Having to decide what to eat, for every meal, every day, and then having to prepare those meals, can feel like quite a grind. Planning vegan meals and spending time in the kitchen can be fun and exciting when we have the time and energy, but that isn’t always the case. Here are some tips that can help keep your kitchen efficient without having to sacrifice the joy of eating a variety of healthy and delicious meals:
Roast vegetables ahead of time to have on hand for the week.
If you’re going to have your oven on anyway, you may as well roast different kinds of vegetables in bulk. You’ll save on time and energy in the long run, and you’ll have healthy, delicious options for lunches and dinners throughout the week without any extra effort. Store roasted vegetables in the fridge and add them to salads, grain bowls, soups, smoothies, pasta dishes, or whatever else you’re in the mood for.
Roast nuts and seeds at home.
While the oven’s hot, throw some raw nuts and seeds in there well with a bit of oil. Make sure to check them frequently, giving them a quick shake–they can go from perfectly-roasted to burnt in the blink of an eye. Add some salt, or the seasoning of your choice, and store them in a sealed container. They’re great for a quick snack, or to add to things like salads, noodle dishes, or stir fries–while they last! Plus, roasting nuts and seeds at home is much more cost effective than buying them at the store!
Make a batch of sauce or dressing for the week.
Nothing takes a quick meal from boring to amazing like a good sauce. Try something tahini-based, miso-based, or puree silken tofu with herbs and citrus. Sauces are quick to make, and having a jar in your fridge can simplify meal decisions. It’s especially helpful to make lunch seem indulgent even though you don’t have as much time to prep for that time of day. Sauces can be used as dips for fresh veggies, or they can be poured over pretty much anything, like a salad, a grain bowl, or a plate of roasted vegetables.
Cook grains and beans in large batches.
If you’re making a pot of rice, make lots. The same goes for any type of grain or bean. This is building on the previous points, and makes having quick, satisfying meals so simple. Leftover grains and beans can be used as the base for many easy meals. Try throwing them into soups, making quick stir fries, heating them up with some vegetables and sauce and throwing it all into a tortilla, or using them to form the base of a quick and delicious grain bowl.
Keep a well-stocked pantry.
Build up a well-stocked pantry over time, and you won’t have to run out to pick up small items when you’re feeling creative in the kitchen. It works the other way around, too. Lacking inspiration? Browse through your pantry and search online for interesting recipes that include random ingredients.
Chop up fruit and vegetables ahead of time.
If you open your fridge and see fruit and vegetables already prepped, they become a much more appealing snack than having to do all of the work when you’re hungry. It also saves a lot of time prepping to cook dinner when all you have to do is throw most of your ingredients straight from the fridge into a pot or a frying pan.
Have canned and jarred ingredients on hand for quick and easy additions.
Beans. Artichokes. Roasted red pepper. Shredded celeriac. Different kinds of olives and pickles. You don’t have to cook or prep everything from scratch. It’s nice to have canned and jarred items in your pantry, and it can inspire some kitchen creativity. Try artichokes in your salad, shredded celeriac in your soup, or roasted red peppers in your pasta sauce. Olives chopped up with fresh herbs and lemon zest make an amazing topping for roasted vegetables or salads. Canned beans and lentils are a great go-to when you don’t have time to pre-soak or cook them before making your meal. Get adventurous and grab something off the shelf that you’ve never cooked with before.
Become a leftover master.
Cook with leftovers in mind. Some dishes are even better the next day, while others need to be revamped to be appealing. If you have veggie burgers one night, try crumbling the leftover patties into fried rice the next night. If you have baked beans one night, make a layer dip the next night by mashing and refrying them. If you plan ahead with your leftovers in mind, you tackle more than one meal with each idea; it’s a lot less effort in the long run. And don’t forget the bonus points for avoiding food waste.
Don’t reinvent the wheel.
Sometimes, people spend more time trying to figure out what to cook than they do actually cooking. We’ve all been there. If you are new to cooking vegan, you might not feel like you have a solid repertoire of dinner ideas in your head yet. The good news is that you can still use most of your favourite non-vegan recipes–just tweak them. This will get easier with time as you learn tricks for replacements, but it’s easy to look up suggestions online. Recreating old favourites with a vegan spin can be pretty simple with all of the faux meats and dairy-free items available in stores. It can also be a fun challenge, and you might just find that your experiments turn out even better than the original dishes.
Find products you love.
Speaking of all of those items available in grocery stores: you don’t always have to make everything from scratch. When you want to, it can be really fun, but there are also so many convenience items to choose from for when you don’t have the time or aren’t in the mood for a greater effort. There are pre-made veggie burgers, vegan cheeses, sauces, desserts, faux meats, non-dairy butters and yogurts, falafel, pre-marinated tofu, and so many other great vegan products. Take advantage of the ever-growing selection of vegan choices.
Borrow vegan cookbooks from the library, and follow vegan social media accounts for inspiration and tips.
There are so many ways to keep inspiration flowing, without having to spend extra money. Keep a stash of recipes that catch your eye. Screenshot things from your phone or take photos of your favourites in cookbooks, and then save them into a folder. On those days when you can’t figure out when you want to cook, browsing through the recipes you’ve saved is great inspiration. It’s great to stumble upon new favourites that become a part of your regular rotation.
You might find some tired-looking produce in your fridge when it’s time for your next trip to the grocery store. Throwing it all into soup is a great way to use it up and end up with a delicious meal. And this goes for some fruits, too–for example, apples and pears go nicely in a squash-based soup. Chop up the veggies you have on-hand, and throw them in a pot with some stock. Add coconut milk, cilantro, and lime one week; salsa and black beans the next. Puree it, or not. Add grains, or not. Have some nice bread on the side. It’s a really simple meal that comes together quickly, uses up leftover vegetables from your fridge, and is very easy to customize.
Have some useful appliances.
There are a lot of kitchen gadgets out there, and by no means do you need all of them. However, having a few good ones can make a huge difference. Think about the kitchen tasks that end up taking you the most time, and whether or not it would be worth it to have a tool to do the job for you. There are some staples. A good food processor with a grating accessory is a boon to a vegan kitchen. If you love smoothies and know you’ll make them often, then it’ll be worth it to have a high-power blender. If you find yourself making a mess a couple of times a week, cursing while you pour pots of soup into your blender, then you might want to consider an immersion blender. You don’t need every shiny new thing that appears on the market, but some things are definitely worth all of the hype.
As you can see, your kitchen does not have to be boring to be efficient. Planning ahead, stocking up on staples, and keeping your eyes out for inspiration can help to make cooking fun. You’re on your way to making meal time feel like less of a chore, even on the busiest of days.