Every week, I make a menu plan. We have them all stacked on our fridge. They all look kind of like this: I use graph paper because it...

How to Make a Vegan Menu Plan: Part One

Every week, I make a menu plan. We have them all stacked on our fridge. They all look kind of like this:

I use graph paper because it's better. (It's actually engineering paper, if you're wondering. I love it.)

Here's my process:
 At the top, I write down the days that we need the plan for. 
Any unusual days are marked with parentheses (e.g. 
Dan is missing dinner, or friends are coming over)

 On the right hand side, I write down everything we 
have in the fridge or pantry that needs using. 
This includes all fresh fruits and veggies, as well as 
grains/beans that have been sitting untouched, 
interesting sauces I'd like to incorporate and freezer 
items I think might work well during the week.

Down the left hand side of the page, I write out the indicated 
number of meals. I start by trying to use things that we already 
have (usually impulse buys or rollover meals). Then, I find/develop 
other recipes that I want to make. I'll go into this process in more 
detail tomorrow. As I go, I underline any ingredients we don't have, 
and draw a squiggly line under and ingredients that might need 
special prep (e.g. beans that need to soak, bread dough making, etc.).

Just below, I repeat the process for breakfast, lunch and snacks.
A relatively recent addition, this ensures I have ingredients on 
hand for healthy meals throughout the day.

At the bottom of the page (not shown above), 
I write down the shopping list. This just means 
writing down all of the underlined items from 
the menu above. I will also add any staples that 
we need, like bananas, peanut butter or olive oil.

We allow for some flexibility in this as well. Some nights, we've planned an elaborate pasta dinner, but really just feel like having cold cereal or smoothies. I usually try to plan some overlap, like the same soup but with different sides, or rice in two or three meals.

This system has made a world of difference in the quality of our food and in our budget. Although the engineer in me wants to make the process systematic--every week we buy 7 vegetables, 2 cups of dry grain, 2 cans of beans, etc.--Dan has reminded me that that's no fun. And he's right.

Now that I have some practice, the whole process takes me less than 20 minutes. And it saves me way more time than that during the week. {I cannot emphasize this enough!!} For example, while I'm roasting squash for one night's dinner, I can also pre-roast potatoes for a dinner later in the week. Or, if I'm making a super tasty sauce for a grain bowl, I will just make extra as a salad dressing for later in the week. I simmer tomorrow's beans while I'm chopping vegetables for tonight's stirfry.

Not to mention, it saves me extra trips to the grocery store. In fact, some weeks, when we're really busy, I'll draw on our small stores of frozen fruits and vegetables, and pantry items like grains, onions and potatoes, so that we don't have to buy anything at all. {These are usually the weeks where we eat a lot of oranges and run out of soymilk.}

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