When I started my new job, it seemed as though there simply weren’t enough hours in the day.
Leaving for work before the sun came up and getting home well after sunset, the last thing I wanted to think about at night was what I was going to make for breakfast and lunch the next day.
As a result, I spent a lot of money picking up meals, when I could make better – and healthier – food at home.
Spending just a few hours at the beginning of your week preparing your meals can eliminate the stress of having to plan out each day’s meals individually when you’re already in the throes of your hectic week.
Having your meals waiting for you will save you:
- checkTime: you can spend more time doing things you like, rather than planning and cooking
- checkCalories: you’ll control exactly how much oil, salt, and calories are in each of your meals
- checkMoney: homemade meals cost a fraction of takeout
- checkSanity: Take one less decision out of your life – prep saves valuable brain space!
While meal prepping is popular in the fitness world, many of the recipes and resources out there center around meats, and it can be hard to find enough vegan and vegetarian meal prep plans to keep things interesting.
Luckily, it’s easy to meal prep as someone living a plant-based lifestyle – all you need are a few materials to get you started, and some basic meal formulas that can be changed up to keep you from getting bored.
Quick NavigationPlanning Your Week1. Eating to Your Tastes2. What You’ll Eat3. Macros/Nutritional Need4. What You’ll SpendWhat You’re Going to NeedContainersA Slow CookerA Good Quality KnifeBreakfast PreppingOatmealTofu ScrambleLunch & Dinner PreppingProteinBaked TofuGrilled TempehSloppy Joe LentilsCarbsBrown RiceQuinoaBaked Sweet PotatoesVegetablesSteamed BroccoliRoasted CauliflowerFrozen VegetablesMeal Prep FAQs…1. I don’t like eating the same thing every day. Can I still meal prep?2. What if I don’t want to prep three meals a day?3. I want to meal prep for weight loss. What should I do?The Goodness of Vegan Meal Prep
Planning Your Week
The success or failure of your meal prep will rest in your plan. Don’t be tempted to go to the grocery store and “wing it” – chances are, you’ll wind up spending more money on a lot of foods that don’t really “go together.”
By devoting one day a week (what amounts to just a few hours a week) to planning and preparing your food, you’ll set yourself up for a week of success.
Here’s some things to consider when you’re planning your meals:
1. Eating to Your Tastes
Preparing meals ahead of time is only effective if you actually eat them during the week, so make sure you’re planning foods you like.
Sure, green beans are a convenient food to prep because you can make them in large amounts, but if you don’t like green beans, it won’t make you as apt to stick to your meal prep.
Find foods you enjoy, and change up the seasonings or combinations to keep yourself from getting tired of the way they taste.
If you do want to try something new, like a new vegetable, pair it with protein and starch you know you like, so you aren’t left with an entire meal you can’t eat.
2. What You’ll Eat
The ideal formula for a meal prep is a protein, a carb, and a green. Using this combination, you have seemingly endless options for healthy, well-balanced meals. Here are just a few ideas for each category, but this is by no means an exhaustive list.
- thumbs-o-upProteins: tofu, tempeh, lentils, veggie burgers, seitan, chickpeas, edamame
- thumbs-o-upCarbs: Brown rice, quinoa, farro, potatoes, jasmine rice, pasta, amaranth
- thumbs-o-upGreens: Broccoli, green beans, kale, brussels sprouts, zucchini, collards, snap peas
- thumbs-o-upFlavor boosters: Seasoning blends, flavored oils, and vinegar, sauces, condiments
Using this blend of protein, carbs, and greens, you’ll ensure that you’re eating a well-rounded meal rich in nutrients and fiber; that will not only help keep you healthy but will keep you full until dinnertime.
Flavor boosters help you keep your meals tasty, exciting, and varied. If you make tofu in an Asian marinade one week, try barbecue tofu the next week. You can make completely different meals using the same ingredients, and incorporating a few tweaks.
3. Macros/Nutritional Need
Aside from the sheer convenience of having your breakfasts, lunches, and dinners ready to grab from the fridge, prep can also help you meet a variety of health and fitness goals.
Lifting heavy and looking to gain muscle? Add more protein and include more calories.
Trying to lose a little weight? Increase the volume of greens and veggies, and decrease some of the calorie-dense starches.
