The Daily Beet

06 Jun Guest Post by Cathy Fisher from Straight Up Food: Part 2

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If you missed part one of Cathy’s guest post, you can catch it here.

Today Cathy finishes up her thoughts on making the plant-strong life more simple. What are some of the ways you make your plant-strong life more simple? Leave a comment and you will be entered to win a copy of “Engine 2 Kitchen Rescue”!

Create and follow a plan: Plan? Hmpf. If the thought of creating an eating plan or menu doesn’t excite you, know that transitioning to a plant-based diet can be made much easier by doing so. One of my favorite nutrition books, The Pleasure Trap, states the importance of planning very well: “Hunger causes urgency, and urgency demands short-term solutions that compromise long-term values. Plan for success and you will succeed more often.”  Basically, you don’t want to be caught not knowing what you’ll be eating at your next meal. Try keeping a notebook in your kitchen with ideas for your favorite meals and recipes, or create a couple weeks’ worth of menus that you can rotate. You can even eat the same thing on the same day each week to make it really easy. Look through your favorite veg cookbooks and blogs for new meal ideas.

Stock your favorite staples: I always keep things like canned beans and tomatoes, non-dairy milk, whole grains, pasta, and frozen foods on hand to reach for when time is tight. For example, when it’s late and I don’t want to do a lot of preparation, I might just heat up a can of cooked lentils or beans with some onion and garlic and any veggies I have on hand. When my favorite staples are on sale, I stock up, and always try to find the no-salt, no-sugar, no-oil options

Make one-pot or one-dish meals: Preparing everything in just one bowl, pot or skillet makes life so much easier, whether it’s a soup, salad, stew or stir-fry. Jeff Novick, RD, has created some very quick, easy and inexpensive plant-based one-pot meals; check out his recipes here (http://www.drmcdougall.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=7168). I have a favorite one-skillet meal using just mushrooms, kale, yams and a sprig of rosemary here (http://www.straightupfood.com/blog/2012/03/07/rosemary-mushrooms-kale/). I put everything in the pan and 15 minutes later it’s ready. Using slow-cookers to cook beans, grains and stews is also a great one-pot route. For more ideas, Google “vegan one-pot meals” and you will have a plethora of ideas in front of you.

Invest in a few good kitchen tools: Using the right tools, in any effort, can make all the difference in the final product as well as your enjoyment in creating it. My three most-used kitchen tools are: my 8-inch chef’s knife, my stainless steel soup pot, and my little high-speed blender. These items don’t need to be costly, but they should be of good quality. My chef’s knife was under $30, my large 8-qt. soup pot was $50, and my blender $75. I use these three things on a daily basis. Three smaller tools that I’ve found to be very useful are: a good can opener—an old can opener that is difficult to turn is the worst! $10 will get you a dreamy, easy-to-use opener. I also love my small rubber garlic peeler that takes the garlic’s papery outside off with a simple roll, and it’s only $4. And last, my “Y” vegetable peeler, which works wonders on potatoes as well as butternut squash. (All of my most commonly used kitchen tools are listed on my website here http://www.straightupfood.com/blog/my-store/)

Have your favorite dried herbs and spices handy: A simple soup of potatoes and cabbage becomes a lot more interesting with the addition of a little curry powder. Salt-free herb blends (such as an Italian blend of oregano, basil, thyme, etc.) are great to add to soups, salads and veggie burgers. And I always have plenty of my basics on hand, like garlic powder, toasted onion powder, and cumin. If you’ve never visited a spice shop before, treat yourself; you can smell everything before you buy it—big fun! Or at the least, pick up a new blend at your grocery store and give it a test drive. If you love it, keep it in permanent rotation; if you don’t, try something new next time.

I hope a couple of these ideas have resonated with you, and will help make your time in the kitchen even more enjoyable. Please share one of your own favorite “easy” meal preparation tips below.

Cathy Fisher teaches cooking classes at True North Health Center and the McDougall Program in Santa Rosa, California. Visit StraightUpFood.com to view more of Cathy’s healthful plant-based recipes.

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Cathy Fisher
Cathy Fisher

Cathy Fisher teaches cooking classes at True North Health Center and the McDougall Program in Santa Rosa, California. Visit StraightUpFood.com to view more of Cathy’s healthful plant-based recipes.

