Eager to add more plants to your diet but worried it would be too time-consuming? Let me help you. Plant-based cooking can seem very time-consuming and overwhelming at first. With the focus on whole plant ingredients, prepping and preparing them can take loads more time than some of the processed foods you usually eat. With a little practice and implementation of these top tips, I know you’ll soon be an efficient plant-based superhero in the kitchen. In this article, I share nine time-saving tips for plant-based eating. These cooking tips will help you speed up your cooking, all while keeping your dishes flavorful and enjoyable.
When we first adopted a plant-based diet, we would go all out with multi-step meals and gourmet ingredients. We spent loads of time chopping, dicing, time-consuming prep work, and grocery shopping for ingredients was a chore itself – sometimes multiple stores seeking for the “magic” vegan ingredient! After moving into our RV to travel around the US, we had to change some of our cooking habits. We no longer have a dishwasher, so using LOTS of dishes became a “no-no.” Our two pantries shrunk to one RV-sized pantry. Don’t get me started on our kitchen gadgets, utensils, and small appliances – there was just not room for all of them, so out they went. Our life transition has led to these time-saving tips. We can still create tasty meals, just in a more efficient manner.
9 Time-Saving Tips for Plant-Based Eating
1. Use pre-prepped ingredients.
If you’ve watched any of our YouTube videos where my husband John makes an appearance to cut the vegetables, you’ll know he has the knife skills to do this himself. However, to save time, we often will buy precooked ingredients, like beets or washed and shredded coleslaw mixes. These prepped ingredients save us time. Many grocery stores have precut ingredients like onions, peppers, and other vegetables ready to purchase in the produce section. Additionally, sliced mushrooms, peeled garlic cloves, or minced garlic can also help speed up your cooking.
And don’t write off canned ingredients completely, but check the ingredients to make sure there no added preservatives. Things like canned potatoes, pumpkin puree, canned fruits, applesauce, tomatoes, beans, chiles, etc., can add that extra flavor you need without having to prep and cook the ingredients.
I’d be remiss not to mention frozen vegetables and fruits (I have even seen frozen avocados!). Frozen foods are usually free from preservatives, picked at the peak of their season, and flash frozen, so they retain both flavor and nutrients.
With all of the above said, I am still an advocate for fresh ingredients, home-cooked beans, and using all fresh ingredients. But when time is of the essence, don’t sell yourself short by thinking you can’t use these convenience items.
2. Use quality spices and dried herbs
Playing off of number one, I come right to the controversial recommendation… the spice rack. Most cooks prefer to dice their onions, mince their garlic, and sauté away. While I fall in that category, most of the time, I do like the simplicity of using onion powder, garlic powder, and dried herbs to flavor my meals. These ingredients may reduce the texture in a dish, but they can still provide a decent amount of flavor when you use quality spices .
A few quick conversions:
- 1 tablespoon of onion powder for 1 medium chopped onion
- 1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder for 1 minced garlic clove
- And roughly 1 teaspoon of dried herbs for every 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs
I recommend some quality spice brands, such as Spicely Organic, Frontier Organic, Simply Organic, and 365 (Whole Foods) Organic. I can’t mention spices without my new favorite Jada Brands Chicken Salt. It is delicious!
For more information visit my Must-Have Spices post!
3. Use Ready-to-Cook Sauces and Broths
While we are talking about pre-made ingredients, let’s not forget plant-based ready-to-use sauces and broths. I am a fan of the Better Than Boullion brand – which has a line of vegan products. I am also a fan of the Mesa De Vida line of cooking sauces. They are flavorful and a perfect start to any meal. Add them to your dishes and cook. As a partner, I have been given a code for 20% off to share with you. “VegInspired” >>Click Here
I try to avoid oil in my kitchen, so I look for pizza sauces, pasta sauces, etc., that do not have oil. One of my favorite oil-free pizza sauces is Pomi Brand. It is not always available at every store on our travels. In a pinch, I will use pasta sauce in place of pizza sauce. I’ve found often you can find an oil-free pasta sauce if you look at the fat-free ones. Just read the ingredients carefully; some sneak in cheeses or dairy by-products, like whey or casein for “flavor.” YUCK!
4. Menu Planning
This one might be my favorite tip. While it can seem cumbersome and counterproductive when talking time-saving, I promise, once you get the hang of it, it saves SO MUCH TIME. Effective menu planning takes the guesswork out of dinner each night and can increase excitement about cooking because you’ve thought-out your meals and you’ve selected them. If you have picky kids (or a picky significant other), let them help pick out meals. I find it more relaxing at dinner time when both John and I know what we are preparing; often, we prepare the meals together because we are both excited.
Menu Planning, in a nutshell, is writing down your meals for the week. You can plan just dinners, or you can go further and add in your breakfasts and lunches. In our kitchen, we are cooking for 2, so our lunches end up being leftovers of the previous night’s dinner. Still, by planning what you will eat, you can also create a grocery shopping list that helps you save time (and money) when shopping – and ensures you’ll have the ingredients for your meals. One of my least favorite things is having to make a grocery run mid-week because I forgot something. Menu planning can reduce those time-consuming grocery store stops.