People on lower-carb or lower-fat diets can adjust their meals accordingly.
Remember that your needs will also change depending on your age and sex – the nutritional needs of an 18-year-old girl are going to look very different from a 40-year-old man.
Anyone can prep, but spend some time figuring out the right calorie and macronutrient intake for your body.
4. What You’ll Spend
Cooking at home is almost always cheaper than buying meals at a restaurant or convenience store, especially when you’re not including meat and dairy.
When it comes down to it, plant-based proteins and grains just aren’t that expensive, as long as you don’t turn to processed vegan foods.
To stretch your dollar even further, plan your meals based on the weekly ads at your local grocery store. If my supermarket has broccoli for 99 cents a pound, you can bet I’m eating broccoli as my side that week.
Same goes for proteins – stock up on your favorite vegan-friendly proteins like tofu, tempeh, and even veggie burgers and chicken tenders when they go on sale. When Gardein products go on sale, I buy as many as will fit in my freezer.
What You’re Going to Need
Aside from the food itself, you’ll need a few important tools around the house to make your meal prep adventure successful.
Meal Prep Containers
After you’ve prepared your meals for the week, you’ll need a way to store them. Most preppers opt for microwave- and dishwasher-safe containers for maximum ease of use and cleanup.
A few things you should consider when buying meal prep containers:
- Type of MaterialIt’s important to get containers that are BPA-free – if you’re using a plastic container with BPA, it can begin to leach hormone-altering chemicals into your food after prolonged heating in the microwave or dishwasher.
- Number/Size of ContainersWill you be prepping all three meals for every weekday, or are you just looking for easy work lunches? Will you be bringing full meals with an entree and sides, or just a cup of oatmeal for the morning? Think about the size, number, and type of your meals, and purchase accordingly.
- Number of CompartmentsSome containers consist of just one compartment, while others are divided into two or three wells to keep foods separate. If you’re bringing meals like chili or stew, or don’t mind your foods touching, one compartment might be fine. However, if you’re looking to keep your proteins, grains, and greens separate, look for a bento-style container divided into wells.While most containers are extremely reasonably priced – $10-15 for a set of seven containers – try to buy the best quality you can afford. Cheaply made, flimsy plastic containers reused from takeout will fall apart, and you’ll need to spend more money, in the long run, replacing them.
- Quality of SealSoupy or saucy meals with a tendency to “slosh” require a container with a tight-fitting seal, unless you’re into your meal spilling all of the inside of your bag or backpack.
Here’s a few of our favorite containers:
A Slow Cooker
While not a necessary item, a slow cooker can help make meal prep even easier – especially as a vegan. Using a slow cooker means you can prepare big batches of grains and dried beans (super frugal!) without having to stand at the stove and keep an eye on it.
Here’s our favorite slow cookers:
Side Note: I live and die by my Instant Pot [review], as the pressure cooking function allows me to cook foods super quickly, and spend even less time prepping. If I could recommend a single kitchen tool, it would be this one.
A Good Quality Knife
You’ll be doing a fair amount of chopping, so it’s helpful to invest in a good chef’s knife to cut down on time and to keep your meal prep safe – a sharp, good-quality knife actually makes it less likely that you’ll injure yourself.
You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on a good-quality knife. Many great knives can be had for relatively little money – $20-$50 will get you a great knife for home cooking.
Here’s our favorite kitchen knives:
Weekday breakfasts are one of the best things to meal prep.
Chances are, you don’t have time to sit down to a big breakfast when you’re headed to work or school, so it’s a good option to have something in the fridge ready to go.
Here’s a few tried and true breakfasts that lend themselves well to meal prep:
- Fresh, frozen, or dried fruit
- Brown sugar & cinnamon
- Peanut butter
5 Day Cooking Directions:
- In a stock pot, bring 6 cups of water to a boil.
- Add 1.5 cups of steel cut oats and a pinch of salt, and reduce the heat to low.
- Let cook, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally until the oats are tender and creamy.
- Divide into containers and top or mix in add-ins of your choice.
- Eat hot or cold.
5 Day Cooking Directions:
- Put 1-2 tablespoons of oil, or a thin layer of cooking spray, into a large frying pan and use your hands to crumble the tofu into the pan.