  • Sharon

    Having staples on hand is key for us. I also plan meals and grocery shop for the week ahead. I may mix the meals up depending on what we’re hungry for, but having a rough plan ensures I have all the ingredients on hand. And this may sound odd, but to keep it simple, I’ve removed all ‘junk’ food except for what is in our meal plan: crackers, tortillas, even vegan cheese. It makes my decision-making much simpler when I’m really hungry and it’s time to start cooking. I don’t have to think, “Mmmm, just a little bit of melted cheese would be good on top of that or a few chips with this won’t hurt.” If those less nutritious things aren’t even an option, our meals stay focused on being plant-based and more nutrient dense.

  • Kelly Brietzke

    I have truly inspired by Cathy in my cooking. Just the name, Straight Up Food, says it all! Especially in the summer when I don’t know what suprise I will find at the farmers’ market or in the produce department, I often now just throw together whatever great veggies I find or that are ready in the garden, steam or saute them and serve over quinoa, grains or pasta! My husband and I love the variety and don’t worry so much about meal planning.

  • Lisa McCann

    I loved the post. I am only 3 months in and the problem I am having iis it seems as though we are repeating just the same few meals all the time. It is easier to cook as it only takes at the most 30 minutes to prepare any of the meals, but just figuring out what to cook takes a while. I need a really good cookbook for this type of eating.

  • thatcrazyvegan

    I don’t worry about meal planning at all because I like to make big pots of food that will last for a few days. My husband and I don’t mind leftovers as long as they taste good, and I find dishes with beans or tomatoes taste better after a day or so in the fridge anyway. My biggest tip would be to keep junk out of the house, if you run home and are very hungry and have junk around you will eat it. So I only keep fruits, and some baked tortilla chips in the cupboard. Another tip is to keep frozen veggies around. When the fresh food is low, I can always grab a bag of frozen kale, peas, and cauliflower out of the freezer and some canned chickpeas and tomatoes out of the cupboard to make a quick chana masala or one of Jeff Novick’s meals.

  • lowitz

    I like to think about my meals as grain (quinoa, rice, kasha, etc.) vegetable and beans…usually mix around different combinations with herbs and it is outstandingly easy and delicious. The other night was black beans, cilantro, roasted corn and avocado over quinoa. Next night was mixed veg stir fry with chick peas over brown rice with basil and mint. Easy and delicious.

  • Joyce

    All great ideas & helpful hints. You’re right, spices add so much to a dish. A change of spice can change the dish totally.

  • http://katesgreatkitchen.blogspot.com Kate

    I have a well-stocked pantry and a little chalk board. Of course I plan my meals out weekly. But the tribe isn’t always savvy of the plan. After years of answering what’s for dinner sometimes 5 or 6 times a day, I hot glued magnets to one of those wood framed school slates for the fridge. On this I listed the day’s menu.

  • http://www.DMacDzigns.com DMc

    Great tips. Thanks for posting. I am on month 2 of plant strong and have been making some one item meals but this little voice in my head, perhaps Mom’s voice, says you need more variety on the plate. Nice to hear Cathy say, that’s not only OK but can be a good thing. Thanks again, DMc

  • Kathy Grant

    Cathy, I love your website and your recipes. I especially like the way a person can add a comment below the recipe to say whether they like it or the way they may have tweaked it. It helps me decide if I might like to try it.

    I like having a meal plan. My only problem is that my husband likes to eat out a lot and that can throw my plan off. Having staples on hand really helps with being able to throw something together at the last minute, especially canned and frozen foods. I love soups. Your idea for the potato and cabbage soup sounds good.

  • Susan Hignight

    I use simple recipes and I try to keep my pantry well stocked so that I can prepare delicious food with little thought. I prepare double batches of dishes and freeze half of it to use later. Right now, I have an E2 lasagna and beans and rice for bean burgers in the freezer now.

  • Peggy

    I completely agree! I have to make something quick and easy for dinner and one skillet/pot dishes are the way to go. Plus, I find a way to add kale to almost everything!!

  • http://www.stephaniemarks-ryan.com Steph Marks

    Preparing ahead of time is what works for us. If I come in and have to select and clean and chop veggies, I’m less likely to make a full on healthy meal. If all of the good stuff is ready to go, I’ll have a meal on the table in no time flat and feel SO good about feeding my body what it wants, needs, and loves.

