It’s no secret that eating whole foods and plant-based meals are great for overall wellness and to stay on track toward health and fitness goals. But let’s be honest, have you ever been beyond hungry with nothing in the fridge or pantry to create a quick, nutrient-dense meal?
In this situation, it’s easy to resort to processed food, pizza delivery, or fast food. Not ideal—but okay once in a while. As the saying goes, “You can’t out-exercise a poor diet.”
A silver bullet to solving the “I’m-starving-and-there’s-NOTHING-to-eat-dilemma” is weekly meal prep. It’s an excellent tool to ensure a quick, well-balanced meal, that won’t derail your healthy eating goals, is always at your fingertips.
Preparing multiple veggies, proteins, and grains on a weekend afternoon can set you up for a week’s worth of lunches or dinners. Below are plant-based meal prep tips to serve as a refresher for some or a springboard for others. Also included are a few dishes that are so easy they don’t need a recipe and are easily adaptable based on your taste.
Roasting intensifies the flavor and natural sweetness of vegetables. You can save time by roasting different veggies on separate sheets using the same oven temperature.
- Preheat oven to 425F.
- Wash and prepare produce. Save stems and leaves for homemade vegetable stock or add to the compost bin. For composting made easy in the Memphis area, check out the Compost Fairy.
- Cut veggies into bite-sized pieces and mix with extra-virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and any other preferred seasonings. Have fun with your spices!
- Transfer veggies to a sheet tray lined with foil or parchment paper for quick clean-up.
- Roasting time will vary based on the vegetables, but 20–35 minute is a good place to start.
Protein This article highlights plant-based whole bowls. However, feel free to add an animal protein if they are part of your diet. These bowls are meant to be flexible and give you inspiration to be creative with the components. The two recipes below are tasty preparations for plant-based proteins.
Braised Lentils (Adapted from Food 52 and the Zuni Café Cookbook)
- 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup carrots, diced
- 1/2 cup celery, diced
- 3/4 cup onions, diced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 1/4 cups lentils (ideally Beluga/black lentils)
- 1 or 2 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)
- 4 to 4 1/2 cups water, vegetable stock, or a combination
- Himalayan pink salt (or sea salt)
- In a medium-sized pan, warm the olive oil over medium-low heat and add the carrots, celery, and onions, along with a few pinches of salt. Stir occasionally for about five minutes.
- Raise the heat slightly and add the lentils, bay leaf, optional thyme, and 2 cups of the water or stock. When the lentils begin to simmer, lower the heat and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, and adding small amounts of additional water or stock as each is absorbed. After about 30 minutes, the lentils should be nutty but tender and just slightly wet. (You may have water or stock left over.) Salt to taste.
Oven-Roasted Chickpeas (Adapted from Chowhound)
- 2 (15-oz) cans chickpeas, thoroughly drained and rinsed (about 3 cups)
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper
- ½ tsp Himalayan pink salt (or sea salt)
- Preheat the oven to 400F.
- Place the chickpeas in a large bowl and toss with the remaining ingredients until evenly coated. Spread the chickpeas in an even layer on a baking sheet and roast until crisp, about 30 to 40 minutes.
The joy of these whole bowls is their adaptability. If you’re in the paleo, keto, or grain-free camp, simply omit the whole grains from the base of your bowls. If whole grains are part of your diet, prep a small batch of one or two grains and mix and match with your veggie and protein options during the week. Below are some grain ideas, but this list is far from exhaustive. To cook your grains, follow the package instructions or pressure cooker guidelines.
- Brown Rice
- Whole Wheat Couscous
For the base of your bowls, pair a small portion of grains with several handfuls of raw greens. Baby arugula, spinach, kale, and mixed greens are good base options.
A handful of suggestions to top your bowl include avocado, kimchi, kalamata olives, capers, or quick-pickled red onions, as well as sunflower seeds or pepitas for crunch. Small batch dressings are also a nice addition to your bowl before serving. A go-to favorite dressing is the garlic apple cider vinaigrette recipe below.
Garlic Apple Cider Vinaigrette (Makes enough for 1 -2 salads/bowls.)
- 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 clove of garlic, grated or finely minced
- 1/4 tsp Himalayan pink salt
- cracked black pepper to taste
- Optional Add ins:
- Pinch of dried basil, thyme, rosemary, parsley or any other dried herb you have on hand.
Directions: Combine all ingredients in a lidded jar and shake well.
Storage & Packing
After your bowl ingredients are prepared, allow them to cool completely before storing in separate glass food storage containers. Before heading off to work or meetings each morning, mix and match a selection of roasted veggies, protein, grain, and toppings and package in a portable food storage container (preferably glass or stainless steel). You can also pre-pack your lunches for the week on your meal prep day, and simply grab one before heading out the door each day.
Package the greens that serve as the base of your bowl in a separate plastic or reusable silicone storage bag, then add your dressing of choice to a small reusable glass jar.
Regardless of what you prepare for the week, keep your bowls flexible and simple. And try to seek variety with your vegetable choices, toppings, and dressings to ensure your body gets a wide variety of nutrients and that your taste buds are entertained.
Traci is a Certified Health and Wellness coach and Bikram Yoga instructor. When not on the yoga mat or running, she enjoys cooking healthy, plant-based meals. Visit her website at Trafreewellness.com.