Learn my 5 secrets that make planning and improvising plant-based dinners easy and stress-free!
One of the most common requests that I hear from readers is for more easy dinner ideas. Whether you're making meals for yourself or your entire family, cooking can be overwhelming!
When you start eating a more plant-based vegetarian or vegan diet, it may seem like your meal options are limited. But I'm here to let you know that there are endless combinations of easy meals in store for you, whether you're looking for a recipe or just want to throw something together.
After running this blog for a few years, working as a registered dietitian and eating vegetarian for over 6 years, I've learned a thing or two about dinner.
I'll let you in on a secret: dinner doesn't have to be picture perfect. Some of the best meals are the simplest and most inexpensive meals.
Let's get started!
1. A well stocked pantry is everything
I can't tell you how many times I've opted to get take out for dinner because I didn't have any food on hand and the idea of running to the store was too much.
The good news about eating plant-based is that most dry goods are inexpensive and incredibly versatile. In addition to dry staples, I usually keep one or two bags of frozen veggies on hand at all times for last minute meal ideas.
I also recommend keeping a few quick prep proteins like frozen edamame or canned beans.
Learn more in my guide to vegetarian pantry essentials.
2. Balanced meal "formula"
I love a good recipe but sometimes you just need to eat and only have staple ingredients on hand. Or you might want to clean out the fridge.
Either way, this formula will help you get a balanced meal on the table in no time.
Choose a meal "theme" like tacos, grain bowls, or Cajun seasoning. Include one component from each category:
- Protein: beans, legumes, nuts, nut butter, tofu, tempeh
- Grains: rice, quinoa, bread, tortillas, pasta
- Veggies: frozen broccoli or peas, canned corn, canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, fresh or frozen greens
- Fats: nuts, nut butter, chia seeds, olive oil, tahini, pumpkin seeds
- Flavor: BBQ sauce, tahini dressing, balsamic vinaigrette, salsa, taco seasoning, Greek seasoning, dry fruit
Example: Grain bowls with black beans, quinoa, canned tomatoes and bell peppers tossed with salsa and pumpkin seeds.
3. Staple meals
I have a handful of staple meals that I make again and again. You might notice that my favorite staple meals follow the formula we just talked about above.
You won't get bored of them because every time you make them you can try different toppings, sauces or seasonings. This transforms them into a whole new dish!
These are my go-to staple meals:
These recipes can be eaten on their own or you can add additional fresh veggies, toss them into a tortilla, or add onto a green salad.
4. Meal planning
There's a difference between full on meal-prepping and meal planning.
Meal prepping means preparing most meals or ingredients at once so that you don't have to cook as much during the week. This can be a very helpful tool, but I find that meal planning is more approachable.
Meal planning means going into the week with an idea of the recipes and meals that you want to make.
I usually choose 3-4 recipes each week. For the remaining nights, one night will likely be leftovers, another night might be takeout and another is a "clean out the fridge" night. That's where the formula in secret #2 comes in handy.
Planning meals for the week doesn't need to take more than 15 minutes. Write out the days of a week on a piece of paper and write a meal idea or recipe name next to it.
- Monday: Black bean enchiladas (make a double batch and freeze half for later)
- Tuesday: Breakfast for dinner (scrambled eggs with vegetables, hashbrowns, fruit)
- Wednesday: Butternut squash pasta
- Thursday: Clean out the fridge meal
- Friday: Takeout pizza night
- Saturday: Peanut tofu with honey garlic broccoli
- Sunday night: Quinoa chili with cornbread muffins
Write down the ingredients you need for each recipe before heading out to the store. Check out my favorite grocery shopping tips for more ideas.
5. Give yourself grace
I love plans and recipes, but sometimes life just doesn't work out the way you plan it. A well-planned black bean enchilada night might turn into frozen meatless nuggets with boxed mac and cheese and frozen broccoli because you had an exhausting day at work.
Or maybe you just really want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. That's fine! Your recipes and plans will be there for you the next day.