The biggest surprise over the past 6 months of not eating chicken or beef has been the fact that I haven’t really missed it. Well, that’s not exactly true. I haven’t missed the meat and poultry dishes or flavors, but I have missed the simplicity it brings to meal planning. Since chicken, a vegetable, and a starch is about the most basic American dinner combo there is (and one I used at least once a week) it’s been a challenge to learn how to create comprehensive family meal plans without that staple.
A quick disclaimer: I use the term plant-based because I feel like it best describes our current style of eating. I start every meal thinking of the plants that will be included first, then fill in the rest. We eat some vegan meals, some vegetarian meals, and some pescatarian meals, but I feel just saying plant-based covers it. I also don’t believe everyone should eat this way. You do you! It’s working for us right now and though he may deny it, David is not only on board, he may even biggest advocate for keeping things this way for now. He jokingly says I broke him, but the truth is he is feeling good and, if I may say so myself, is looking pretty dang good too…
So let’s talk adjustments.
Challenge: Replacing the Basic Meat and Three Staple
Solution: Experiment until you find new go-to meals that are simple enough to quickly become as mindless as a meat and three. This does take a few weeks of trial and error, but for us, curry has quickly filled this slot. I’ve made Comforting Red Lentil and Chickpea Curry from Oh She Glows Everyday so many times that I can make it blindfolded. We also love veggie fajita night (with this marinade), homemade pizza night, and pasta dishes with a salad side. Since we eat fish, it’s also easy to substitute a grilled or baked fish in the place of chicken and serve it with whatever veggies we have on hand. You can (and we occasionally do) also use Field Roast sausages or Beyond Meat burgers for a quick fix meal too.
Mahi with Zesty Basil Butter, Corn, and Salad
Challenge: Increased Food Prep Time
Solution: Designate time of Sunday to do one hour of food prep. Truly, set your timer for 60 minutes, turn on an audio book (I recommend Girl, Wash Your Face) and get to work. It’s amazing how many vegetables you can wash and cut, how many batches of grains you can cook up, and how many tasty sauces or salad dressings you can make in that time that will make pulling together lunch or a quick dinner so much easier. One hour on a Sunday will transforms my week. Also, don’t rule out paying for a shortcut. You can opt to buy pre-cut fruits and vegetables, skip making your own guac and buy the store-made version instead, etc if you prefer and extra dollar or two over extra time in the kitchen.
Challenge: Meal Monotony
Solution: Stop eating salads everyday. Or at least switch up the toppings. When I was first planning plant-based meals each week I fell into the routine of making the same meals over and over because of simplicity. While that’s fine for me if we’re talking fajitas (because those don’t get old), for everything else, I crave variety. I started checking out vegetarian cookbooks from the library and trying a few recipes from each over the three weeks I was allowed to keep it at home. Not only did this have me trying new recipes, it also taught me more about how to cook meatless meals with a ton of flavor. Vegetarian meals rely more on spices that meat-based dishes (in my opinion), so it encouraged me to be more bold with adding more spices and herbs to my dishes. Trying one new recipe a week keeps things interesting!
Challenge: Dining Out
Solution: No matter how great I meal plan, sometimes life still happens and we end up at a restaurant when I wasn’t expecting too. I’m grateful that more restaurants now offer vegetarian-friendly options, but it’s amazing how quickly nixing meat can pare down one’s options. Since I eat fish, it usually adds in more options (like sushi!), but if there is no immediately obvious plant-based option, I’ve found that making a meal out of sides can be a really delicious solution.
Joel’s Sushi delivery for Mother’s Day
Challenge: Last Minute Meals
Solution: Keep it simple! Sometimes I get it stuck in my head that every meal I make should be a cohesive masterpiece. Yes, I like eating good food which is the main reason I love to cook, but who said a meal has to always be insta-worthy?! A snack plate filled with vegetables, hummus, black olives, crackers, and nuts is a perfectly fine (and actually a pretty amazing) dinner. So is a sandwich. I think sandwiches get a bad rap for being boring, but I’ve been playing with layering goodness on bread lately and am ready to declare it the summer of sandwiches- delicious and satisfying!
Bread, pimento cheese, red onion, baby spinach, cucumber, tomato, green leaf lettuce, sweet and spicy peppers.
Though I have faced new challenges with this dietary shift, some things remain the same. I must meal plan to maintain my sanity. I like to know what is for dinner, as well as breakfast and lunch options for the week. I’ve shared my love for keeping a meal planning notebook many times, but I recently upgraded to a prettier version than my composition notebook I was using.
Not only is it visually pleasing, this weekly meal planner also helps guide me through the process each week, ensuring I have dinners planned for each week and reminding me where the recipe I want to use is from. I can’t tell you how many times I’m jotted down a recipe name while googling then can’t remember for the life of me where it’s from when it’s time to get to work in the kitchen. I also like that is has a place for breakfast, lunch, and snacks, and provides a page after each meal plan for a categorized grocery list.
If you are a meal-planning aficionado like me, then I’m sure your heart is singing. The best news is that this meal planner is currently on sale AND if you use my code SLICE20, you’ll get an additional 20% off.
I totally get that not everyone geeks out over meal planning quite like I do, but I am a strong believer that having a plan for the week makes it run more smoothly. I honestly don’t know how moms who don’t meal plan do it. I’d be such a frantic mess at dinner! I check my meal plan every morning so I can see if there are any parts of dinner I can get a head start on while I’m making breakfast or lunch. It’s so nice to arrive at dinner time and have most all the prep work done. I’m working on transferring my meal planning skills into other areas of my life because a little organization and a game plan really do make me feel like super woman and I can only imagine how good it would feel if my whole life ran as smoothly as our dinner plans. But until that day comes, at least I have my meal planning… 😉
Have you ever made a change in the way you eat that caused you to have to rethink the way you plan and prep for meals?