Meal planning can be tough, especially with our busy lives. Everyone has more on their plate these days. Maintaining a plant-based lifestyle can be even easier than the standard American diet. A little planning is all that it requires. I know what we like to eat, how many times a week I might need rice, or baked potatoes for a meal, and other ingredients integral in building the meals that we love. So Sunday afternoon I begin my bulk ingredient prep for the week. Sometimes I make entire recipes, other times I just prep the raw ingredients. Usually a little of both.
I find that beans, grains and potatoes take the most amount of time to make from scratch. These are the things I usually focus on. Getting the ingredients that take 30 minutes or more, out of the way on Sunday, makes meal prep the rest of the week go so much faster! Most of the meals I make during the week take 15 minutes or less, start to finish.
If I am prepping beans this week, I will soak them the night before so they are ready to cook the next day. I love a variety of beans. I tend to rotate through what I make each week. I make a big batch, stored in small containers in my freezer. I can use them in soups, tacos or on salads once thawed. I also use beans in building canning jar lunches for my husband to take to work. So I may set aside some for that purpose as well. I store the beans in their plain cooked state, free of seasonings, so I can customize them later for whatever dish they will grace. Dry beans are so inexpensive and the hardest part about cooking them is remembering to soak them the night before!
I also cook up a batch of brown rice in my rice cooker, usually 4 cups of brown rice and 7 1/2 cups of water. This gives me rice for stir fry, curries, burritos, breakfast porridge’s and layering in the canning jar lunches I make. Brown rice can be frozen in zipper bags or in containers, or stored in the refrigerator for a few days. You can do the same with quinoa, farro, barley and other whole grains. It’s nice to know that I have something ready to reheat and eat on days when life gets busy and I don’t have time.
I like to make potatoes in a big batch too. Why heat up the oven for a couple of potatoes? I bake a big batch on a cookie sheet. Sometimes a variety of red, yukon gold, russet and sweet potatoes. Baking them in their whole state makes for a versatile ingredient. I can slice them or dice them, cut into spears for baked fries, or even mash them with the skins on. The key to easy slicing is to chill them after baking. Jeff Novick, RD taught me that trick! I often keep a bowl of cooked whole potatoes in the refrigerator, just in case I need a few in a pinch for a meal.
We love having hot cereal for breakfast, we also wake up before 5am everyday. So making a big batch of oatmeal, 10 grain cereal or porridge divided up in single servings makes a quick reheat. Or you can save some room in the container for adding fresh/frozen fruit or raisins and you have a great breakfast to go.
I also dice up melons, carrots, celery and other produce to make it easy to grab as a snack and store them in the refrigerator in containers. I find as long as I have something easily accessible, I’ll grab that instead of something more calorie dense, like a handful of nuts. I keep a big bowl of apples, oranges and bananas on the table too. Always have a healthy snack available!
Some of my favorite grab and go ideas can be built in a pint or quart canning jar, often while I am packaging the bulk ingredients for the freezer. I use quart jars for salads and pints for meals or breakfast. I like using wide mouth canning jars for storing food in the refrigerator. They stack nicely, don’t retain odors and clean up well.
Some of the meals I like to make in jars:
- Quinoa, black beans and shredded kale
- Brown rice, pinto beans, greens and salsa
- Barley, diced tomatoes, cucumbers, onions
- Oatmeal, frozen berries, flax meal mixed with cinnamon
- Fat-free dressing, sliced mushrooms, baby spinach, sliced tomatoes, diced onions
Have fun with the idea and just remember to build your jar with the wet ingredients on the bottom. When cooking in bulk, make what works for you. Think about what you cook the most. Whether it’s Raise the Roof Lasagna or 10 cups of brown rice.