Anything that’s new to a person takes a bit longer to do so in the beginning, preparing your own vegan food might feel like a chore. Or maybe vegan cooking is not new to you but preparing meals always feels like a lot of work. When making your own meals feels more like drudgery than fun, it can lead to eating too many processed, convenience foods which can not only be unhealthy but really expensive. Luckily, there are some tricks you can use in the kitchen that can make it much easier. I’m not really sure how “secret” these tricks are or how “tricky” they are, for that matter, but these tips will definitely make vegan eating seem like a breeze.
1. Plan Easy Meals
Even though I like to think about what I feel like eating for dinner and then make that, I always decide on several meals for the week. Having an idea of what dishes I’ll be cooking allows me to be sure I have the right ingredients on hand. When you walk in the door after a long day and you’re tired and starving, it’s not the time to start figuring out what to eat. Sit down and make a list of the dishes you would like to have for dinner the next week. Set yourself up for success by choosing dishes that are possible to get done in a short time especially on weekdays. A Wednesday night after a long, hard day in the middle of a long, hard week is not the time to try making elaborate dishes that take hours to prep and cook. Instead, choose nutritious, delicious meals that are also easy to make. Good dishes include mac and cheese, tofu scrambles, pasta dishes, stir-fries, vegan omelets, tacos, and burritos. More ambitious meals like lasagna can be planned for weekends when you have more time and energy.
2. Stock Up
Once you know which dishes you are planning for the week, make a list of the ingredients you’ll need to make them. Besides those ingredients, there are other items that every fridge and pantry should have. There’s nothing like finding your cupboards bare to make you start thinking twice about cooking. I always make sure I have dry pasta, canned diced tomatoes and beans, brown rice, quinoa, and flour. My go-to bottled ingredients include oils, vinegars, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, peanut butter, and hot sauce. Spices and herbs are my most-valued cooking tools so I keep my spice cabinet stocked with all my favorite spices. I also have non-dairy milk, tofu, hummus, greens, tomatoes, and all types of fresh fruit and vegetables. Check out The 10 Most Versatile Foods Everyone Should Have in their Kitchen (and How to Use Them), 12 Must-Have Items for Your Vegan Pantry and 5 Pantry Staples You Can Turn into 10 Different Dishes for ideas on what to stock up on. Cooking is always faster and easier when you have everything you need.
3. Prep Foods
While I find chopping vegetables therapeutic and fun, some people see it as work they would rather not do. I completely understand because that’s how I feel about pressing tofu or blanching veggies. I’m an impatient cook so anything that involves waiting takes away the fun of cooking for me. That’s why it’s a good idea to prep some of the ingredients you know you are going to use in advance. For instance, if you know you are going to make a stir-fry for dinner, you can chop all the veggies in advance and keep them in storage bags or containers in the fridge. When it’s time to make dinner, all you have to do is saute them and you can be sitting down to this Asparagus and Carrot Indian Stir-fry in no time. The same goes for salads and side dishes. Even tofu can be pressed in advance and kept in the fridge for a couple of days. I like to make rice in advance because I use brown rice which takes 45 minutes to cook. Rather than not have brown rice to go with my General Tso’s Tofu, I cook up a few cups of brown rice on my day off and keep it in the fridge. When I need it, it takes only a few minutes to heat it up. Rice can also be frozen in plastic storage bags if you aren’t going to use it right away. If it all still feels like too much to do, treat yourself to pre-prepped veggies and other ingredients at the store. By knocking a few steps off the task list, cooking can be faster and feel like less work.
4. Make-Ahead Meals
Sometimes you may feel like you have just enough energy to warm something up and that’s it. Instead of reaching for a frozen dinner or the phone to call for delivery, why not warm up a fresh, homemade meal that you made previously. On a day when you have time, cook up a few meals and put them in the fridge or freezer. Then you only need thaw them out and warm them up for a homemade meal in just minutes. Some dishes, like soups and stews, even taste better the next day. Other dishes that can be made in advance are casseroles, lasagnas and baked ziti, and veggie burgers. Make a marinara sauce and keep in the fridge so when you want spaghetti, all you have to do is boil the pasta and warm the sauce. Imagine how wonderful it would feel to have Spicy Mushroom, Peanut and Kale Soup, Traditional “Beef” Stew, Sweet Potato “Rice” Casserole, Ooey-Gooey Baked Ziti, or Best Quinoa Veggie Burgers with Pumpkin Seed-Onion Cream and all the work has already been done.
5. Get Inspired
The best way to make cooking feel easier is to have fun while you’re in the kitchen. Instead of a place of work, make your kitchen a room filled with creativity, inspiration and enjoyment. Concentrating on creating a delicious meal takes my mind off of anything that may have been bugging me all day. Losing myself in cooking is meditative and relaxes me. I also love to put on upbeat music and sing along while I’m cooking. The music lifts my mood and makes the time go faster. Waiting ten minutes for water to boil goes a lot quicker when I’m having my own private concert (with a carrot for a microphone, of course). The kitchen can be a place of creativity where you try those new recipes you’ve been bookmarking or create a few of your own. Figure out ways to use leftovers to make completely new meals like these healthy veggie burgers. Practice your photography skills and take pictures of your meals to share with friends.
There are many ways to take the work out of cooking and replace it with fun and enjoyment. These are a few of my tips. How do you make cooking easier? Share your tricks with us in the comments.
Lead Image Source: Best Quinoa Veggie Burgers with Pumpkin Seed-Onion Cream