- Sprinkle with spices and 4 tablespoons of nutritional yeast
- let cook on medium until the tofu is just lightly browned.
- Add veggies and allow to cook until they are soft.
Lunch & Dinner Prepping
My favorite lunches and dinners follow the protein-grain-bean formula.
Mix and match these options for healthy and delicious prepped meals every week.
The perfect high-protein vegan entree! Relatively flavorless on its own, use whatever condiments and sauces you enjoy – barbecue sauce, teryaki, and italian salad dressing are all fabulous options.
What to buy:
- 1 block extra-firm tofu
5 Day Cooking Directions:
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Press your tofu in a tofu press or between two plates lined with paper towels to remove the water, then slice into ½-inch slices.
- Place slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 20-25 minutes.
- Eat hot or cold.
Tempeh has a firm, toothsome texture and pleasing nutty flavor. It’s even more delicious when marinated in your favorite sauce or dressing and grilled to a little char on the barbecue. It’s a filling, satisfying protein, and holds well in stored meals.
What to buy:
- One block tempeh
- Marinade or salad dressing
5 Day Cooking Directions:
- Cut your tempeh into thin slices and place into a bag or container with ½ cup of your marinade or dressing of choice.
- Allow to marinate for at least two hours, but longer marinating will mean more flavor.
- Take the tempeh out and pat dry with a towel, reserving the excess sauce.
- Grill on a barbecue or grill pan until grill marks appear.
- To create a sauce, add the marinade to the pan and cook down until the marinade is slightly thick.
Sloppy Joe Lentils
A tangy, filling, and very cheap lunch option, these lentils are reminiscent of the sloppy joes you might have eaten as a child. These are great for those who might be meal prepping for more than one person, as the recipe can easily be doubled or tripled.
What to buy:
- 1 pound green or brown lentils
- 1 green pepper
- 1 red onion
- 15-ounce can tomato sauce
5 Day Cooking Directions:
- Chop the pepper and onion in some oil or cooking spray for about 6 minutes until soft.
- Add the tomato sauce, ¼ cup of ketchup, one teaspoon of mustard, and salt and pepper to taste, and bring to a boil.
- Simmer for 20 minutes, and add in 2.5 cups of cooked lentils.
- Stir well to coat and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Serve with rice, potatoes, or buns.
Despite the bad reputation they seem to have acquired, carbs are a vitamin- and fiber-rich addition to your prepped meals. Depending on the type, there are certain methods of cooking that will ensure the best possible result.
If you have a slow or pressure cooker, use the settings on the machine for each food.
However, follow these instructions if you don’t have access to one – all you’ll need is a stove or hotplate, or an oven.
- In a large pot, bring 8 cups of water and 1.5 teaspoons salt to a boil.
- Add the rice, stir, and partially cover with a lid.
- Cook on medium-high heat for 30 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and drain the rice in a strainer.
- Return to the pot and cover tightly with a lid.
- Allow the rice to steam in the pot for 20 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
- In a large pot, bring two cups of water or vegetable broth to a boil.
- Add ½ teaspoon of salt and 1 cup rinsed quinoa.
- Put a lid on the pot, lower the heat to a simmer, and allow to cook for 15 minutes.
- Let stand with the lid on for 5 minutes before fluffing.
Baked Sweet Potatoes
- Prick five sweet potatoes two or three times with your fork and place them directly on the oven rack.
- Place a baking sheet lined with foil directly below the potatoes to catch any syrup that drips out.
- Turn the oven on 425 degrees and bake for 45-60 minutes depending on the size of the potatoes.
- Once the potatoes have finished baking, turn it off and keep the oven door closed.
- Let the potatoes sit in the oven for 30 minutes.
- Cut two heads of broccoli into bite-size pieces.
- Put an inch of water into the bottom of a pot and place a steamer basket inside.
- Put the broccoli in the basket and cook with the lid on the pot for four minutes.
- Put the cooked broccoli in a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process.
- Once the broccoli has dried off, toss with garlic powder, sriracha, and salt, or your favorite spices.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Cut one head of cauliflower into florets and toss on a baking sheet with three tablespoons of olive oil, sliced red onion, thyme, and kosher salt.
