Vegan meal planning is not sexy. it’s what is known as a thankless task. A behind the scenes chore to keep everything running smoothly with zero bragging rights. Like shaving your toes or unblocking the plughole, It’s a crappy job but someones got to do it.
Compared to everything else that needs to happen to get a meal on the table seven nights a week meal planning seems like the one step you could skip, but it’s not. I don’t know anyone in real life that produces home cooked meals, on budget with minimal stress without having some semblance of a plan.
If you’re new to meal planning initially it can seem like a lot of work. As with anything the more you do it the better you get. I’ve done it now for so long that its second nature and is largely an unconscious process.
Every Friday evening as I sit down with pen poised all the bits and bobs of inspiration I’ve been exposed to throughout the week start to take shape. Soon enough I’ll have a rough idea of what we’ll be eating and when. It doesn’t take much effort then to transform this plan into a shopping list and with that I’m away.
This all sounds good in theory but what if you literally have no clue where to start. These 5 tips will have you planning like a pro in no time.
1. Recognise inspiration when it strikes
Flicking through magazines, chatting to colleagues about what they ate over the weekend and checking Instagram; meal inspiration is everywhere. The real trick is teaching your brain to recognise it and file it safely away for later. The more you acknowledge these little gems of inspiration the more attuned you’ll become to seeing them all around you. Watching cookery shows and YouTube is bound to get the ideas flowing but it’s not always practical. This is where gathering information, throughout the week as you go about your daily routine is invaluable.
2. Be realistic
Meal planning only works if it takes into account your schedule, eating habits and the time you have available. Anyone can craft the perfect meal plan but if it’s not achievable for you after a hard day at work it’s essentially useless. Take a realistic look at the coming week, which nights of the week do you have more time to cook and when do you need something ready asap. Will you be eating out, eating alone or entertaining? Knowing as much of this in advance gives structure to your week and allows you to make informed choices rather than react in the moment.
Where can you find time you otherwise thought you didn’t have. Can you prep in the morning so that a slow cooker stew is ready and waiting when you get home. Instead of vegging (pun intended) in front of the tv could you stream your favourite show to your Ipad and watch it in the kitchen while prepping tomorrows lunch.
3. Know what you have to work with
The key to good planning begins with checking what you have to hand. Keeping your fridge, freezer and cupboards in order is essential to allowing for quick and accurate checking of ingredients. It suits us to shop very specifically based on the meals we’re having each week. This means that there is rarely any waste or fresh food leftover unless it was on special offer or bought in bulk the previous week. This works on a psychological level as it forces us to stick to our routine and go out shopping even if we don’t feel like it.
There will be certain items such as herbs, spices, bulk grains and beans that carry over week after week. Knowing what you have in stock further helps you narrow down if to try this new recipe or that. Do you really need to buy three new spices for recipe A when you already have everything you need for recipe B? If you do buy them how else will you use them. Obscure ingredients might seem exciting but if you wont use them in anything else are they really worth the money?
4. Write it all down
Make lists for everything, you can never have too many lists. Stop kidding yourself you’ll remember and write it down. Everything from your meal ideas, recipes you want to try, your weekly schedule, whats in your spice rack and finally your shopping list. I can’t emphasise this enough, it needs to be in black and white. Not only are you much less likely to forget anything but taking this one small action means you’re invested.
It may sound silly but having your meal plan and shopping list written out makes it official, its like a mini contract you’ll feel less likely to break. Our meal plan is printed and takes pride of place on a noticeboard beside the kitchen door. There’s no getting away from it. It’s there for all to see and if I deviate from it I feel uncomfortable each time it catches my eye and so I get back on track.
5. Dont be sabotaged by spontaneity
There is one argument I hear time and again, “but how could I possibly know what I’ll be hungry for by the end of the week?” I get it, I really do, you’re a free spirit, you can do as you please. Then answer me this, how often do you truly eat whatever your heart desires without any prior thought? And if you really do eat like that are you not totally fed up of shopping every single day of the week just to fulfill your every whim? And how’s that working out for your budget? I thought as much.
I too was once young and spontaneous. Plans change, invitations to eat out happen and entire box sets of breaking bad are not going to binge watch themselves. The beauty of truly good meal planning is that it does allow flexibility. It forces you to be more organised. It frees you from endless procrastination, not only in the supermarket aisles but from standing in front of the fridge wondering what to do with a bag of wilted kale and a pickled walnut. I’d argue that it also frees up money you ‘ve been wasting on single item purchases, wasted food and spur of the moment bargains you bought when you were too hungry to know better.
I hope these tips will encourage you to try meal planning for yourself. Download my free handy planning template here to help get you started. Let me know in the comments below how it’s working out for you and share with me a few planning tips of your own.