  • Jackie Smith

    Organization is key! I meal plan, & grocery shop only one day a week (Saturday morning, with a dear friend. We chat & shop at the same time.)

    One of my favorite simple meals is: grain/veg in a bowl, with a tasty sauce over the top. I call it a “rice bowl” when asked what’s for dinner, but really it should be called “clean-out-the-fridge-bowl”, because that’s what it is.

  • http://allofmenow.com Carla

    On incredibly lazy summer days, my kids and I make a veggie and fruit buffet. It’s amazing how much they consume this way. We wash everything down with a big green smoothie!

  • Kyle Lahm

    My standard easy peasy meal, onion, garlic, celery, mushrooms, cannelini beans, can of tomatoes, kale if I have it… Get it stewy, throw over rice or quinoa. Make enough to eat on for several days and I’m good. It’s the planning I seem to drop the ball on, these are great tips, thanks!!!

  • Ramona Kennon

    I like to make a large quantity of of a bean, or lentil main dish that I can then repurposed into soup;taco, burrito, or enchilada filling, or a sandwich spread for lunches during the week. This saves me a lot of time, and makes sure I have a plant strong lunch every day. I will often cook this on Sunday to give myself even more free time.

  • http://veganatcollege.wordpress.com Lauren Stewart

    I always make sure to have instant rice and canned beans, and then bright veggies and lettuce for a BIG salad. I can make meals forever with those staples!

    • Kirsten Daniels

      My must haves are rice and beans as well!

  • Sally D.

    I think that the planning ahead makes all the difference. It is very easy to fall prey to the drive-up window if you are stressed about what you are going to fix when you get home. When you know what you are going to prepare after work or have it cooking in the crockpot, life is easy!

  • joy olivia

    My best tip is like that of everyone else here. (Must mean I’m doing something right?! I like that!)

    I find that washing fruit and veggies as soon as I get home (as well as doing all of my prep work then) is the best route to go. I usually shop for food on the weekends when I have more time so I’m always thankful this prepwork is done when I use my food during the week. For instance, if I’ve bought a bunch of kale at the farmers market, I wash it and prep it by tearing into bite size pieces for salads before I put it away. That way, when I need it, I’m all set.

  • Stan S.

    Simply snack. Baked apples chips sprinkled with cinnamon. They are so yummy and a quick snack on the go. Simply cut the apples into slices using a mandolin. Bake them for two hours on the lowest heat setting. Very Very yummy.

  • Kirsten Daniels

    You bring up two of my FAVORITE cooking points!

    1. Investing in kitchen “weapons of choice!” My husband and I decided to prioritize by picking out some key necessities: knives, a large cast iron pot, a blender, and a grill.

    2. Spices/seasoning on hand: I have my few favorites that I never leave home without…literally! In visiting friends over the weekend, I knew that they were just salt and pepper seasoners, so I brought along the bay leaves, oregano, and cumin just in case!

  • Heidi

    I love my crock pot for easy and tasty meals. I also cook extra all the time, I will make a big batch of rice, lentils, pasta etc and build quick lunches or meals with the already cooked basics.

  • jennika wasilewsky

    I always enjoy reading new tips. We’ve been vegan since Sept. 2011 and I am still learning methods. I watch the Chew and use some of their ideas and they often have tips too. I read everything I can!

  • Karen Harris

    All good, helpful tips! Lack of planning gets me every time! I need to read The Pleasure Trap – so many say they have found it helpful.

  • Kelly

    We’re still working out the details of living plant-strong, but I agree with Cathy that planning ahead is key. We have four kids, ages 5 years down to 3 months, and if we haven’t planned ahead of time, it’s 8:00 by the time dinner is ready (once I get home from work, figure out what to fix, and get it cooked) – and little kids just can’t wait that long. It’s best if we have a recipe set out and my husband can start some of the details before I get home. Even better is if I can find some extra time on the weekend to prepare a few things in advance!

  • karen

    Great advice, thank you!

  • Sheila

    My easiest, fastest and very satisfying meal I have several times a week is taking a can of S&W Chipotle pinto beans [low sodium, non fat and no added sugar] and add several leaves of chiffonade dinosaur kale and heat in a bowl for about 3 minutes in a microwave. Then I pour that over it over left over brown rice and its filling and satisfying.