- Roast, tossing the vegetables occasionally, for 35-40 minutes, until the cauliflower is soft and browned.
- For variations on this recipe, replace the thyme with curry powder and turmeric.
I know there’s always the mantra of “fresh is best,” but hear me out.
Not only are frozen vegetables easy and convenient, but they may also contain more nutrients than fresh, as frozen veggies are flash-frozen after picking. They’re an especially good choice in the winter months, when fresh veggies can be lacking.
Frozen veggies are also extremely affordable – my local supermarket often sells one-pound bags of frozen vegetables for 99 cents. Available in broccoli, green beans, California blend, sauced and non-sauced variety, I often heat up a bag of frozen veggies in the microwave to eat alongside my prep.
Plus, you’re paying for 100% edible food – no trimming, no tossing away stems, just pure fuel.
For especially busy weeks, or when you just want an easy, nutritious side, don’t rule frozen veggies out just because they’re available in the freezer section.
Meal Prep FAQs…
1. I don’t like eating the same thing every day. Can I still meal prep?
Some people (like myself) absolutely adore leftovers, while others get tired of eating the same foods every day.
If you’re one of the latter, try cooking your meals for the week without any spices or seasoning, and use a different flavor every day to keep things different. If you have a meal of tofu, rice, and vegetables, use soy sauce and garlic powder one day, barbecue sauce another day, and buffalo sauce the next.
Alternatively, you could prepare three servings of one meal and two servings of another on your prep day, and alternate each day.
For maximum efficiency, try to center them around the same ingredients – for example, an Indian curry with tempeh and grilled tempeh.
2. What if I don’t want to prep three meals a day?
You certainly don’t have to prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner for every single weekday.
Maybe you enjoy preparing dinner with your family on weeknights, or you have class late in the day and can enjoy a big sit-down breakfast.
For me, breakfast and lunch are meals I usually eat at my desk, while I enjoy winding down at night by cooking a fun new recipe.
I prepare my breakfasts and lunches on the weekend, and cook dinner each evening.
Figure out which meals are more about going through the motions rather than a social or pleasurable experience, and have those ready to go. That way, you only have to focus your energy on the meals you enjoy cooking on the fly.
3. I want to meal prep for weight loss. What should I do?
Meal prep is ideal for those looking to lose weight, as it’s easiest to stay committed by eating pre-portioned meals made from ingredients you control.
Ultimately, weight loss comes down to burning more calories than you consume. Increasing the amount of calories you burn or decreasing the number you consume will result in more aggressive weight loss.
In order to figure out how many calories you need to consume for weight loss, plug your stats into this handy calculator or use one of the formulas below:
Men: BMR = 10 * weight(kg) + 6.25 * height(cm) – 5 * age(y) + 5
Women: BMR = 10 * weight(kg) + 6.25 * height(cm) – 5 * age(y) – 161
The result of this formula shows you your Basal Metabolic Rate, or how many calories you need to maintain your weight. Eating less than your BMR will result in weight loss while eating more will result in weight gain.
Let’s say your BMR is 2,000 calories, so you decide to set your daily calorie intake to 1,500. By creating three meals a day with 500 calories each, you would easily consume 1,500 calories per day, which would result in a one-pound loss per week (500 * 7 days = 3,500 weekly calorie deficit)
Eating much less than your BMR will result in faster weight loss, but remember to consume enough calories to keep you full and satisfied, and to keep your body healthy and functioning well.
You can stretch these calories by including more nutrient-dense, low-calorie vegetables into your meals, so you’re still eating a large volume of food. Don’t shy away from carbs or healthy fats, either – your focus for weight loss should be 100% on the number of calories you’re consuming.
The Goodness of Vegan Meal Prep
Whether you’re preparing your meals to save you time during your busy week, to meet individual fitness or weight loss goals, or simply because you’re tired of having to think about what you’re going to make for lunch every day, your up-front investment will be sure to pay off.
By focusing on fresh, whole foods, you can create delicious, healthy, and affordable meals that are ready to go in your refrigerator every day.
With the use of some simple, easy-to-tweak recipes, a few affordable tools, and a few hours a week, you can eliminate a large chunk of stress from your life and spend more time focusing on the things that you truly enjoy.