Last summer, my husband Alex and I decided to go on a low-fat vegan diet. He stayed on it for the planned 3 months (during which we also cut out processed sugar), and I decided to stay on it indefinitely. Of course, since I do most of the cooking, he’s on the diet at home still We also cut out most processed foods, including faux meats. As a result, even though we ate relatively healthily before, we are much healthier now! But it also means that we cook a lot.
Menu planning is key. Since we both work full-time, it’s hard to go shopping every day. Knowing exactly what we need for our meals means we can make one quick trip for several days worth of food, without wasting any money on items we won’t use. So I set aside time to research recipes and plan meals ahead of time. It’s a great strategy no matter what your diet.
1. Find a couple good cookbooks and/or online sources. I like to have both, so I can search depending on my mood. My current favorite cookbooks are Color Me Vegan and Big Vegan. Some great online sources are Pinterest (check out my meal board), Whole Foods, and Fat Free Vegan Kitchen.
2. Pick out your recipes. I like to pick a 1-2 that are intense (because I love a challenge!), 3-4 that take 30-60 minutes, and 1-2 that are very quick and easy. It’s good to have a variety. I also try to use recipes with some overlapping ingredients, especially with things like parsley that come in a big bunch. If you find more recipes than you need for the week, tag them for later use.
3. Plan your week. Going out Wednesday? Leave it blank. Are Mondays always exhausting? Choose an easy meal. Can you use leftover rice from one meal in another? Plan it out. I use “The Eat Sheet” from Mommy Tracked - it’s a great printable menu planner that includes space to list ingredients (pictured above).
4. Grocery shop. I usually get 3-4 days worth of food at a time, making sure to always have staples (e.g. grains, canned beans, olive oil) in stock. This way the veggies are fresh, and I have room to shift the menu a bit if need be. (Side note: I use this grocery list)
5. Cook! Since everything is planned out and ready, there’s no last minute scrambling (or snacking for two hours while you try to figure out what to cook…or is that just me?) You just get to have fun trying new recipes and recooking old favorites
Well, I hope that’s helpful. I know it’s really come in handy for me! Frequently one week’s menu will last a week and a half (if we have dinner at a friend’s on night, decide to have leftovers another, etc.). Since I only buy food for a few days, I can wing it in between shopping trips. Sometimes I leave a couple days blank just to experiment!