As a busy working mum, I know what it’s like to constantly feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day. And I also know that, when we’re short on time, our plans for healthy and balanced meals go out of the window. We are generally ok rusting up a quick dinner but, when it comes to lunches, it’s often a sad-looking sandwich (I used to be the kind of person who would eat plain cheese sandwiches for a couple of weeks in a row) or an overpriced meal deal that just doesn’t deliver on taste.
The good news is that there’s a way around this – a simple system that anyone can use to make lunchtime exciting once again. That system is called Meal Prepping.
No matter how much you hate cooking, how little time you have or however small your budget, meal prepping can help you put together healthy and tasty lunches so that you don’t have to eat boring sandwiches ever again. You only live once and you’ve got to enjoy every bite, right?
Now, there are a lot of articles out there on meal prepping but I found a lot of them lack step-by-step instructions, especially when it comes to plant-based lifestyles.
So here I am sharing my vegetarian meal prep routine, hoping to inspire you guys to give it a try. I know it can sound a little daunting but, trust me, after a couple of weeks it’ll become second nature and you’ll be so proud of yourself for having taken a great positive step forward for the sake of your tastebuds, health, budget and sanity.
What is meal prep?
Meal prepping simply means preparing some or all your meals for the week ahead of time.
Contrary to what a lot of people believe, it isn’t just for gym goers or those wanting to lose weight. Whether you have an office job and you’d like to start bringing your lunch from home or are a busy parent like myself, meal prepping will benefit anyone who simply wants to enjoy better and healthier food.
Whilst meal prepping can refer to any meal of the day, this beginner’s guide focuses on lunches since this seems to be when people get stuck in a rut the most.
My vegetarian meal prep system is based on making 4 lunches ahead of time – for me, that’s Monday to Thursday covered.
Why 4 meals?
I always meal prep for 4 days, not 5 or 7. And there’s a good reason for that – most foods simply don’t taste very good if they stay in the fridge too long, no matter what you might have seen on other websites.
Y’know, those 21 tupperware containers neatly positioned in rows on the kitchen table that you see on Instagram? Do they really eat that stuff or is it just for the camera and the sake of a few likes? Because, at the best of times, they’d be eating nasty food towards the end of the week. At the worst, there’d be some serious cases of food poisoning. So let’s not go there.
No issues when it comes to recipes that can be batch cooked and frozen. Otherwise, I recommend you stick to preparing no more than 4 days’ worth of lunches at a time.
For days 5, 6, 7 you can always enjoy your leftovers (my favourite option), prep some more food if you have the time or take something out of the freezer.
Why meal prep?
It is a huge time saver
You put some time aside and focus on the job at hand. Much better than spending time each day trying to decide what to make, realising you don’t have all the ingredients in, going to the supermarket, etc. This system is easy: you plan what you want to eat, you buy your ingredients, you prep the food and you enjoy a scrumptious lunch. Simples.
It helps you eat healthy
When you already have a tasty, homemade lunch waiting or you in the fridge you are less likely to reach for junk food. It’s as simple as that.
Pair one of the simple and delicious lunch ideas from the this page with one of my quick dinners and you’re good to go.
It saves you money
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that bringing your own lunches to work makes financial sense. Even more so if you can prepare a lunch that is tastier than what you could grab from a sandwich shop. Also, when you meal prep, you shop with a purpose so you’re less likely to grab things you don’t need. You’re a soldier on a mission.
It helps you try something new
This really depends on what you’re like but it’s so easy to get stuck in a rut and cook/eat the same things on rotation over and over again. However, because with meal prepping I get some time in the week to focus purely on lunches, I find that I’m also more inspired to try something new.
How to meal prep
So let’s get to the practical stuff and let me show you what I do every week. I generally reserve an hour or two (depending on what I’m making) on a Sunday evening to prep our lunches. It goes without saying – you can meal prep whenever suits your personal schedule.
There are two methods you can use:
1. The Pick & Mix Method – this is when you cook and prepare various items separately and then assemble them in your lunchbox. A bit like a bento box. This method is particularly good if you are short on time and you don’t think you’ll enjoy eating the same thing a couple of days in a row.
