Making a New Menu Plan Work

Herbs that I bought last week that I’ve yet to put in bigger pots. Maybe in July …

So my last post was all about rallying around the commitment, written as much for myself as for you. There are days where fasting actually would work better with my schedule, but I love to eat too much to take that on. I’ve had to fine-tune my ambitions for this plan. While I want perfection, I settle for progress, meaning lower sodium in everything and staying away from dairy, meat, fish, cheese, oils, refined sugar, etc. Yes, I may have a cookie at work if they are brought in (and I mean one cookie, not an entire plate) but I don’t bring baked goods into my house anymore. The best way to avoid junk food is to not have it in your house tempting you. That’s why the three-day cleanup is so important, so you can clear out the old and bring in new, healthful food. My list below, like Spinal Tap, “goes to 11.” 

My Top 10 Timesavers +1

  • One-pot meals will keep you from doing dishes all day. Jeff Novick is a genius on this point. Frozen greens and vegetables, a can or two of beans and diced tomatoes and you are on your way to whatever veg creation you want. He promises that the meals cook on the stove in 10 minutes in a pot and he’s right. No measuring, no big cleanup. Add low-sodium vegetable broth (or your own homemade version as you’ll read below) and either whole grain pasta or already cooked brown rice and you’ve got a soup that can last a few days. Divide and freeze and you’ve got a meal for the following week.
  • Frozen produce is your friend. Frozen spinach, kale, collard and turnip greens can be added to many dishes and your morning smoothie. You still get the nutrients but you don’t have to really see or even taste the greens. I would not have believed that before I started making smoothies, but it is true.
  • Get a smoothie recipe down and stick with it for a week. Read through vegan recipes online or download from authors such as Chef AJ, Joel Fuhrman or the Happy Herbivore, Lindsay Nixon, and find a recipe that sounds good to you. Modify with different ingredients if necessary and run with it. The first time you make it will feel like an odyssey and may even be a gloopy mess, but each day definitely gets easier. By the end of the week you will have a time-saving system down and be blending like a pro, even avoiding blueberry stains on the cabinet. Bonus tip: Wash blender pitcher and your glass IMMEDIATELY after finishing to avoid pain of scrubbing caked-on residue; written by one who knows.
  • Fix a salad, keep the trimmings for a broth. Many cooks know this already, but if you are new to the process, this double-duty use of end pieces, stalks and other bits trimmed off fresh vegetables is revolutionary in the kitchen. The online site Hell Yeah It’s Vegan  offers everything you need to know about how make your own broth, but here are the basics: Cut up your salad vegetables during the week and keep the scraps in a bag in the freezer (only clean scraps, don’t save pieces you would not consume). Saturday morning, drag out a pot or the slow cooker and throw all of the collected vegetable scraps in with several cups of water and your favorite seasoning to taste (no, not salt). Simmer for a few hours, drain off the liquid into a heat-proof container and you now have vegetable broth. You’ve saved money and stretched the use of the vegetables you bought. You may feel Martha Stewart-y when you do this and find creative ways to measure and store the results, which will then make you a Pinterest star.
  • Two can do this faster than one. Have your partner do cleanup if you cook or vice versa. Make sure the dishwasher is ready to load, or the sink cleared out, before you start any massive cooking. One person should not do all the cooking and cleaning in a multiple person household, just saying.
  • Take a break! Don’t cook every night. Either have stuff made ahead or splurge for healthful takeout.
  • Keep reusable grocery bags in the car. When you start trying new recipes, you will be amazed at how many times you will want to run to the store for “one more ingredient.” It happens like trips to Lowe’s during a plumbing repair. If your bags are in the car, then you’re ready to go.
  • Group items on your shopping list as you’d find them at the store. This was the biggest a-ha moment for me. Everyone has heard this tip since time began. It usually comes in a holiday baking story because that’s when people have the least amount of time to handle the massive food projects they undertake, and they need to buy regular items plus a million baking ingredients for that perfect sugar cookie. If you are going plant-based, organize your list so that the new things aren’t stressful to remember. You may need extra time to find things (such as the ever-elusive tofu) so any organizing of a list beforehand can be a big help.
  • It’s OK to get in a rut. What is the standard American diet but one big rut, am I right? It’s usually the same four meat or processed food dishes rotated in a menu plan during the week with maybe two or three variations, or the same fast-food chains visited every week. People always have their go-to meals no matter how they eat. You can do that with a plant-based diet. While it’s fun to experiment, it can be draining on your patience and budget. Find some go-to meals and rotate around those with a starch, beans and greens. Not really all that different than how you planned meals before. I’ve went for an entire week eating the same thing for lunch: baked potato, a one-pot meal made during the weekend, and salad that consisted of carrots, radishes and sugar-snap peas topped with flaxseed and nutritional yeast. What might sound boring to you was a quick and easy way to go for me.
  • Keep it simple. Elimination diets are great at drilling down to find out what might be causing you pain or other medical issues, but another benefit is that it keeps your ingredient list to a minimum. If you are just overwhelmed at the thought of incorporating every fruit and vegetable at the store, then look up a basic elimination diet and go very simple at the beginning. Potatoes, yams, brown rice and beans are typically the basis. Build from that with canned diced tomatoes (low or no salt) and chopped frozen vegetables (remember this is the great timesaver as the veggies are already prepared for you and flash-frozen).
  • Get a small whiteboard for the fridge. Use this for menu plans so you don’t have to remember on Wednesday why you bought a can of chickpeas the Saturday before. As much as you think you will remember your individual recipes planned out, you won’t unless they are on record posted on the fridge, at least that’s how it was for us. This also lets everyone else know what’s happening, so if someone sees a trend of too many beans on successive days or something they don’t like, things can be switched around or alternatives added. This way, everyone can take an active part in planning.

I’d be curious if anyone else has any ideas that helped in their transition. Lots of people are reading this blog (thanks!) so let me hear from you on what time-saving things helped you stay on track with a plant-based diet.

2 thoughts on “Making a New Menu Plan Work

  1. Great post! I’d never even thought of making vegetable broth before, and I hate not making use of the veggie stalks and such during the times of year when composting isn’t possible (like when the entire compost bin is encased in ice). For organizing grocery lists, you might try the GroceryIQ phone app. I know lots of people who swear by it. We’re just now starting to get the hang of it. It includes in-app coupons and such, though of course when you’re on a whole-foods diet, a useful coupon is a rare thing.

    I, too, was amazed that you can’t taste greens when they’re in smoothies. I’ve consumed more spinach in the past week or two, when I started using it in smoothies, than I typically do in six or eight months.


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