If you google "meal planning for beginners" or "meal planning for vegans", you'll find a plethora of YouTube videos and planning sheets available to help with this. While we are sure that many of them will work just fine for most, we'd like to propose an alternative method.
One that I haven't seen anywhere on the internet!
It provides a completely flexible way to meal-plan and ensures that if you follow each step precisely, you'll always know what you are cooking with minimal effort. Sounds good?
This method was honestly so helpful for me when I went vegan way back in 2009. I came up with this method and then used it consistently for about two years, until I really knew my way around a vegan kitchen. I do often revert back to it when I feel like my diet needs a bit of kick in the butt, if I am looking to get healthier or I have a cookbook that needs to be discovered or rediscovered. I love this method because:
- it helped me discover new recipes from my own cookbooks and online;
- it prevented food waste;
- it helped me to think ahead for the next day (no getting home from work and realizing I needed a batch of cooked kidney beans with only dry in the house);
- my shopping list was right there and ready to go;
- I never needed to do any last minute shopping throughout the week;
- once you have practiced this approach to meal planning a couple of times, it becomes so simple you can do it while listening to podcasts, your favorite audiobook or with some fun TV in the background!
It's worth noting that this method is not for people who want to prepare all their food for the week on Sunday afternoon. It's for people who don’t mind doing some cooking during the week and for those who want lots of variety in their diet.
Let’s get started!
Get your printable Weekly Vegan Meal Planner
When to do your meal planning
You'll want to have this ready and completed before you go shopping. If you do your weekly groceries on a Saturday morning, then your planning will be no later than Friday night. Set aside 30 minutes in your schedule for Friday so you are ready to go on Saturday morning to the supermarket or farmer’s market.
Set up your template
You can use a scrap piece of paper or you can download the printable we have available for you. Get your cookbooks or log in to your Pinterest board of recipes you want to try. Divide up your paper as shown below (I use a pencil and eraser as I find I usually change my mind a lot!):
Take note of what's about to run out
Add any pantry staples that are running low or already run out to the shopping list section, on the right hand side of your list. I collect items that need to be put on the list over the week by adding them to a list on my fridge. If you are not in the habit of doing this, now is a good time to start. Get yourself set up for next week’s meal planning by adding a sticky note to the fridge, asking your Google, Siri or Alexa home assistant to add it to a list, or get a whiteboard to stick directly on to your refrigerator. Right now, as it is your first time using this approach, scan your pantry for items that are nearly run out and add those to your list on the right hand side of our template.
Prevent food waste. What needs to be eaten?
Before you start planning, have a look in your refrigerator and fruit bowl. Do you have some cilantro that is starting to wilt? What about some potatoes that are starting to sprout? Do a little assessment of all the perishable items that should be used. Think about what you could create with these items. Have you got half a block of tofu sitting in a bowl of water? A simple answer would be to make a tofu scramble but if you are stuck for inspiration then simply search for “tofu vegan recipe” online and you will find a list. Many recipe books also index based on ingredients. If you look up tofu, you will find many recipes using this ingredient. Once you've found a recipe you like, look through the ingredients and add any that are missing to your shopping list, and decide which meal you will use this for. Do this for all of the items that need to be used up. Don’t forget to include the name of the cookbook and the page number of the recipe next to the day where you have written the name of the dish!
Consider your household size
If you are cooking for yourself and most recipes serve 4 people, ask yourself how much you like to eat the same meals a few times. As you can see in the example below, we have no problem eating the same thing several days in a row.
If you are fine with leftovers then go ahead and cook the full four servings. If you are a family of 4, then you might like to double the recipe so you'll have leftovers for lunch the next day.
Upcoming dining engagements for the week?
t’s likely you will not be cooking every meal of the week. Do you have a lunch date on Wednesday? Perhaps a meal out with friends on Friday? Add those in the spaces next to the day and meal, as demonstrated by the pink highlight in the example above.
Start with breakfast
How will you attack breakfast each day? Oatmeal? Smoothie? Burrito? First, choose your recipes from your cookbook or an online resource, then jot down the name of the recipe and the name of the cookbook it came from (don't forget the page number!) or online ressource, and pencil this in for each day you intend to eat it. This allows you to find the recipe very easily. Go through the ingredients list for the breakfast recipe and add any ingredients you will need for this recipe to the shopping list on the right side of your paper. See below:
Move on to lunch & dinner
Go back to exploring your cookbooks or online recipes. Once you have found a recipe you like, add the ingredients that you need to your shopping list and then add the dish to when you want to cook it. It's very likely that you will have several ingredients that will require the same ingredient. I like to use tally marks to keep a record of the quantity of each item I will need. Again, don’t forget to add the name of the cookbook and the page number! If you have found recipes online, try to bookmark them in a folder called ‘This week’s recipes’ if you are unable to print the recipes out.
Plan for snacks
Now you're pretty much done. You just need to plan for snacks How many do you think you’ll need? Will you make recipes for snacks? Perhaps some muffins, energy balls etc . Find a recipe or two and add them to the snack section, and all the ingredients to the shopping list.
Think about cooking ahead
Now that your meal-planning sheet is done, review all of the recipes for the week. Is there any prep you can be doing the night before that will make things a bit easier when it comes to cooking? For example, if you have two nights with rice in a row, then make double on the first night. Or if a recipe calls for cooked lentils on Tuesday, then you might want to make them on Monday. I will often write down a note for Monday to cook those lentils so I don’t forget.
Now you have everything you need to go shopping. I like to cross off the items as I put things in my cart so I don’t forget anything.
Unpack and prep
As you are unpacking your groceries, put aside anything that you can prep to ensure that it stays fresh longer, or more attractive to snack on. For example, if you have carrot sticks and hummus as part of your snack, a good idea would be to chop up any carrots and store them in a jar to keep them fresh.
You are done!
Hopefully you will have a week of planned meals that are as exciting as you’d like them to be, and will require few (if any!) extra trips to the store.
If you like it, PIN it!
We'd love to hear from you! Do you have any questions? Ideas? What do you think of this guide? We hope you give it a try and let us know what you think!