2. The Recipe Method – this is simply when you cook up various portions of a recipe you love so that you’ve got them ready for your lunches. There are no rules and this can be anything from pasta salads to curries.
Vegetarian Meal Prep Option 1: The Pick & Mix Method
The key to healthy vegetarian meal prep is ensuring that your meals are balanced, including a good mix of protein, carbohydrates, vegetables and healthy fats.
So all you do with the Pick & Mix Method is select one or two items from each food group and put them in your container, with any dressings or sauces going in a separate little pot (to ensure your lunch doesn’t go soggy). How easy is that? You can prepare a few portions of the same lunch or mix it up, it’s totally up to you.
Here are some examples of ingredients you can include:
Protein (approximately 1/4 of your container)
Meat substitutes (such as Quorn or Linda McCartney products)
Carbohydrates (approximately 1/4 of your container)
Rice (white, brown, wild)
Vegetables – raw, roasted, steamed, grilled, sautéed (approximately 1/2 of your container)
Healthy fats (1-2 tablespoons)
Sample meal plan
Chickpeas / Brown rice / Roasted Mediterranean vegetables / Homemade balsamic dressing (1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, salt & pepper)
Wholemeal wrap with Roasted Mediterranean vegetables, black beans and grated cheese
Black beans / Brown rice / Green beans & tomatoes / Lime & yogurt dressing from this recipe
Chickpeas / Roasted sweet potato / Wilted spinach / Roasted cashews / A drizzle of Sriracha sauce
You can see how in the vegetarian meal prep plan above I have only used a handful of items but in a different way each day. So, for example, the roasted vegetables go with the chickpeas and rice on Day 1, and then are turned into a wrap on Day 2. Same with the brown rice which is paired with different foods on different days.
Isn’t this a very easy way to eat good food but also get all the nutrients your body needs?
Vegetarian Meal Prep Option 2: The recipes method
The other method I use is simply to cook 4 portions of your favourite recipe. I’m quite partial to salads and soups for my lunches but, again, there are no rules – it’s totally up to you.
I’m in the process of setting up a whole section of the site dedicated to vegetarian meal prepping but, in the meantime, these are a few of my recipes that are great for lunches and keep well:
Bulgur Salad with Harissa Butternut Squash
Greek-style Lunchbox Pasta Salad
Giant Couscous with Spicy Butternut Squash & Cashew Nuts
Feel Good Burrito Bowl with Yoghurt & Lime Dressing
Super Easy Green Lentil Soup
Healthy 30-minute Broccoli & Potato Soup
Finally, a word on containers. This isn’t just me recommending a few items on Amazon but trust me on this one: good quality storage is essential when it comes to meal prepping.
You want to use containers that are:
* BPA Free (BPA is a nasty chemical you want to avoid)
* Freezer safe
* Dishwasher safe
After hearing a lot of people recommend switching to glass food storage, we have recently bought these Symbom containers for our lunches and I can honestly say food tastes fresher, they don’t get stained (which can happen to plastic containers with tomato-based sauces or curries) and they don’t absorb odours. So these or something similar would be my top recommendation if you’re shopping around.
Should you want to go for plastic containers for your vegetarian meal prep, I can’t recommend Lock & Lock storage enough. We’ve had ours for ages and still use them for batch cooking and freezing.
In terms of size, anything between 750ml to 1l is ideal for a good sized lunch.
As well as your main lunch box, it’s useful to have a set of small pots like this Sistema set for dressings, sauces and dips.
There are loads of options out there but, whatever you do, please be kind to the environment and avoid single use containers at all costs.
Recap: Vegetarian Meal Prep in 3 easy steps
1. Select your strategy – Pick & Mix or Recipe – and decide what you’d like to eat
2. Make a shopping list and buy the ingredients you need
3. Set aside some time to prepare your lunches and have fun!
I really hope you found this Beginner’s Guide to Vegetarian Meal Prep useful! I’d love to your feedback on this guide and I’d also like to know what you’ve been making – so please, don’t be a stranger, and keep in touch by e-mail or on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
Don’t forget to save this guide to your favourite Pinterest board for later!