Yesterday, I talked about making a general meal plan--laying out the paper, documenting what's in the fridge and how many meals you need...

How to Make a Vegan Menu Plan: Part Two

Yesterday, I talked about making a general meal plan--laying out the paper, documenting what's in the fridge and how many meals you need, etc.

This is all about how to fill in that middle section: the recipes themselves. And however much Dan wants me our menus to be unsystematic, I have a system.

I love pulling recipes from FoodGawker. As I scroll through the photos, I favorite recipes I might want to make. I usually try to make 1-2 recipes a week from FoodGawker, often relying on it to help me use weird ingredients (like the mung beans I bought on a whim.) However, these recipes are usually fairly involved and not great for weeknights.

The rest of our recipes have a formula: grain + vegetables + protein + sauce. Sounds boring, but there are INFINITE possible combinations.

pasta + kale + blended tofu + pumpkin
rice + bok choy + broccoli (high in protein!) + teriyaki sauce
quinoa + sauteed peppers + chickpeas + tahini sauce
bread + peppers, tomatoes & corn + mixed beans & nutritional yeast + broth & chili powder (i.e. vegan chili and bread)
potato chunks + salad veggies + nuts/seeds + salad dressing

With this in mind, we usually have around 5 meals a week that use this formula.

GRAINS: I try to use 2-3 different grains, repeating them over several meals. I try to make sure they are not only different forms of the grain, but actually different grains. In other words, I will try to avoid doing pasta, bread and flour tortillas as the three grains, instead choosing rice, wheat bread and corn tortillas.

VEGETABLES: These are essentially always seasonal. We use a mix of frozen/fresh/canned, organic and conventional. Sometimes, we plan for one veggie and have to substitute another (kale for spinach, or broccoli for kohlrabi). However, they are omnipresent.

PROTEINS: There is protein is most things you eat—vegetables, grains and even fruits have protein in them. And generally, by combining {fat+protein} sources and {carb+protein} sources, I get a good balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats in my diet. I still like to include at least one item in each dinner that has a higher concentration of protein--it helps correct for any less-than-stellar choices during the day, with regards to protein.

I mostly rely on legumes for this. Although I have no problem eating soy, I like to vary it up. I usually aim for at least 3 nights of beans in a typical week, and 2 nights of soy (tofu, edamame). I round out my arsenal with nuts and seeds—from pepitas in a salad to tahini dressings—and nutritional yeast.

SAUCES: These are a staple of the vegan diet. While the flavors of meat often call for tamer sides, and vegetarians can add cheese and eggs as flavor anchors, a good sauce can make or break a vegan meal. They definitely add to omnivorous meals, but their potential is greatly improved by removing meats, dairies and eggs.

We have an arsenal of sauces. The key components can be combined in a lot of ways: peanut butter, tahini, miso paste, sesame oil, vegetable oil, olive oil, lemon/lime juice, various vinegars, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, nutritional yeast, spices.

peanut butter + soy + ginger + sesame + lime or rice vinegar = peanut sauce
olive oil + garlic + lemon juice + tahini = creamy salad dressing
tahini + miso + lemon + oil = grain bowl sauce
{Any ingredients we're missing that we should have?}

This is definitely easily adaptable to a vegetarian or omnivorous diet. For me, it's an easy, formulaic way of making consistently tasty, healthy meals using seasonal and inexpensive ingredients.

I'm sure this system will morph and adapt as fresh garden produce becomes abundant and as our needs change. For now, though, this method is keeping us healthy and wealthy!

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