  • http://www.thehubbabubbachubb.blogger.com Shari

    Watermelon salsa, My favorite part is that you can mix up the ingredients to suit your own taste buds. I used green pepper, red onion, cucumber, and watermelon as my main ingredients but you can use honeydew or pineapple too.

  • Dawn

    I love these tips. My favorite so far is HAVE A PLAN! I had gastric bypass several years ago. When I get busy and don’t have a plan of attack for my next meal, then I either go to far w/o a meal or eat something bad and pay for it. I just did a cleanse/detox program (The Ultimate Reset by Beachbody) and the planning of the meals helped me so much! I never suffered from being not ready for a meal. In addition, it helped me cut out caffeine and all animal products! I feel so amazing. I’m looking forward to being plant strong for the rest of my life!!!

  • http://pinterest.com/jeffhicks Jeff

    Warmed beans and rice topped with chilled tomatoes.

  • Denise

    Great ideas! I try to make meals simple. Keeps me from feeling overwhelmed when I get home from work!

  • Joanne

    Living plant strong is a much simpler life. I find it so easy to fix a quick meal. I always have a pot of Lundberg brown & wild rice in the fridge. I pull that out and add black beans and salsa, and voile’. A variation on that is to put it on flat bread, add whatever you have–I like green olives, tomatoes, and artichoke hearts. I ALWAYS have a large bottle of 3-2-1 dressing on hand and sometimes I add that to the roll up rather than salsa. There is always something I make in a pinch that doesn’t require much time.

  • Kim

    These are great ideas, thank you! I recently joined a CSA, when I get home I wash all of the fresh produce so it’s ready to go when I need it. The box also dictates what my meals will be for the following week. Simple, fresh and delicious…..you can’t go wrong.

  • Jennie

    Thank you so much for the abundant information! I am eager to begin my plant strong lifestyle . I am reading Engine 2 again and this is my week to prepare.
    To good health!

  • http://saltfreevegan.com Christy

    Such great tips!

    Once or twice a week I make beans using my pressure cooker. Not only are they far cheaper than no-salt-added canned beans, but the quantity is enough for meals all week – and I never fear not having something filling and ready to go FAST!

    As a new vegan, I just want to say how inspiring Cathy is – and how kind. I am so thankful for her friendship. :)

  • Cori

    Wow, these are some of the ideas I follow. My only problem is trying to use or have fresh veggies before they go bad. The same day I buy veggies I will cut up or cook (depending on the recipe I have planned) then it’s easier on the week nights. I currently have a problem that if I can’t get out on Sunday to get fresh veggies, I give up on trying to eat plant strong for the week.

  • Caroline

    My favorite is beans, greens, and grains. I pressure cook a big pot of beans at the beginning of the week. I cook a big pot of brown rice in the rice cooker at the beginning of the week. I usually buy fresh kale and steam that in veggie broth and no-salt seasoning most days. I always have frozen greens too in case I run out of fresh. Sometimes I add a zucchini/bell pepper/tomato sauce/onion medley with Italian seasoning. Depending on the time I may roast some veggies (no oil, sprayed with water and seasonings) to throw in (cauliflower, eggplant, mushrooms are my faves).

  • Tanya Mack

    These articles really take the guess-work out of putting a whole-foods meal on the table every single night. Cathy cuts through the illusions many people have about healthy food being for the elite, or the wealthy only. I’m a new member to this population of vegan eaters, and it’s basic information like this that really paves the way.

  • Lynnette

    I always make extra brown rice to have some on hand for a quick meal. It is easy to add fresh or frozen veggies and beans to this. Or even just brown rice with some salsa is filling and good in a pinch.

  • Shawna

    My favorite easy meal tip is to wash and prepare your produce as soon as you bring it home. If you have everything ready to go, it is easy to grab as a raw snack or throw together a simple salad, stir fry, soup or stew. I mix random grains, greens, and beans together and it always comes out WONDERFUL. You just can’t make a bad dish with fresh fruits and veggies.

  • Mary Arnquist

    I cut up veggies in the morning – red peppers, carrots, celery, radishes, cucumber – to snack on during the day!

  • http://pinterest sherilyn knauer

    Thanks-good tips for someone like me struggling to get started and stay on track.

  • Barbara

    When I’m famished after a long day and don’t feel like even heating something up, I bring out a couple slices of Ezekial bread, spread kale butter on one side and hummus on the other and throw it together. If I want to get more into my sandwich, I add fresh tomatoes, sprouts, whatever. The hummus and kale butter really make the sandwich!

