I’ve been a vegan for about three years now, and the #1 response I get when people learn I’m vegan is “I could never do it.” Before I was a vegan myself, that’s what I thought too. I assumed it would be too difficult, too expensive, and too limiting to actually stick with it. But with a little trial and error, I discovered just how wrong I was. My vegan diet is super easy to keep up with, makes me feel great, saves money, and actually involves a decent amount of dessert. Of course, my main source for groceries is good old Trader Joe’s (if you’re curious, I shared my favorite vegan groceries from Trader Joe’s here). Keep reading to learn how I meal prep each week for my vegan diet at Trader Joe’s.
Get Cleaned Up
First things first: before I head to the grocery store, I try to tidy up my fridge and pantry first. I think anyone can benefit from this, but as a vegan, I find it really helps me not overspend or let food go to waste. A lot of what I eat is very fresh, so a quick glance at what I need to buy and what I need to finish really helps. And considering I cook 99 percent of my meals at home, having an organized kitchen makes the task a lot easier.
Make a List
After I see which staples I’m out of, I make a grocery list of what typical foods I need for the week. For example, I know I’ll always need the following foods: brown rice, farro, lentils, hemp seeds, flax seeds, frozen fruit, lemons, limes, frozen vegetables, beans, and almond milk, not to mention plenty of garlic and spices. I don’t need to grab each of these ingredients every week, but you get the gist. Then, I think more carefully about what unique ingredients I need this week, especially if I’m trying out a new recipe.
Time to Prep
Once I’m back from Trader Joe’s, I start the prep work immediately. The first step is to clean up the produce. I find if you remove the stems and leaves on fresh produce like radishes, not only do I save room in the fridge, I save time during the busy work week. For produce that doesn’t go bad quickly (like citrus), I’ll give them a wash now too. While I’m doing all of my produce prep, I usually put water on to boil to make a batch of lentils and farro that I’ll eat for a good portion of the week. (And when I say I do this, I actually mean my husband does this. He’s in charge of making our grains once or twice a week — and doing basically all of our cooking. Credit where credit is due.) We each use these grain bowls as a basis for easy lunches or dinners (if one of us is eating alone one night) during the week. We each like to put different vegetable toppings on our bowls, but having the base ready to go really saves a lot of time.
We like to go to Trader Joe’s on Sunday, so this is usually one of our two meal prep days a week. Because my husband and I both eat the same meals, it can be hard to prepare enough food for both of us to eat all week at once, but we try to get as close to Friday as possible without having to really cook again. After making our grains, we’ll usually cook a big Sunday dinner that has a lot of leftovers for the week. Our go-to’s are vegan chili, soups, and bean and rice bowls. If we’re making a tofu-based dish, we like to cook the tofu fresh. Sometimes we will cut up tofu (or veggies if they are better fresh) on Sundays so we can quickly throw it into easy recipes throughout the week. My husband swears by this little chopper device for easy meal prepping. I’m not normally one to fuss with kitchen gadgets, but this product really has made it so much faster for him to chop herbs, onions, bell peppers, and vegetables to make a quick slaw.
Usually when we get home from the store, I’ll also prep any snacks for the week if I know I’m going to be out and about a lot. I’ll usually put fruit, vegetables, nuts, or seeds into small containers that I can grab while running out the door. It really helps me stick to a healthy diet by having the right snacks readily available. If not, I’ll suddenly find myself starving at 3pm and reach for a more tempting cookie or bag of chips.
I don’t have to rush most mornings now that I work from home as a freelance writer, but back in the day, I always made my mornings easier by preparing my breakfast the night before and still do if I have an early morning meeting or find the time at night. I’ve had a smoothie for breakfast every day for about five years now. I usually use frozen fruit and I’ve found that prepping the smoothie the night before makes the process easier. Blending up frozen solid fruit can be hard and a little bland. I like to put all of my frozen fruit into the blender the night before alongside any seeds I am putting in (I prefer hemp and flax for protein and fat to keep me full all morning). Then in the morning all I have to do is add a splash of plant-based milk and some fresh banana and I am ready to run out the door! My smoothie blends up in about 10 seconds that way and I swear it tastes better too. I find starting the day on the right food makes it so much easier to make the right food choices!