Here's how to make vegetarian-based meal planning easier than ever.

By Isadora Baum
April 22, 2021
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It's hard enough making sure you always have healthy, filling meals and snacks on hand, but when you throw in any restrictive diet it becomes even more challenging.

While plant-based eating isn't as restrictive as other diets like keto or veganism, it can still be tricky to focus the majority of snacks and meals around plant-based sources. After all, there are so many readily-available animal sources—meat, fish, eggs, and dairy—for our protein and essential nutrients at grocery stores and restaurants.

Plus, between work and social engagements, you may find yourself short on time. That makes it even more difficult to cook a meal from scratch or grab something nutritious while on the go. So, what's the solution?

Make meal prepping your greatest tool.

Here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind that will make your week's meal planning a breeze. Set aside one—or two if you can—days in the week to prep everything you need. These simple, effective, dietitian-approved shortcuts will save you time in the kitchen while alleviating plant-based meal prep stress.

Prep Ahead for a Stir Fry

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While stir fry noodles cook quickly, the other steps in building a delicious homemade stir fry may take longer than you'd think.

"Over the weekend, chop your veggies in advance. Then they just need to be sautéed before cubing tofu to be marinated in your stir fry sauce," says Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN. Taking time to chop and cut ingredients when you can—not just when you need to—makes your tofu or veggie stir fry come together with quickness and ease. And that combination makes this a perfect option for any night where you've had a long day at work and just want to veg out and relax. Plus, stir fries last well as leftovers or can be repurposed into other options, like a nice Veggie Eggy Scramble.

Cook Grains in Advance for Easy Lunches

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Quinoa, rice, and farro can take some time to cook, but they're great for elevating the satisfaction factor of a lunchtime salad or as the star of a grain bowl complemented by tasty plant proteins.

"Whether over the stove or in a pressure cooker, prep 1-2 servings over the weekend to easily pair with fresh veggies, a shelf-stable protein like beans, and your favorite dressing," Jones says. Then you've got grains ready for easy side dishes, grain bowls, and salads where they'll add nutritional value, texture, and flavor.

Make Bean Burgers or Sliders in Bulk

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"Bean or lentil burgers are satiating due to their protein and fiber content, and can be delicious if you add the right seasonings and other ingredients to firm them up," Jones says.

You can make simple bean sliders in your food processor and then bake them in the oven at once to reduce the chances of making a mess. "Eat some with normal buns—or make sweet potato toast in your toaster—and then freeze the rest for when you don't have the time to prep," Jones suggests.

Make Overnight Oats...Over Night

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Meal prepping breakfast in advance can provide a stress-free start to your day, and overnight oats can help! You can prepare them in bulk—so you have some for the whole week—or as single servings the night before so that your breakfast is ready come morning.

Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club, provides an easy example of a delicious morning meal made with oats. "In a jar, mix equal parts of 1/3 cup rolled oats, plant-based yogurt, and a dairy-free milk alternative such as oat, almond, cashew, or coconut milk. Next, stir in 2 tablespoons of plant-based protein powder, 2 teaspoons of chia seeds, and 1/2 to 1 cup of fruit. You'll have a protein and fiber packed grab-and-go meal to keep you full all morning," Harris-Pincus says.

For several servings at a time, make a larger batch of the oat mixture to just scoop and add fruit to when you're ready for the most important meal of the day.

Prepare Mason Jar Salads for Lunchtime

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Mason jars are excellent meal prep tools for prepared salads. You can compile ingredients in them ahead of time by layering and storing them in the fridge. And the salads you can make with them are mess-free, great for picnics, and visually stunning, too!

Make Mason jar salads that are plant-based with beans and grains or other protein sources like edamame, tofu, nuts, and seeds. Keep the ingredients ready in the jar and then just add dressing when you're about to eat to, not before. No one likes a soggy salad, after all.

"Meal prepping salads is tricky, but a large 32-ounce jar is an ideal vessel in which to keep them fresh," Harris-Pincus says. Fill the bottom of the jar with beans and cooked whole grains such as quinoa, sorghum, farro, or whole-wheat couscous. Then add toppings like nuts, seeds, edamame, plant proteins, extra veggies, and fresh or dried fruit if desired. Stuff the rest of the jar with your favorite greens: arugula, romaine, spring mix, or spinach. Then screw on the lid! When you're ready to serve, pour in the dressing and give the jar a good shake. It's a quick, easy lunch option you can mix and match so that you don't even have to have the same salad everyday if you like variety.

Chop Fruits and Veggies in Advance to Store in Fridge

Credit: Photo: Jennifer Causey

Save time by cutting up your fruits and veggies and stashing them in containers in the fridge. "Cut your fruit and veggies to pair with sweet or savory bean-based dips or snacks," Harris-Pincus says. "Adequate fruits and veggies are a must for a balanced plant-based diet, and we all know that pre-cut produce is more likely to get eaten."

Keep your favorite produce on hand like apples, pineapple, baby carrots, celery, cucumbers, peppers, jicama, and more. Pair them with hummus, Black Bean Dip, Tabbouleh with Avocado, eggplant dip, and more. Or add them to salads, use them for smoothies, throw some in grain bowls and taco shells, or just nosh on them plain. You can even turn them into dessert.

"For dessert, dip presliced apples into chocolate hummus or a bean-based 'cookie dough' dip," Harris-Pincus suggests.