pick up a handful to have them in a pinch. No shame.
I think it’s good to have bread in the freezer at all times, too.
9. Keep in interesting.
If you’re like me, you’re all – yeah, yeah that’s really simple vegan meal planning but… bo-ring!
Totally! I like variety and new flavors too and sometimes no-recipe recipes are so simple they get into truly boring territory.
Here are some quick ways to mix it up:
- Get a new condiment you haven’t tried before or one you haven’t used for a while and… use it! Like this Korean paste Gochujang.
- Do simple subs for your standbys. Rice → quinoa or millet. Spinach→ kale. Black beans→ northern or kidney. Tofu→ tempeh or hearty mushrooms. Sandwiches→ wraps! It might seem small, but it can really help with the doldrums.
- Make at least one complicated meal a week. Make enough for leftovers (see above) and make it on your day off (see below!).
10. Days off are for Martha Stewart-ing.
Strike a balance between efficient meal prep and enjoying creating lovely, delicious meals. The best time to get into complicated meals is on your day(s) off.
Enjoy spending hours preparing something new and complicated while you catch up with loved ones or listen to some really great pop music (did you know we’re in a pop music renaissance? No? Just me? Anyway…)
How is your meal planning going? Is it non-existent or are you crushing it? Do you sometimes fall off your veganism because you skipped planning? Share below and tag @plentyvegan on Instagram to connect!
If you want to get some more ideas and support for how to eat a simple vegan diet, check out the Plenty Vegan Plan (one week’s worth of an easy vegan meal plan and grocery list included – simple vegan meal planning!).
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