Plant-Based Meal Prep: Why It’s Easier Than You Think

kitchen tips and hacks Aug 21, 2022
Meal prepping vegetables

Have a Bit of Kitchen Phobia?

One of the most common concerns I hear from those starting or wanting to start a plant-based diet is this, “Plant-based meals will take too much time to prep and make!” This is a legitimate concern, because most of us already have busy lives and no one wants to spend hours in the kitchen slaving away, prepping and cooking (unless, of course, that’s what you enjoy and do for a living)!

Is this your worry too? You may have been kept out of the kitchen growing up and now in adulthood, you don’t feel confident in cooking. Perhaps your busy work schedule is making you rely more on packaged store-bought convenience meals or restaurant takeout. Or maybe you feel you already spend ALL your time in the kitchen making meals for yourself or the family and can’t imagine potentially having to do more if you are making plant-based meals.

Here's the answer: It can, but it doesn’t have to. That’s because it all depends on how you go about the prepping and cooking process as you make your plant-based diet transition. Curious? Let’s dive now into this all-important topic!


Are Meat-Based Meals Really Easier to Prepare?

First, is it really true that meat-based meals always win ‘hands down’ when it comes to time and ease in the kitchen? Not necessarily. There are many ways in which plant-based eating can actually be less stressful and easier!

One example is this. You don’t always have to cook up a hot plant-based meal. Simply turn a leafy salad into a complete meal, make a cold pasta salad, enjoy a three-bean salad (no reheating required), or have a cool nourishing smoothie that’s quick to throw together and enjoy. So, if it’s a day that you don’t feel like cooking a big plant-based meal, know that you don’t need to. Isn’t that a relief?

On the other hand, for food safety and palatability reasons, you generally always need to cook your meats. You would also need to worry and be careful about possible cross-contamination with countertops and cutting boards when preparing meats alongside vegetables, fruits and other ingredients. Not only that, it’s also important during cooking to ensure that the meats have been cooked to the right temperatures for food safety reasons. After a dish with egg, meats or dairy has been made, you also need to ensure that this dish is kept well-heated or stored at the right temperature in the refrigerator to reduce the possible risk of food poisoning from bacteria like listeria, staphylococcus aureus and clostridium perfringens. It’s key as well to ensure that the meat, egg or dairy-containing dishes are consumed within a certain time period when out of the safe temperature zones to prevent further food poisoning problems.

Simple or Complicated? You Get to Choose

Another advantage I will highlight here with plant-based meals is that they can be as simple or complicated as you want them to be. If you don’t want to go out and make 3 or 4-course meals, you don’t need to. There are many easy one-pot meals such as chilis, soups and stews you can do, or just put together some quesadillas, veggie bean burritos or tacos and call it a night. Utilize lots of fresh fruits and vegetables or even dried or frozen fruits and vegetables to make simple easy meals. You actually have endless options available to you from the world of fresh whole plant-based foods to help you add color and variety to meals! However, with meats, you often can’t just eat the meat by itself (I suppose you could, but that may be a rather boring nutrient-limited meal in itself) but would typically need to add more sides or ingredients to the dish to make it a more complete and varied meal.



Worried About Seasoning?

Unlike what many people think, it does NOT take hours of seasoning to make plant-based foods like beans, lentils, chickpeas or vegetables more palatable or less bland. You just need the right seasoning and spice combinations to make these foods tasty and delicious! You can either just add the spices during the cooking or tossing process (as in the case of a cold bean salad) or choose to marinate certain ingredients for added flavor. Plant-based ingredients actually soak up flavors very quickly, so sometimes you only need to marinate something for 5-10 minutes before using it in a recipe. Some people do however choose to marinate foods like tofu overnight for even more depth of flavor, but this is not a requirement. Dressings and sauces can also be super quick to make and you can even add in some fermented foods for added flavor to your meals. These include sauerkraut, miso, natto and kimchi for additional tasty health benefits to your meals.


The ‘Not-So-Smart’ Way

Compared to eating out or buying takeout, preparing home-cooked meals generally do tend to take a bit more time and effort. But don’t be afraid to move to plant-based eating just because you think there will be more cooking time.

Plant-based eating and cooking really doesn’t have to be time-consuming and chore-filled…unless you go about it the wrong way! That’s spending hours searching the Internet to find good, tasty plant-based recipes to try, buying expensive ingredients, then spending 3 hours in the kitchen poring over the long, complicated recipe instructions. Worse yet, the dish turns out to be bland and unappealing to yourself or your loved ones. By this point, you are already overly hungry, and worn out from the time and effort in the kitchen. So, what do you do? You grab whatever’s available and end up snacking on not-so-healthy alternatives as you turn to wash the multiple pots and pans waiting in the kitchen sink.

Even if a recipe is a success, it is possible to eat that and then still feel hungry again an hour later, because the meal did not have the necessary components and portions to make it a filling and sustaining meal. I’ve witnessed so many people try to transition to plant-based eating on their own with little guidance and then they end up feeling hungry all the time, needing food but not knowing what to eat.

Others feel that to move to plant-based eating they will need to cook every day or be pro-chefs, whipping out effortlessly gourmet meals like what is seen regularly on Instagram or other social media channels…that’s not the case!



The Better Transition Approach

So what’s the smarter, better, and simpler way to get started eating a plant-based diet? Instead of running around immediately trying random recipes found here and there, the better way is to know and focus first on building a strong foundation for this new way of living. Take steps like assessing what plant-based ingredients, spices and seasonings you already have in your kitchen, before determining the key essentials you would really need to get started.

Then begin with simple plant-based meals and recipes that do not contain a complicated list of ingredients. This will give you confidence making these meals and using new plant-based ingredients. However, it is very important to choose the recipes you decide to make carefully, to ensure they will truly nourish you and won’t leave you feeling quickly hungry afterwards. As a plant-based dietitian (and lover of food!) I am passionate about making sure that each of my recipes is as nutrient-packed and filling as possible to ensure the best possible nutrition for not only my loved ones, but for my clients and those in my Community as well.

As you move along in your transition, there are also many different meal prep strategies and kitchen hacks you can learn and use to help you cook plant-based meals even faster and more efficiently.

So even if you have a busy schedule, you too can be on your way to better thriving health, with the right plant-based recipes and kitchen prep cooking hacks!


Today’s Takeaway

As you can see, making plant-based meals really shouldn’t take more time than regular meals to prepare. Sometimes, though, when we feel that it’s easier to make meat dishes than plant-based ones, that can be because we’re simply used to one way of cooking and so find they require less thought and effort to prepare. But having the RIGHT simple delicious plant-based recipes to follow can make ALL the difference! 

And like anything new, once you’re used to this new way of cooking with a bit of practice and the right easy recipes, plant-based cooking becomes even faster and easier and almost ‘second nature’!

So, is it true that a plant-based diet involves too much time prepping and cooking in the kitchen? I don’t think so. It depends on factors such as how you go about using your time in the kitchen and the recipes you make!