Meal prep sounds great in theory—until you realize you didn’t buy everything you needed at the grocery store, you check the clock and realize you’ve spent your entire day in the kitchen, or you microwave the dish you made two days ago and are disappointed with how blah it tastes. When you’re a vegetarian or incorporating veg-only meals into your week, meal prep can cause even more headaches. How are you supposed to keep produce fresh all week long? How come the meatless options at your grocery store are lacking? And why does it seem like plant-based foods are always so pricey?
More and more people are adopting plant-based diets these days, whether they’re vegetarian—opting to eat eggs, cheese, milk, and honey, but no meat, fish, or poultry for example—or vegan—meaning they choose to forgo all animal products according to Michelle Smith, a registered dietitian and integrative health coach who follows a vegan lifestyle.
In fact, Baum+Whiteman, international food and restaurant consultants, predicted plant-based foods would be the top food trend of 2018. The Vegetarian Resource Group estimates that there are about eight million Americans who follow a vegetarian diet. In a Harris Poll the group conducted, 8 percent of participants said they eat one meatless meal a week, while 20 percent said they stick to a vegetarian meal plan about half the time, give or take.
It’s no wonder then that Meatless Mondays are still so popular. The Meatless Monday movement was started in 2003 by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The goal was to help Americans reduce their intake of saturated fat (which we get get almost solely from animal products) by going meatless just once a week. Research from Johns Hopkins found that because Monday is thought of as the beginning of the week, it would be the perfect day to convince people to make healthier choices. And there is a huge supportive community around this campaign—do a search for #MeatlessMondays on Facebook or Instagram and you’ll find plenty of Meatless Monday groups and vegetarian meal inspiration. “Meatless Monday is how I got started,” says Smith. “It’s a really great way to dip your toe into the pond of a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.”
There are a few reasons why so many are turning to vegetarianism and veganism, but one the biggest is the idea that cutting out meat is healthier. And there’s definitely something to that. In 2015, the World Health Organization labeled processed meat and red meat as carcinogens since both types of meat have a strong correlation with certain cancers. Whether you want to incorporate more vegetarian meals into your life or you’re already a vegetarian full time, there are steps you can take to make meal prep easier. Here are vegetarian meal prep ideas to get you started.
10 Easy Vegetarian Meal Prep Tips That’ll Keep You Full All Week
The experts share their best tips so easy vegetarian meal prep can become a reality for you.
1. Formulate your plant-powered plan of attack.
“Personally, I love a great deal,” says Smith, who suggests looking at your local grocery store’s sales flyer and using that to determine what you’ll buy for the week. Once you narrow down your shopping list, find recipes that include these ingredients so that you’re not wandering around the supermarket aimlessly.
2. Cut corners with healthy prepared foods.
“Prepared foods will make your life easier,” says Smith. She recommends stocking your fridge with prepared hummus and salsa to spice up vegetarian meals with minimal effort.
3. Shop strategically.
Fresh produce is delicious, but it can spoil quickly. Plus, all that chopping you’ll have to do eats up time, especially if you’re a beginner in the kitchen. “When you’re just getting started, buy them frozen while you learn the ropes,” says Smith of fruits and veggies. Lauren Lobley, vegetarian chef and author of The Accidental Paleo, suggests looking for pre-cut veggies (such as zoodles) to cut down on your meal prep time.
4. Buy in bulk.
“One of the best cost-effective ingredients [is] canned beans, and you can even find organic ones,” says Melissa Eboli, certified nutritional chef and certified nutrition and wellness counselor. One struggle that vegetarians often face is getting enough protein, says Eboli, and eating beans is an easy way to bump up your intake (a half-cup serving of black beans has six grams of protein). You can even find canned beans in bulk at stores like Costco, says Smith. Eboli says you can throw beans into plenty of high-yielding vegetarian recipes, including salads and chilies.
5. Don’t procrastinate on your prep.
“Clean your produce immediately, chop everything up, and store it properly,” says Smith. “For me, that includes lettuce and cucumbers. That way I have no excuses when it’s time for lunch. My salad is ready to go.”
