Nearly six years ago, I took the plunge against my cultural upbringing and joined millions of Americans in the lifestyle choice of becoming (mostly) vegetarian. For me, eliminating most meat was simply the easiest way to take hold of my nutritional choices and intake. For my own sanity, I decided that I would move forward with a vegetarian- and vegan-focused diet that allowed seafood, yogurt, cheese and eggs.
Being vegan or vegetarian is much more accessible today than ever before. For someone like me (who can easily blow my life savings on dining out), I’ve forced myself to learn how to live on a tight food budget by cooking at home. It’s become a part of my daily routine. Living in the working world means spending most of my time on someone else’s schedule. As a freelancer, I’m always on the go. My biggest challenge has been not only making time to prepare healthy, vegetarian meals, but ones that are satisfying, easy, quick and portable.
The first steps for me was to establish ways to manage my time so that I could consume food that was satisfying and healthy, while getting the most bang for my buck. If you’re like me, you hate systems and routines. There’s nothing that winds me up or bores me more than being forced to abide by rules or repeat steps over and over again. Nonetheless, this archaic way of operating on a routine has proven to help me not only control what I eat, but has helped me control where I buy it. It satisfies my stomach without blowing my budget or sacrificing my standards for caloric intake.
Here are five tricks that make living life as a busy, sometimes-vegetarian manageable. Plus, a winter-ready recipe you can whip up in under 30 minutes.
1. Buy in Bulk. Cook in Bulk.
Buying in bulk is the way to go. Not everything can be purchased this way and for those of you like me who have limited (or no) storage space, you have to be selective. Most of my meals consist of the same base ingredients. Since I like to eat foods that are as fresh and pure as possible, I try to steer clear from canned, pre-packaged or ready-to-eat meals.
Once you learn what foods you like and what you’re willing to eat, splurge a couple times a month to stock up on these items. Then, leave the weekly shopping to perishables like fresh vegetables. Bulk buy things such as rice, dried beans, lentils, split peas, quinoa, fresh fruit, nuts, tortillas and pasta. Get the energy you need and power through the day by planning ahead. This allows you to prepare meals quickly, all the while, giving you healthy meals which satisfy your taste buds.
- Buy your favorite berries, bananas and pineapple and take smaller freezer bags to section into one-cup size portions for weeks’ worth of grab-and-blend smoothie packs.
- Pre-soak two cups of dried beans and put in a large pot and put on a low simmer before you head out in the morning, so it has time to slow cook all day and will be ready for eating when you get home at night. You can section out the remainder into ½-cup size portions and put into the freezer for future protein-packed meals.
- Cook larger portions of grains such as rice and quinoa or pasta without sauces. Section these into smaller portions in Tupperware for quick prep and pairings throughout the week.
2. Spend on Storage
Invest in a large, nice set of Tupperware and heavy-duty freezer bags in various sizes. This will give you quick and easy storage for your bulk-cooked food, allowing it to stay fresher for longer whether it’s in the freezer, fridge or cabinet. You can grab a quick, on-the-go meal to take to work, the gym or on your next road trip.
3. Get the Basics
My grandmother always said that it’s wise to invest in quality appliances and I couldn’t agree with her more. I am not one to want or need a large quantity of things, but I have over time discovered that investing in a few high-quality essentials not only makes life easier, but decreases time and long-term expenses. Having the right equipment really makes eating cleaner, tastier meals so much easier. A few must-haves that I could not live without and use for nearly every meal prep include:
- A high-powered blender
- A large wok frying pan
- A rice cooker
- A large, deep pot
4. Modify Existing Recipes
Cooking is a science that anyone can formulate. Being southern, I grew up eating meat with every meal, loads of butter and fats and very few fresh vegetables. As I got older and my taste buds evolved, I learned to make some of my favorite comfort foods from childhood into healthier, vegetarian friendly dishes just by adjusting a few things here and there and replacing or leaving out the meat. Just the same, if you must have meat, you can take existing vegetarian meals and add in a healthy, lean protein for extra satisfaction.
5. Create a Base List and Stick to It (Most of the Time)
The quickest way for me to get in and out of the store and back to my day is to stick to my base list. I buy the same things, every time, because I know that I use these items most. I know how to modify them, use them across a variety of meals and how to incorporate new items occasionally to keep eating exciting. Here are a few things I always buy every single week for savory cooking. You can use every single one of these in pretty much any meal to add flavor, nutrition and satisfaction.
- Fresh Garlic
- Bell peppers
- Dark, leafy greens such as kale or spinach
- Whole fat Greek yogurt
- Potatoes (white and sweet)
- Green veggies like asparagus or Brussels sprouts
Whip up this recipe in under 30 minutes!
Chop butternut squash and sweet potatoes into 1/4 inch cubes and put into a large pot. Finely dice 1/2 onion and 5 cloves of garlic and put 3/4 of each of these along with all of the dry spices into the pot while setting aside 1/4 of each for later. Add vegetable broth and water to the pot, turn on high heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a medium heat, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until potatoes and squash are soft.
While the potatoes and squash boil, pre-heat oven to 375 and mix kale and Parmesan cheese with oil and spread out flat across a baking sheet. Bake until crisp or for about 10 minutes.
Once potatoes and squash become soft, pour 3/4 of the solid mixture into a blender with the remainder of the garlic and onions and a little of the coconut milk, blend until smooth. Smash the remainder of the potato and squash mixture with a potato masher or spoon. Then, pour the blended mixture back into the pot and stir in the remainder of the coconut milk. Cook for 10 additional minutes on low.
Serve one-cup size portions in a bowl and top with a dollop of Greek yogurt, sprig of parsley and sprinkle of the Parmesan kale chips to serve.