The great thing about meal preparation is that you can really make it an easy task. Once you have got over the first panicky phase of fear of the unknown and the deconstruction of preconceived ideas and dogmas, you will then very rapidly realize that there is nothing as simple as healthy plant-based meal preparation.
All you need is a little guidance, a selection of key ingredients in stock in your pantry, and a touch of inspiration. Inspiration comes with practice, and it comes fast!
How does meal prep work?
The first step to easy vegan meal prep is to have a few basic foods in storage. It is amazing how you can cook healthy delicious and cheap vegan dishes with very few ingredients.
If you are a beginner, you can use my chart as a model and pin it up in your kitchen. With time you can personalize the chart by adding new ingredients you have discovered that suit your tastes and needs.
1) Make your list of ingredients
☀️ Dry foods
- Flours (there are a variety, you can choose depending on your sensitivity and tastes, gluten-free or not)
- Legumes (lentils, beans, chickpeas)
- Seeds (sesame, pumpkin, hemp, sunflower)
- Nuts (almonds, walnuts, etc.)
- Spices and herbs
- Dried fruit (dates, figs, etc.)
- Cereal (quinoa, rice, oats, buckwheat, millet, pasta, etc.)
- Flakes and dehydrated vegetables (chickpea flakes, lentil flakes, dried tomatoes, peppers, etc.)
- Vegan protein powder
- A few protein bars
🥫 Cans, jars, cartons
- Legumes (lentils, chickpeas, beans, etc.)
- Plant-based milks and creams
- Vegetable pickles, preserves
- Soy sauce
- Miso paste
- Nut butter
- Rape oil
You can freeze almost anything, which is a great help for meal preparation!
- Herbs (parsley, basil, etc)
- Onion, garlic
- Precooked vegetables
- Precooked grains
- All vegetables from your local store
- Some vegetables are just really easy to prepare and can be eaten raw too: courgettes, carrots, cucumber, tomatoes, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, etc
2) Always have some "emergency" foods in storage
I love to fall back on my emergency foods! They are just amazing. With a few of these in the bottom of your cupboard, you know there is always something yummy waiting for you on a Sunday evening. This can be a bottle of your favorite organic soup, with a few slices of sourdough bread you had in store in your freezer. Or a jar of lentils you just need to heat up with a little curry powder and coconut cream, and a little rice that only takes ten minutes to cook.
My favorite "emergency" food is the ordinary can of chickpeas; you can make so many tasty dishes with chickpeas! Chickpea salad, chickpea curry, hummus… You can also make hummus from dehydrated chickpea flakes, this is a secret few people know about and which makes a delicious healthy vegan side dish! Lacto-fermented tofu keeps for ages in the fridge. It is an excellent last-minute snack you can add to a cucumber and tomato salad on a summer day.
Your own homemade "emergency" preparations:
- Make your salad dressing in advance, have a bottle ready in your fridge so you don't have to go to the trouble each time. You can prepare a couple of different ones.
- Make your own turmeric sauce (it keeps for ages in the fridge), you can add it to your vegetables, pasta, rice.
- Prepare your algae tartar; it will keep in the fridge for a week.
- Have a jar of gomasio and dehydrated yeast ready for sprinkling on your dishes
Having all this means you can season anything that you haven't had the time to prepare (plain rice, pasta, steamed vegetables, potatoes, etc.)
3) Make sure you have proper utensils
It is worth investing in some basic utensils. If you want to prepare quick, appealing dishes, you need at least a sharp knife and a cutting board. You want to be able to chop up your vegetables fast! A mandolin is a great savior! It will grate almost any raw vegetable in no time. All you have to do is have your salad dressing ready. The last utensil is the blender. It is a little more expensive but it is really worth it. A smoothie can save your life in just a few mins! And you need a blender for that! Just pop in some fruit, a little vegan protein powder, some almond milk, and that's you off for a few hours! A blender is useful for all sorts of dishes: soups, sauces, deserts…
I recommend you get enough freezer bags and containers so that you can easily deep freeze dishes.
4) List your recipes
Just as with the ingredient list, your list of recipes will evolve with time and practice. Make sure each recipe is sufficiently nutrient-dense. Here are a few easy tips:
- Combine whole-grain cereal and legumes to get complete vegan protein. This can be red beans and rice, pasta and chickpeas, lentils, and buckwheat, or other similar combinations.
- Add nuts and seeds to your vegetables to optimize your nutrient intake, almonds, and spinach, sunflower seeds on your roasted vegetables, pumpkin seeds in your soups, etc.
- Always make sure you have colorful vegetables at each meal.
Depending on whether you are preparing for weight loss or muscle gain, your ingredients will differ a little, but the strategy behind the meal preparation will be very similar.
Ensuring high protein intake
If your goal is to gain muscle, you will have to make sure you get sufficient protein at the right moment.
This means that you will have to focus on high protein ingredients while preparing for the week. Adding hemp, pumpkin, and rice protein powders to your meals is a healthy and efficient manner to get the right amount of protein. You can easily make high-protein pancakes by adding a vegan protein powder to your dough (see the pancakes recipe).
In your muscle-gain meal preparation, make sure you include that post-workout smoothie that will do the job perfectly. Make sure you have a proper ratio of carbohydrates and protein, as your muscles need carbs to help protein assimilation.
Meal prep for weight loss
This is a very tricky job indeed. Going on a weight loss diet does not mean cutting down on calories. It is important to work on the project with a qualified nutritionist, as weight loss depends very much on the health of your microbiome, on your inflammation levels, on your micronutrient intake, and many other factors.
Once you have set on a plan with your nutritionist, then it is a good idea to meal prep specifically as this will help you stay focused on your new eating habits.
Start by planning your meals for the week. Next, write down all your meals, snacks, and drinks in a weekly calendar. Reviewing it at the end of the week will help you become aware of mishaps and things to be improved on and thus make things easier for the coming week.
Meal prep on a budget
Meal preparation should not cost you any more than if you are not planning! You will indeed quickly realize you are saving money by planning ahead. Having everything planned means that you go shopping less often.
Shopping is tricky; you very often come back with something that was not on the shopping list. Having your ingredients in the storage means you can buy larger quantities (thus cheaper). Planning and thinking ahead also mean you are choosing your store, your brands, your local producers. Keep away from fancy health shops and fancy preparations with exotic names. Stay simple, you can cook your own dhal, it won't take you more time than the ready to cook mix and will be much cheaper.
It's all up to you now! Meal preparation is the key to eating healthy, cheap, and nutrient-dense meals!
Author: Marie-Noëlle Bourgeois, Nutritionist at Bounce Up Micronutrition