Prepare for the Worst, Expect the Best

As the holidays grow closer by the minute, everyday meals can sometimes take a backseat to party planning. Thankfully, Nava Atlas is here to save the day, or at least the dinner, with a guest post sharing some handy tips on meal planning. This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the breadth and depth of the kitchen wisdom packed into Plant Power. For more advice, and of course, more delicious recipes than a hungry eater could imagine, you simply must check out the book for yourself.

As an early holiday gift, Nava and her publishers have kindly offered a copy to give away to one lucky reader. To log your bid, all you need to do is read through these prime tips below and add your own meal planning pointers, or perhaps your favorite meal to prep in advance, in the comment section. As per usual, make sure you leave your name and email in the appropriate boxes. This giveaway is only open to those with US addresses. You have until Friday, November 28th at midnight EST to enter.

And now, without further ado, take it away, Nava!

7 Simple Meal-Planning Strategies for the Plant-Based Kitchen

Here are some of my tried-and-true meal-planning tips for making cooked-from-scratch meals a daily reality, even after the most exhausting days. You’ll find much more detail on how to accomplish all of these strategies, plus lots more of these kinds of tips in Plant Power: Transform Your Kitchen, Plate, and Life with More Than 150 Fresh and Flavorful Vegan Recipes by Nava Atlas, from which this was adapted (©2014, published by HarperOne, reprinted by permission). Photos by Hannah Kaminsky. Back when my kids were growing up and I still was in the midst of the classic juggling act, I was a lot more disciplined about meal planning. I found that it really did buy me time and sanity. For our family of four, I planned three meals per week. If I made ample quantities, I could count on leftovers for three more dinners. And leftovers can always be tweaked so that they’re slightly different the next day. For example, today’s salad can be tomorrow’s wrap; tonight’s soup-and-wrap dinner can become tomorrow’s soup-and-vegan-quesadilla dinner. What do you see as your ideal meal-making style? Decide whether you want to make different meals every night or most nights and rotate them through the season or whether you want to try the three-meals-with-leftovers strategy. If you want to be a seat-of-the-pants cook, more power to you. For that kind of spontaneity, you’ve got to have an especially well-stocked pantry and fridge as well as the imagination to look at a bunch of ingredients and envision what they can become.

  1. Plan three full meals for each week. From those meals, you can plan two nights of leftovers, which makes life easier—though this is challenging if you have hungry teens or athletes at home. Don’t think of leftovers as boring. They can be repurposed in ways that might not make it into the culinary hall of fame, but with a few tweaks they can be as tasty as the original preparation. For instance, leftover chili can become Cincinnati chili mac.
  1. Plan meals before going shopping. Planning your meals before you go food shopping will ensure that you don’t waste time, money, and energy running back and forth to the store all week. A mere twenty to thirty minutes of meal planning per week will simplify your life immeasurably, especially if you have a tight schedule, young children, or both.
  1. Plan meals after going shopping. What? Didn’t I just say to plan meals before going shopping? Sometimes it’s good to think outside the box. When farm market or CSA season is in full swing—or during the summer and fall harvest season in general—and you’re getting basket loads of fresh produce, it may be wiser to retrofit your meal plans to your fresh food finds.
  1. Prepare a few basics for the week ahead. On whatever day or evening is the most home- centered, prepare a few basics for the days ahead. Sunday afternoons and evenings are ideal as you’re looking to the coming week, but do whatever is good for your schedule. Even the simplest things can ease weeknight meal preparation immeasurably.
  1. At least once a week, prepare a big one-pot or one-pan meal. This kind of meal can stretch to cover at least two nights. Such meals include hearty soups and stews, bean dishes, abundant pastas, and casseroles. You’ll find many such recipes later on in this book. Double the quantities if you need to, especially if you have a large family. Then you need little more than salad and fresh whole-grain bread to accompany the meal.
  1. Develop a weekly repertoire. Make slight variations on your standard recipes each week so that meals don’t get boring. For example, Friday dinner has long been a pizza and salad meal, but within this basic framework, there are endless variations!
  1. Create a seasonal repertoire. An alternative to a weekly repertoire is a seasonal repertoire, consisting of ten or fifteen basic meals that you like best. These ten tasty meals— one for each weeknight for two weeks—are repeated as needed throughout the season. Weekends can bring a heavenly leftovers buffet. That doesn’t sound too daunting, right?

UPDATE: The entry period has now ended and with the help of my favorite random number generator, a winner has been chosen…

Lucky commenter number 6 happens to be Terri Cole! Congratulations Terri, and thank you so much to everyone else who shared their smart, thoughtful, and helpful meal planning tips. Stay tuned for the next big giveaway, coming up soon!

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15 thoughts on “Prepare for the Worst, Expect the Best

  1. I always make sure to have some sauces or easy sauce recipes ready to go. You can chop up any variety of veggies, cook them in a good sauce and voila, dinner!

  2. For those extra busy days when there isn’t enough time for planning a meal, I always make sure I have extra of these in my pantry: canned beans including refried beans, flour of corn tortillas, pasta and pasta sauce and a good jar of salsa. Also lots of tofu in the refrigerator. It is so easy to prepare it pan fried or scrambled. I can make quesadillas, wraps, quick stir fries, tacos, etc.

  3. Great tips. My tip is that one ought always have a couple of quarts of home made chicken stock in one’s freezer – ready for anything from a light sauce for a quick to a nice bowl of steaming soup and all points in between. Think of the Girl Scout motto “Be prepared.”

  4. I make double whenever I can (lasagne is a good example). That way we can eat one meal this week and freeze the second for another week.
    Another tip: Prepare ingredients (chop, measure, mix) the night before for the next day’s meal. As dinner is heating for the current night’s meal, I am preparing for tomorrow’s meal. Less stress and all I have to do is heat up dinner when I get home.

  5. I love these tips. My tip for saving money and planning, too, is to see what’s on sale the week or at the market and then plan your meals around those items. You’ll be both seasonal and thrifty!

    janet

  6. I’m a big fan of batch cooking. Even though I am only making meals for my husband and myself, I still make a full-size pot of soup or stew. I freeze whatever we don’t eat in meal size portions. It is such a relief on days when I’m ill or tired to just pull a container from the freezer and warm up a delicious meal!

  7. Thanks for the giveaway, Hannah and Nava! I try to make a good-sized pot of quinoa or brown rice on the weekend so I have it handy to eat with veggies and/or beans throughout the week.

  8. I have made pizza dough and it freezes well. I usually freeze it after the second rise. About 30-36 hours before you plan to use it, move your frozen dough to the refrigerator. I then take it out of refrigerator and let it get to room temperature on the counter about noon on the day I plan to use it. Then all you have to do is heat your oven and shape it.

  9. This is sort of like #5 but Sunday is crockpot day. It’s in my calendar and 99% of the time I make a variety of lentil soup and occasionally I make chili

  10. We plan slow cooker meals for days when evenings are too busy. And we always plan for leftovers or “big salad” days when there’s not enough time to cook.

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