6. Toss whatever you have into a bowl.
Lobley says that when she first went vegetarian, she used to throw together salads using anything she had on hand. “My dinner most nights used to be salads full of legumes, quinoa, avocado, olives, and olive oil—basically anything I could find in my fridge,” she says. Have quinoa laying around? It only takes 15 minutes to cook, says Smith, and you can add it to a bowl with black beans, salsa, and a frozen veggie, like broccoli.
7. Store salads properly.
“Keep your dressing on the side and add it to your salad right before you eat it,” says Eboli. “This helps to keep the buoyancy of the veggies.”
8. Prepare breakfast for the week on Sunday night.
“When it comes to preparing things ahead of time, I love overnight oats,” she says. “It takes under five minutes to prep.” All you have to do is combine oats and milk and place the container in your refrigerator before you go to bed.
9. Put your slow cooker to good use.
“One of my best recommendations is investing in a Crock-Pot,” says Smith. Just throw a bunch of ingredients into it in the morning and you’ll have dinner ready when you get home from work. Smith says two vegetarian recipes you should have in your back pocket are chili and curry. Both are customizable (you can add whatever beans, grains, and veggies you like best), can be made in a slow cooker, are super flavorful, and yield a ton of food.
10. Pack your freezer with leftovers.
Lobley suggests portioning out your leftovers into containers and popping them in the freezer so you can enjoy your meal again at a later date.
Your Vegetarian Meal Prep Shopping List
Wondering what to buy this week? Here’s a handy-dandy vegetarian meal prep shopping list.
3 Tasty Vegetarian Recipes That You Can Meal Prep
Now it’s time to get cooking! Here are easy breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes courtesy of Smith that you can make ahead of time and enjoy for multiple days. While the following recipes each yield enough for four servings, you can easily double the amounts to make more!
Breakfast: Overnight Fruity Chia Seed Pudding
Yield: 4 Servings
- 2 cups almond milk
- 2 Tbsp. maple syrup
- 6 Tbsp. chia seeds
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 1 cup fresh fruit (such as strawberries, bananas, and blueberries)
- Combine everything except the fruit in a large bowl, making sure to mix completely.
- Refrigerate for an hour.
- Take out of fridge to mix well again, then put it back in.
- Store for at least another two hours so the pudding can set.
- Top with fresh fruit when you’re ready to eat.
Lunch: Black Bean and Lime Soup
Yield: 4 Servings
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 cup shredded carrots
- 1 cup sliced peppers
- 2 small red onions, chopped
- 3 cups water
- ¼ cup quinoa, uncooked
- 2 tsp. chili powder
- 3 tsp. ground cumin
- ½ cup corn
- Two 15 oz cans of black beans, rinsed
- ½ cup salsa
- ¼ tsp. salt
- Juice of one lime
- 3 Tbsp. cilantro
- Heat oil in a medium-sized pot on medium heat.
- Add the onion, cooking until it’s transparent.
- Add the chili powder, cumin, salt, and salsa, cooking for a few minutes, still on medium heat.
- Add the beans, carrots, peppers, uncooked quinoa, corn, and water, bringing to a boil.
- Reduce the heat once the mixture reaches a boil, cover the pot, and cook for 15 minutes.
- Stir in the lime juice.
- For a creamier consistency, let the soup cool, then blend.
Dinner: Chickpea Burgers
Yield: 4 Servings
- 15 oz cooked chickpeas, drained
- ½ cup brown rice flour
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. black pepper
- ½ tsp. ground cumin
- 3 tsp. garlic powder
- ½ tsp. chili powder
- ½ Tbsp. parsley
- 3 Tbsp. minced red onion
- 1 large tomato, sliced
- 1 cup greens
- 4 burger buns
- Ketchup to taste
- Food processor
- Use a food processor to completely mash the chickpeas.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the mashed chickpeas, spices, and parsley. Mix well.
- Add about ¼ cup of the flour to the mixture, working it in well. Then, add the remaining ¼ cup of flour. The mixture should be stiff enough not to spread or fall apart.
- If made ahead, store the mixture in the fridge so you can form and cook the patties just before you plan to eat.
- Remove the mixture from the fridge and form your patties (you should be able to make four).
- Heat the olive oil in a cast iron skillet. Once it’s warm, cook your patties for five minutes on each side.
- Let the patties cool.
- Assemble buns with lettuce, tomato, and ketchup.