Vegetarian Meal Planning and Prep
Last July, I decided to eat less meat. For several reasons, but really I wanted to be more conscious of what I was eating, why I was eating it, and how it effects me (and the environment). I didn’t cut anything cold turkey or take anything completely out, I just eat less of it. I haven’t been eating red meat or pork for some time, so those were easy to let go, then chicken and turkey were my two other main sources of protein. I have talked about how I eat intuitively in a past blog post, so if I am really craving bacon or chicken wings, I’ll eat it. For me, this is about eating more whole, real foods.
I will be completely upfront in the fact that I absolutely do eat fish, so technically I am a pescatarian. I eat it a couple nights a week because I’m a shrimp tacos on a Tuesday and Salmon and potatoes for dinner kind of chick.
The other thing I really want to hone in on here is that I am a really BORING eater, as in: I eat the same things ALL the time. I eat things that work for me, are easy to take on the go, and taste good. Foods that can fuel me throughout a long day of movement plus satisfy my little sweet tooth. I want to also note that this whole prep is what works for ME and it may not work completely for you. It’s important to talk with a nutritionist if you are looking to reach a specific goal.
Stick to the outside edges of the store instead of the aisles. They will have most of what you need: fruits, veggies. protein, and bulk seeds/nuts/grain. The aisles are for mostly one-off ingredients or staples you will always need in your home like oils, soy sauce, pasta sauce, vinegar, etc. Always look for items with no added sugar or unsweetened.
tips & tricks
- Always go to the grocery store with a list: whether that is in your phone, on a piece of paper, or within a text.
- Never go without a plan
- Never go when you’re hungry! (I’ve made this mistake too many times)
- Read the labels on what you pick up and put in your cart. Look not only at the nutrition information but also the ingredients. You should be able to pronounce most of the ingredients and there should be fewer than five in most everything you purchase.
- Check out expiration dates on produce, dairy, and packaged meat products. Make sure the items won’t expire before you plan to use them. A lot of times you can put them in the freezer if you plan on using them at a later date, check more information about this here.
- I go to the store once a week because I really plan for every event and detail in my week. When selecting produce, think about your week ahead and purchase some fruits and vegetables that are ripe for the beginning of the week, and some that will need a few days to ripen up for the end of the week. This will allow you to avoid having to stop mid-week to stock back up on produce.
- Bring your own bags!
I eat the same food items until about 4pm almost every day. Breakfasts, snacks, lunches — they all stay the same. I know how that boring that sounds, but really I don’t mind it at all. The only thing that changes throughout the week are my dinners, and honestly even with those, I rotate about 10-12 and maybe mix up some of the protein or the sauces. Don’t be afraid to eat the same thing for an entire week, if you don’t mind. You can switch it up on a weekly basis and will get plenty of variety over the long run! I promise. Also, if it ain’t broke….
tips & tricks
- Look at your week on your calendar and identity what it is going to look like (i.e. events, happy hours, dinners out, lots of driving, etc) and plan accordingly.
- Start with your protein and figure out how you will add it into all of your meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner plus at least one of your snacks.
- Determine your specific caloric needs and try to plan meals and snacks to hit that target (i.e. if you are eating 1800 calories per day, your meals may have 400-500 calories each and snacks around 200 each) More information on calorie intake and macros here.
- Don’t be afraid of leftovers. I’ll be honest, I used to hate them. But it’s so awesome to have them for lunch the next day or even not having to cook dinner two nights in a row!
- You workout? Pay attention to pre and post-workout nutrition. Aim to have a snack about 60-90 minutes before your workout with some protein, complex carbohydrates, and a small amount of fat. After your workout, replenish your body with protein and 25-35g carbohydrates depending on what your day looks like as a whole.
- Have space in your freezer? Freeze up some bananas, spinach, avocado before they go bad so you can add them to smoothies later on.
It’s not as daunting as it sounds, I promise you this. It only sounds like a lot the first couple times you do it, and then it come naturally every [pick a random day of the week here] that you go to the store and immediately come home to do your prepping for the week. It used to take me a lot longer, but once you do something over and over again, you’ll get the hang of it and speed up the process. Since I eat the same things for breakfast, lunches and snacks, I bulk make enough for five full days and then portion out the things I don’t want to overeat (trail mix with chocolate chips or my balls)
tips & tricks
- Wash and chop all of your vegetables at once. If you’re cooking one set immediately and another time later in the week, store half of the chopped ingredients for later use in a glass tupperware.
- Wash and cut a bunch of raw veggies to munch on throughout the day/evening or make individual baggies of veggies for easy transport.
- I always make a big batch of quinoa, hard boiled eggs, chickpeas, butternut squash (and or cauliflower), and sweet potatoes for the week. Grains take a long time to cook so this will save you a ton of time during the week.
- Keep it simple! The easier the better when it comes to meal prep, especially at the beginning. Once you get the hang of meal prepping and it becomes easy, you can pick more elaborate recipes.
- Roasted vegetables are a super simple healthy side. Spritz veggies with olive oil, season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder and roast at 350 for about 30-40 minutes or until fork tender.
meal prep products
SAMPLE TL DAY
I just want to reiterate that this really works for me and my lifestyle but may not work for you. It’s super important to try out new things and use the tips above to get better at healthier eating and choices. Here's a sample out of a normal weekday:
6:30am Breakfast #1 - Protein smoothie + coffee
- 1/4 avocado
- Handful of spinach
- 1 TBS Almond butter
- 1 TBS chia seeds
- 1 TBS flax seeds
- 1/2 Banana
- Handful of frozen berries
- 1 Scoop vegan protein
- Filled with almond milk
9:00am Breakfast #2 - Egg dish
- 2 hard boiled eggs
- Whole wheat toast
12:00pm Lunch - Buddha bowl
- Sweet potatoes
- Kalamata olives
- Banana peppers
- Topped with lemon tahini dressing
2:30pm Snack #1 - Berries and a handful of almonds and a cup of coffee
6:00 Post workout/ Snack #2 - Vegan protein shake + apple and almond butter
8:00pm Dinner - Vegetarian Ramen
I love this recipe from A Couple of Cooks
I hope you enjoyed all of this! Do you love or hate grocery shopping and meal prep? Why?