When it comes to finding recipes, we modern-day humans have it made. We Google a few words, we browse a couple of sites, and lo and behold we’ve got plant-based recipes in seconds. With such ready access to so many recipes, there’s never been a better time to start incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet.

Even so, putting together a full plant-based menu can still be a daunting task if you’re new to it, and sometimes if you’re not, and all the more so for those with limited cooking experience.

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This list of tips is supposed to serve as a general guide to putting all those recipes together; to building just the right vegan menu for you and your guests. Though new plant-based eaters and new cooks may find this advice most useful, it applies whatever your cooking level and however long you’ve been vegan.

1. Consider the Mood of the Occasion

How to Build Your First Menu When Learning to Cook Without MeatFlickr

 

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What are you hosting? A sophisticated dinner party? A guys’ or gals’ night in? A romantic meal? A relaxed lunch?

Keeping in mind the general mood of your event can be a helpful way of determining potential dishes, since some foods “fit” certain occasions better than others.

For example, playing on fine dining classics – perhaps with beet and fennel pâtélemon seitan, and white chocolate panna cotta – will go down better at your fancy dinner than at your chilled-out get-together, where people will appreciate pizza or hot dogs more.

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2. Think About the Season

How to Build Your First Menu When Learning to Cook Without MeatRecipe by Josephine Watmore 

 

The season should really inform your menu in two ways. Firstly, via seasonal weather, because when it’s freezing and rainy you’re probably going to prefer a hearty shepherd’s pie or a seitan roast over a light, summery salad. This almost goes without saying, because you’ll probably automatically be drawn towards weather-appropriate foods.

But the season might also inform your menu via the seasonal availability of produce. It’s worth shopping for fruit and vegetables seasonally, where possible, not just because they’re cheaper but also because they taste better in season. To me, this is a really nice approach to cooking because it lets you gain back that inspiration from and enjoyment of the seasons, which nowadays we’re more disconnected from in our global food economy.

For example, the summer abundance of soft fruits currently invites us to make fresh peach tartssummer berry pies, and plum granola.

3. Choose a Theme

How to Build Your First Menu When Learning to Cook Without MeatRecipe by The Natural Epicurean

 

Another way to plan your menu is to pick a theme and run with it. Do you love a certain type of cuisine in particular? Why not base your menu on that? Here are a few themed menu ideas.

Italian – with bruschetta,pasta,risotto, and tiramisu.
Mexican – with elotebutternut fajitas, and spiced snickerdoodles.
Thai – with creamy coconut soup, and pad thai.
Indian – with Phulkopir Shingaratomato rice, and kurma.

4. Be Balanced

How to Build Your First Menu When Learning to Cook Without MeatRecipe by Alison Marras 

The balance of your menu is another thing to consider. Whether or not you go for a specific theme, you do want your dishes to work well together. This goes for both the flavour and the feel of the dishes. For instance, you might not want to start out with something over-spicy or with a very strong, distinctive flavour if it’s going to overpower the flavours of a delicate second course. Or, as another example, you might want to pick a lighter, more refreshing dessert – like a sorbet or something fruit-based – to offset a rich, heavy main.

By all means make rich and flavourful food – but just be aware of leftover tastes, sensations, and how the meal works as a whole.

5. Think About What You Would Have Eaten as a Non-Vegan

How to Build Your First Menu When Learning to Cook Without MeatRecipe by Rhea Parsons

 

If you’re still struggling for ideas, thinking back to your favourite non-vegan dinners can actually be a great way of coming up with new menus. Virtually every non-vegan dish can be made without animal products. If you had a really great dinner somewhere, why not recreate it, course-by-course, vegan-style?

These two guides may help: How to Veganize Some Common, Non-Vegan Recipes and How to Veganize Your Favourite Familiar Dishes.

6. Last But by No Means Least, be Real About Your Time Constraints and Budget

How to Build Your First Menu When Learning to Cook Without MeatRecipe by Amy Cramer and Lisa McComsey 

 

Cost and time are both important and should always be factored in when you’re planning your menu. In an ideal world, of course, we could all afford to buy limitless amounts of expensive and exotic ingredients, and we could all cook like pros for 12 hours straight. By all means push the boat out – but don’t push yourself over the edge. You still have to actually host your dinner, and you’ll be too flustered to enjoy it if you’re short on time or stressing about the cost. Choose recipes wisely, and plan your preparation in advance.

If you are short on time, pick quickly-made recipes or those that can be made in advance. There are plenty of those herehere, and here.

For a low-cost menu, consider dishes that depend mostly on simple, cheap ingredients such as whole grains and seasonal fruits and vegetables. The cost of speciality ingredients and pre-made products — including vegan meats, cheeses, and so on – can add up fast. For cheap vegan meal ideas, check out this article.

Making Your Own

When you’re building a vegan menu, the possibilities are almost endless. Ultimately, the most important thing is to have fun using your imagination and getting to grips with vegan cooking. Hopefully though, these tips will start you off while you find your feet.

Have you built a vegan menu before? How would you go about it? Let us hear it in the comments below!

Lead image source: How to Make Creamy Vegan Vodka Sauce