Want to try out a menu plan with a grocery list (and the recipes)? Click here to download my FREE 3-day menu plan.
5. Batch Prep Ingredients
When you implement menu planning into your weekly meal routine, you are better equipped to batch prep ingredients. One tip you won’t see me recommend is meal prepping. This is for two reasons, one that sounds like SO much work and SO many dishes on one day – which stresses me out in my little kitchen. And 2, I don’t love leftovers or eating the same things every day. So let me introduce to you my Batch Prepping of Ingredients plan instead.
Here is a quick 7-day dinner menu plan example:
|Chili||Stir-fry||Tacos||Breakfast for dinner||Taco Salad||Fried Rice||Date Night|
For example purposes…
- The chili is a crockpot chili
- The Stir-fry uses a bag of frozen stir-fry veggies and an oil-free sauce from the grocery store and eaten over rice.
- Tacos will be a simple taco filling with lettuce, tomatoes, olives, avocado.
- Breakfast for dinner might be waffles or pancakes or cereal – your choice.
- Taco salad – uses the lettuce, taco filling, tomatoes, olives, avocados from taco night. I recommend dressing your lettuce with lime juice and then adding salsa. SO good.
- Fried Rice
- Date Night – you find yourself out to dinner or picking up take-out at a restaurant with vegan options.
Now for the batch cooking – you will make double the amount of rice on Monday so that you have leftover rice for your Fried Rice on Friday. On Tuesday, you will make enough of the taco filling for your tacos and salads. Don’t overcomplicate your menu plans; piggy-back some of your meals so that you are working smart in the kitchen.
6. Simplify your Meals
Work smart in the kitchen and simplify your meals. Don’t overthink your plant-based meals; they can be as simple as a vegetable pasta (pasta, pasta sauce, cooked frozen broccoli), or a store-bought burger (some WFPB brands are Engine 2, Sunshine, and Good Seed) and potatoes wedges. I don’t know about you, but many of my meals before eating plant based were pretty simple, so why do we try to complicate things when we change the way we eat. I love eating a salad with a cooked grain tossed in or a simple bowl of mashed potatoes and gravy with a side of cooked vegetables.
7. Stick to a Routine – but add in a bit of creativity.
I’m a creature of habit. I love routines and plans. But, as I mentioned above, I don’t love to eat the same thing over and over. I am a huge taco fan, but I don’t eat the same tacos every week. Don’t mistake that for thinking I don’t eat tacos each week; I add creative variety. Some weeks I make The Best Damn Taco Filling, and other weeks I make roasted vegetable tacos with avocado and salsa. And some times I plan for tacos in the shell, but when Taco Tuesday rolls around, I feel like eating my taco filling and all the toppings on a bowl of rice. If eating the same thing each week doesn’t work for you either, change it up with a little variety!
8. Use Leftovers as Ingredients
Along the lines of changing up your type of taco, change up how you use your leftovers. Perhaps you roasted vegetables for tacos for dinner last night. How about tonight you use them for a roasted vegetable “buddha bowl” with a yummy tahini sauce. I remember one time when we made a huge batch of chili for two people. We ate it as a bowl of chili, as a topping for rice and potatoes, and I even topped my carrot dogs with it. Take your leftovers to the next level by planning them in but using them differently.
9. Use your Kitchen Gadgets Like a Pro
Last but certainly not least, use your kitchen gadgets like a pro. We have a rice cooker, and when we cook rice, we will often look ahead on our menu plan to see if we need to steam any vegetables in the steamer basket while the rice is cooking. Making our rice-cooker a multi-task tool.
We use our 2-quart slow cooker for cooking dried beans (1/2 pound yields roughly two cans) in about four hours, which works great if you want to make your own.
Another kitchen gadget we use often is our salad spinner. We will wash our greens when we get home from the store and store them in our salad spinner. That way, they are ready to go when we need them, and they remain nice and fresh in the spinner.
Since space is limited, we do not have an Instant Pot or electric pressure cooker, but I know thousands of recipes out there use their pressure cooker to speed up dinners.
Another kitchen gadget we don’t have that is popular right now is an air-fryer. We have a convection oven, which gives us crispy results when we bake or roast. An excellent resource for air-frying would be my IG pal Tess Challis and her Air Fryer Recipes cookbook.
Where do I Start?
What now? I’ve shared my top 9 tips for more efficient plant-based cooking. Where do you start? I recommend starting with menu planning; in fact, you can download my FREE 3-day menu plan here and get started today. This menu plan has the plan, the recipes, AND the grocery shopping list. A menu plan will be an excellent place for you to start, and you can see firsthand how Menu Planning will help you add more time to your life, all while adding more plants to your diet!
I’d love to hear from you as you try these time-saving tips for plant-based eating! Please drop a comment below or send me a quick email kathy(@)veginspired.com and let me know how you are doing! I’m always here to help!