Preparing most or all the food we eat from scratch takes a lot of time. While it has huge payoffs, it does require time and effort. No one is doing you any favors by pretending otherwise. But there are things you can do to make it easier.
- First, take advantage of prepared food as much as you can.
- Second, cook food in batches and freeze some of it for future use.
- Third, keep a few sauces, appetizers and spreads on hand (and in the freezer). They add variety, flavor and interest to foods.
Take Advantage of Prepared Food
When I first started with a plant-based diet I was happy to use canned beans and when you are starting something new it is easier to be successful if you give yourself a break. However, beans made from scratch do taste better and you can season them as they cook. Cooking your own beans also allows you to try beans that are not usually available canned. So I recommend trying some bean recipes at some point. They don’t take as long to cook as you think.
Similarly, although home-made tomato sauce is wonderful and smells great while it is cooking, there are quite a few prepared tomato sauces that can be used. Look for ones that don’t include a lot of sugar and oil.
Home-made bean and veggie burgers are great, but I can find ready-made ones at the store that are almost as good and I buy those and keep them in my freezer. I buy buns that I like and keep them in the freezer with the burgers. When I don’t have anything else and it is getting late and I am hungry, there are always those burgers.
Keep some store-bought soup and broth in the pantry. I usually have some soy yogurt in the fridge and combine it with frozen blueberries and carrot juice for a quick smoothie.
Although I love to make bread I find it hard to make time to do it. Look for whole-grain breads and keep a couple in your freezer. Unless we have guests I usually cut the bread in half before freezing it so that I can just defrost half a loaf at a time. Sliced bread can be frozen as is because it is easy to break off a few slices at a time when you want them.
At a minimum, I usually have the following items:
*In the freezer: veggie/bean burgers, burger buns, various veggies such as corn, peas, spinach, sweet potato fries, mixed veg for tofu scrambles and frozen fruit, particularly blueberries and peaches which keep well frozen. (I never had a frozen strawberry that wasn’t awful.)
*In the pantry: canned or packaged soup and broth, pasta sauce, pasta, catsup, salsa, canned tomatoes, canned beans, grains (rice, farro, barley), dried fruit
*In the refrigerator: almond butter, almond milk, soy yogurt, tofu, pickles, capers, olives, nuts
Cook Food in Large Quantities
I rarely make beans, grains, soup, stews, casseroles, etc. without making enough to freeze helpings for a few meals. Soups and stews keep well frozen and frequently the flavor improves after freezing. I use quart-sized canning jars for soups and stews. I usually fill them to just under four cups leaving enough room for the liquid to expand when it freezes without breaking the neck. It is a good amount for two people. I make a lot of soup as we have it for lunch most days. I almost always have a quart defrosting in the refrigerator.
I use pint jars for beans, again leaving room for expansion. That usually is enough for two people with a little left over to go on toast the next day. I started using canning jars because I had a lot of them and they take very hot food, but whatever storage containers you have will work. I am scrupulous about naming and dating the jars. I keep a roll of masking tape and a permanent marker in the kitchen and stick some tape on the top of each jar and indicate the contents and the date frozen. Most things I freeze are used within three months.
Shop for vegetables and fruits on Wednesday (that is when the new stuff comes in) and clean and put them away. Then on the weekend make a big pot of vegetable soup and cook up some pinto beans and a pot of rice. When I make a pot of farro, barley or another grain I freeze the cooled grains in quart-size plastic bags, pressing out the air and making a compact bundle. It freezes and defrosts easily. Add some steamed or sautéed vegetables and/or a jar of beans and have another easy meal. I get two-pound packages of cremini mushrooms and cook them with onions, garlic and thyme. I freeze them in serving sizes. Then I always have sautéed mushrooms to go over pasta or in a risotto or in a calzone.
Make and keep sauces and salsas on hand
Savory and creamy sauces add concentrated flavor to the main ingredients. I frequently put a few spoonsful of savory cream cheese on top of pasta with tomato sauce. Celery/parsley salsa adds some piquancy to most vegetables. Cashew cream goes almost anywhere butter and/or cream used to. When I make Tofu Cream Cheese, Tofu Mayonnaise, Hummus, Basil/Bean Pesto, or Celery/Parsley Salsa, I make a full batch and freeze most of it in jelly jars. I don’t like to keep anything in the refrigerator for more than a week and a jelly jar’s worth of sauce is usually enough for a week.
Of course, all of this is modified by your own preferences and amount of freezer space.
Please share what strategies you have for plant-based eating.