I would pay good money for this: a website or cookbook with good, mostly vegetarian make-ahead meal menus (eg., dinners for an entire week that you could prep on your day[s] off, freeze, and then reheat day-of). Bonus if many of them were “throw and go” (that is, freezable uncooked but then thawed and finished on the day of eating). The few websites I’ve been exploring so far have the structure I like, but the majority of recipes seem too meat-heavy and aren’t very progressive.
I posted the above grousing on Facebook, and the thread that sprang up around it had some great suggestions. I’m posting them here for posterity. (Facebook search leaves a lot to be desired.) Normally I’d give props/credit via links, but I’m omitting names for privacy’s sake.
Website and book recommendations
- “A friend recommended the Vegan Lunch Box“ [It looks like it has a nice back log of material but seems to have stopped updating. —AK]
- Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian [As one friend pointed out, “Bittman is not generous with his seasonings.” I tend to agree. Though it’s easy enough to spice things up on our end of things, so this one might be worth a re-read. And I think we have it here in the house. —AK]
- 101 Cookbooks [We actually cook from this site a lot. I’d never thought about doing make-ahead meals from it, though. I’ll have to comb through and see if there are good freezable candidates. —AK]
- “Anything by Lukas Volger,” especially Veggie Burgers Every Which Way (“of which many are freezable and can be used not just as patties but also as the protein on a salad, etc.”) and Vegetarian Entrees That Won’t Leave You Hungry, “which is also freezer-friendly”
- “Coming soon is a new book by Joe Yonan, Eat Your Vegetables which emphasizes plant-based cooking for one (but easily modified for two) and takes freezing and prep and the many-weeknight-dishes-from-one-huge-batch-of-something philosophy into great consideration”
- “I cook a lot from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Easy to double up to store ahead. Or add some sausage, etc., to add flavor here and there. Also, do you have a crockpot? Maybe a subscription to Veg Times is in order?”
- “I also love How It All Vegan and every book that follows by Sarah Kramer & Tanya Barnard—really good, easy and approachable vegan, not fake-stuff-substituting-for-meat-and-dairy vegan. And The Ethnic Vegetarian has a lot of fantastic stew-y type things; it focuses on African cooking among several different traditions, including pan-African, African-American traditional, and African-American modern-adventurous”
- “Have you read Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal? I’m reading it now and it has great ideas for just this kind of cooking”
- “Not Your Mother’s Casseroles isn’t a website, but the vast majority of Faith Durand‘s recipes are vegetarian, and fridge-able for at least a few days. Since she writes for The Kitchn, some might appear on there, for previewing sake”
- “How about the site Fat Free Vegan Kitchen? I like the author’s recipes for make-ahead, big-batch meals that feed me through the week. And you can always add fat :)”
- “Try Meatless and PLENTY. Both fantastic w/recipes that are a variety of time-consuming. PLENTY is my fave cookbook (as a non-vegetarian) and has me eating veggie 90% of the time anyhow”
Tips: Soup and Its Storage
It’s not surprising that soup came up as a suggestion. I like the tip for storing it that this friend gives:
“At the very least, soups are very easy to freeze. Get ball jars and you can freeze them in single servings. (You don’t have to seal them in the jars like if you were jarring things for storage, they’re just a nice size and since they’re glass you can just pop them into the microwave).
“The base I use for most soups is I generally just sauté onions, maybe garlic, if I’m making a mushroom soup I’ll sauté the mushrooms, and then boil sweet potatoes (not yams) and other vegetables (like maybe cauliflower and a carrot or two) in some sort of stock, put in whatever seasoning (like curry or spicy stuff and peanut butter for an African peanut soup), and then use an immersion blender, and voilà. It’s like having a thick dairy soup, but without the dairy. I noticed that most of the Moosewood soup recipes had that sort of base, and started copying.”
Tip: Mix-and-Match Batches
A friend suggested a good strategy that also involved a sort of on-the-go DIY instant soup:
“We kind of do mix and match each week:
- One big batch of beans
- One big batch of greens
- Sometimes a big batch of a grain
- A big batch of 1-2 other vegetables
“Depending on what they are, sometimes we freeze parts and sometimes we just keep the prepped stuff in the fridge. We do everything in mason jars so they can go freezer-fridge-oven, and for lunch at work I frequently put a couple of spoonfuls of several different in one jar, add a scoop of (soy-free!) miso, then when it’s lunchtime, I just fill it with hot water or green tea and have instant soup.
“With different sauces, you can choose different options and have very different meals each day with a base set of ingredients and very little prep time. But if there are websites that are close to what you want, many of our favorite recipes are actually just adapted from meat-based versions. They tend to need more seasoning and fat (and sometimes another vegetable or two to flesh them out), but often they work out great with minimal tinkering.”
Obviously I want to save time making dinner in the house. Or, if not so much save time, then to time-shift dinner prep.
We’re now six months into parenthood, and while some of the transitions have been smooth, getting dinner on the table early in the evening has been a small struggle. We’re getting tired of a small repertoire of fast recipes. And anything more involved than 30 minutes, well, we just end up ordering delivery.
The sites I’ve been looking at promise a whole package of info. They give you recipes, shopping and prep lists, and freezing/thawing/cooking instructions. What’s more, they give you a whole week’s (or month’s) worth of meal menus. That’s appealing.
But as I said above, the menus are very meat heavy. And I haven’t really loved the vegetarian options I’ve paged through. Ideally, I’d love to find a site where you could join, tell it, “I want 7 nights of meals, 5 vegetarian, 2 meat.” And then it would spit out some options you could check off and then you’d get a custom packet of recipes, shopping, and prep lists. Maybe that’s out there. If it is, I haven’t found it. Yet.