    • Martha

      Tell me about the kale butter!

      • Cathy

        The recipe for Kale Butter is on p.237 of the Engine 2 Diet book.

  • Karen

    I, too, cook a big batch of brown rice in my rice cooker and also cook a big pot of beans in the crock pot (or pressure cooker) so I have them on hand and ready when I’m in a hurry. We are empty nesters and my husband travels for work frequently so I freeze meal sized portions in ziplock quart size freezer bags so I can pull out what I need and pop it in the microwave to quickly heat. I find it’s a lot less expensive than quick cooking brown rice and canned beans, although I do keep those items on hand for when I’m out of the freezer rice and beans.

  • Mitzi

    I always plan 3-4 entrees with 2 kinds of beans (one fast cooking like split peas, frozen limas or soybeans, or lentils; and one soak-and-slow-cook-on Saturday bean). The grain, salad, and/or soup vary by season. In my climate, I do not want to heat up the house from April to November, so the long-cooking soups and casserole dishes like burritos and vegan veggie lasagna get replaced by pasta salads, bean salads, and wraps in the summer. For most of these, cooking a few big dishes on the week-end can get us halfway through the week. And the leftover beans and unused veggies go into an end-of-week soup in cool weather, a “stir-fry” (more a braise) in hot weather. Almost anything can be braised in a non-dairy-based curry sauce or a tomato sauce and served over rice or barley. Once the routine is set, it clicks right along. Get a good comprehensive cookbook, set up a rotation of recipes, stock the pantry and spice rack, and get a fridge with big veggie drawers.

  • Traci

    Lately my favorite thing to do is just make a big pot of soup out of whatever I find at the farmer’s market. I’m always looking for new ideas and this article has definitely got me thinking. Thanks!

  • Starr

    I never leave the house without a healthy snack or two in my bag. The items readily available at corner stores are just not on my eating plan. A small container of home made, oil-free hummus, carrot sticks and an apple can save the day.

  • egm

    I find that if I have a go-to recipe that I know is quick and if I know I have those ingredients in the house, I won’t get thrown for a loop when I have a late day at work. I also love it when there are dinner leftovers that become lunch the next day. Thanks for sharing your recipes!

  • Candy Benoit

    I recently discovered Cathy’s website and have loved all the information and the recipes I have found there. I found her because of her guest posts to Engine 2 so thanks so much! I have also passed her website along to several friends. Now … tell me I have won … please????

  • http://bentoriffic.wordpress.com Sarah Felder

    I love the suggestions. We converted our whole family in January so we’re still learning the tricks of making plant-based diets simple. I love Happy Herbivore (Lindsay Nixon’s) recipes b/c they are simple. I cut up lots of vegetables and keep small containers of hummus handy for my little kids. I also try to make a big quinoa or grain salad early in the week in case we need something in a pinch.

  • Martha

    My slow cooker is running often! I buy dry beans in the varieties I use a lot. Before I go to bed, I put the washed beans (usually about 3 cups) and water in the pot, turn it on low and go to bed. In the morning – nice soft beans! I found some ZipLoc containers at the local grocery store that hold 14 oz. – the size of regular cans! I fill these with the beans, label with masking tape and pop in the freezer. It’s great to have beans on hand, salt-free and inexpensive.

  • Christine

    I could repeat what everyone else has already said….
    What saves me almost every time is having some brown rice always made and I also make big batches of beans in my slow cooker and then freeze them in the quantity of one can of beans.

  • Jodie Hayward

    I love Cathy’s recipes! I have her potato salad packed in my lunch bag right now!

  • Terri Marshall

    I’m all about keeping it simple. In a typical week I start by making a soup to keep in the fridge (enough for a week) and another item like veg lasagna or rice & lentil burgers that I can grab all week. For the rest of my meals I simply pick a starch and veggie to steam. So through the week my meals take under 15 min to prepare (other than initially prepping soup & veg burgers).

  • G G

    Yeah I like to plan ahead also, I make sure I have the BBQ coal in so my BBQ is always ready to light up and that I have some rump steaks in the fridge at all times as my kids just love them! When it’s rainy and I can’t BBQ its so easy to just take one out of the fridge and fry it in a pan with some butter and serve with some French fries. Thanks for the links to your website I will be trying out some of those recipes soon, yum!