Living gluten-free and plant-based can be tricky at the best of times, and my number one tip for managing it is to plan, plan, plan (I have a whole post of other tips for going vegan when you’re gluten-free (or vice versa) here).
When I’m on top of everything, I like to keep things organised by planning and preparing my meals and food every week.
I’ve got my weekly gluten-free & vegan meal planning down to a fine art now.
I use a plan/shop/prep method:
- Plan what you’re going to eat for each meal
- Write a list & shop for the ingredients you’ll need
- Schedule in time to prep all the food you’re going to eat
To be honest, I often don’t go into a fully detailed meal plan any more – sometimes I don’t do any more than jot a few notes down. Sometimes its enough to just note that I’m planning to go out for lunch with my Ma on Saturday, that my husband is cooking dinner on Thursday or that I’m going to throw together a stir-fry on Monday.
Having even a basic plan though helps to streamline my week, and stops me worrying about food.
Just a quick FYI: My intentions with this blog are to help people who eat vegan & gluten-free. This is not diet, health or nutrition advice. Go and see a qualified medical professional for that sh*t, take care of yourself, & see my full liability policy here.
Why Planning Meals is super helpful when you’re gluten-free and vegan
Firstly, it can keep you on the ‘healthy eating’ bandwagon
I’m a bag of contradictions when it comes to healthy eating.
I love it, I genuinely love fruits and vegetables. Not just the feeling of being healthy, but I actually love the taste and texture and variety of ‘healthy’ foods.
I am a lazy girl at heart (and I also love some not-so-healthy foods).
When you don’t plan your meals its so much easier to eat junk. Ready meals and takeaways and other easy, less healthy foods are awesome, and they have their place, but that place can’t be ‘every day’ because if you don’t eat fresh veggies you’ll start to feel like crap (and get really skint really quickly).
Meal planning will also make food shopping cheaper
Not only in terms of cutting down the takeaway & eating out budget (as per point A).
When you plan all your meals, it’s way easier to only buy what you need.
Instead of dashing around the supermarket on an empty stomach with no idea what you’re making, and playing ready-steady-cook when you get home.
It saves the ‘where am I going to find something vegan & gluten-free?‘ panic
Planning ahead can set your mind at ease in terms of making sure there is always something you can actually eat.
Whether that means:
- Reminding yourself to leave time to make a packed lunch for the days you’re at work
- Planning to go to the supermarket that sells the cheap tofu when you know you’ll need it for that stir-fry
- Checking out restaurant menus online when you’ve made plans to go out for a dinner date
Meal planning just helps you to stay in control of what you’re eating so you don’t end up hangry.
Planning out your food can add variety, too
When I don’t meal plan I end up eating the same few easy meals on rotation over and over (and over) again.
By just spending an hour or so each week putting a little thought into your meals for the week ahead, you can challenge yourself to cook more interesting things.
That’s interesting, not difficult or time-consuming or expensive.
I love spending time on a Sunday afternoon browsing through my Pinterest ‘ideas for dinner’ board, surrounded by full-colour recipe books or with the latest issue of Good Food, Bon Appetit or Vegan Life magazine in-hand, planning out some meals I’m already looking forward to.
Meal planning essentially streamlines your (food) life (I can call meal planning a productivity hack, yes?) and gives you a good excuse to spend a few hours poring over food porn and geeking out over new vegan recipes.
The Simple Gluten Free Vegan Meal Planning Method
So, there is a method.
Most weeks, if I’m honest, I just make a quick note on paper, or in a google doc, but when I’m being really organised (i.e. when I have an extra-busy week coming up) I go full-planner and write out a meal plan in a google sheet (I know, I’m a spreadsheet geek, but stick with me).
Here’s my go-to plan/shop/prep method for planning, buying and preparing food for the week:
1. Create your planner
You can do this on paper, in a spreadsheet or a word doc, or etch it into a stone tablet, whatever floats
Plan out what you’ll eat each day.
