Ask the Pros Q&A

Q: How do you succeed on a plant-based diet when you live a busy lifestyle?

A: You’re a busy person and let’s face it, at the end of a long day, you’re tired and hungry. You can’t be expected to whip up plant-based masterpieces every night of the week.  Meal planning is an essential component to success when you are trying to eat healthily. Meal preparation is something that must become part of your routine if you wat to be successful in adopting a plant-based regimen.

I recommend setting aside an hour each weekend (or any day that’s convenient) to cook some beans and grains and to prep produce for the week ahead. Just an hour in the kitchen can go a long way to set you up for satisfying, plant-based meals throughout the week. Here are four  steps to successful meal prep.

Step 1: Clean out the pantry. If you haven’t yet, go to your pantry and throw out or donate foods containing meat, dairy, oils, and all highly processed foods.

Step 2: Select your meals for the week. Consider  leftovers that can be used for more than one meal. Write these down so you know what you plan to have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you are just starting out, identify some of your favorite meals, and give them a plant-based makeover!

Here are some examples of foods you can switch up:

Instead of making 

Beef Chili
Hamburger
Chicken Wrap
Beef Sloppy Joe’s

Step 3: Batch cook your staples. For example, we eat black beans regularly, and therefore we have a huge bag of dried black beans ready to batch cook. You can use canned or dried beans, but we save so much money using dried beans, and I believe they taste so much better. We prepare dried beans in an Instant Pot, but you can do it on the stovetop and, once cooked, portion them out and freeze several servings. Keep two to four portions in the fridge for immediate use, and freeze the rest for later in the week or future weeks. Cooked beans will keep well in the freezer for up to four months. We also batch cook soups, garbanzo beans for salads, and brown rice for quick meals.

Step 4: Prep your produce. Based on the meals you selected, buy the produce you need, and prep it for the week. Wash and dry one or two leafy greens like lettuce, arugula, kale, spinach, or Swiss chard. Clean and dry in a salad spinner, and store in the fridge. Chop and slice onions, carrots, leeks, and/or shallots. Store in separate airtight containers. Clean and prep one or two seasonal vegetables like zucchini, squash, bell peppers, cabbage, beets, asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, etc. Clean and cut into desired size. You could do the same for herbs, but we use mostly dried herbs and spices. Also consider roasting, sautéing, or steaming a vegetable in a big batch and using it in different dishes throughout the week. Pick a vegetable from each category, and you will have a variety of flavors and textures in your meals.

Contributing Writer: Erin Sinnaeve APN, FNP-C

Erin Sinnaeve is a Family Nurse Practitioner and owns her own private health coaching business Thrive Plant Life. She also works in Allergy/Immunology at Advocate Aurora Health.

Erin received her BSN from University of Nebraska, her MS from Creighton University, and her DNP from Chamberlain University. She is an instructor at Chamberlain University. She is also a Food Over Medicine instructor and a member of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.