Make a table with the days of the week down the left (Monday to Sunday) and five columns: activities, breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks.
Make a list of everything you’ll need to buy in order to prepare and make your meals.
You can use a regular shopping list, or make a new table.
I like to split it by department (produce, fresh, frozen, etc.), and add a small list for mid-week shopping (for example, fresh rocket for next Friday’s dinner party probably won’t look very perky if you buy them this Sunday)
Schedule when you’ll prepare the meals and food you plan to eat.
I use a simple table, with columns for the days of the week, the item to prepare, the source of the recipe, and the number of portions.
This section is the main part of the meal plan – and sometimes the only part I properly fill in:
Start by making a note of any activities (and any meals which will be affected by those activities) in the activities column.
I usually add things like: whether I’m in the office or working from home, my husband’s rota (this is particularly helpful for anyone who works variable shifts) and any meals out, trips or activities. I tend to plan my exercise in this column too – I try to go for a run three days each week, and writing them into my plan helps me to stick to that.
This column really helps me to plan meal prep – I know some hardcore food preppers get everything ready to go for the whole week on a Sunday, but I just don’t have the fridge space (and I can’t quite bring myself to chop onions for next Saturday’s soup on Sunday before). For example, if I’m working late on Wednesday, I could be home for dinner as normal, but won’t have time to prep an elaborate packed lunch for Thursday. you get the picture.
Then just start filling in your meal plan, starting with what you know, and work backwards:
- Add planned meals out first
- Then breakfasts and snacks (particularly during the week – I tend to plan 1-2 breakfasts and snacks to last Monday-Friday
- Usually, a few evening meals can be filled straight in there too, for example, if I know my husband is cooking one night, I’ll just fill that in
- Then comes the fun part – getting inspiration for the remaining meals, from places like Pinterest, recipe books or food magazines. I’ll normally plan out 2-3 lunches to rotate through the week, a few evening meals.
Next, go through each meal and add any ingredients you don’t already have to the shopping list.
Start a new tap for shopping (or switch to your shopping list).
For each meal, check what you have in your fridge and cupboards, and add anything extra to the list.
I split it down into each section of the supermarket (which means I can be in and out of the shop really fast), as well as a section for a ‘midweek’ shop.
I also add three columns per section: the item (e.g. ‘bananas’) the amount (e.g. 6) and a column to mark whether or not I’ve added it to
But, obviously, you can organise your shopping list however you like.
Finally – and this is the part that I think really makes my meal planning method work for busy people, is to actually plan in when I’m going to make all that food.
start a third tab or list and (referring back to the ‘Activities’ column in the first tab) fill in any meals you need to prep ahead of time:
- What you’re making (e.g. lime & roasted aubergine curry)
- When you’re making it (e.g. Tuesday night)
- The source of the recipe (e.g. zoepickburn.com/aubergine-curry-recipe. Either a link to the website, a book title & page number, or N/A if its something you can make without a recipe)
- The number of portions it should make (e.g. 4 (me & my husband for dinner + packed lunch for two days))
Example: If I’m meal planning on Sunday, then I’d probably plan to prepare a batch of salad for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday lunches this evening while I’m making dinner. I’d plan to make dinner tonight, and make double so we can eat it tomorrow night too. As tomorrow evening’s dinner and Tuesday’s lunch is prepared, I don’t have any meal prep to worry about tomorrow. I know that my husband is working late on Tuesday, so I plan to make a simple stir-fry that night as I’ll only be cooking for me. Then he’s cooking Wednesday night, but I need to prep my lunch for Thursday. And so on.
Meal planning is really useful for streamlining a busy week.
I know this plan/purchase/prepare method can feel complicated, but it really isn’t.
I actually spend way less time worrying about what I’m going to eat, spend far less money on ready-meals, takeaways and impulse buys, and eat so much more healthily, and with more variety when taking the time to food plan each week.