Do you have one meal that is your go-to when you have zero time and want to spend little to no effort thinking about what to make? (Pretty sure I heard a few of you say that's every day of the week. 😄)
Surely, you have at least one go-to meal that makes such a regular appearance you can practically make in your sleep. Maybe it's as simple as grilled cheese, cereal for dinner, or instant ramen noodles. Grilled cheese is definitely a go-to in my house, especially as the fall season approaches. It's the epitome of delicious comfort food. I like to use Dave's Killer Bread or Ezekiel bread, both of which are whole grain with lots of seeds, meaning their nutrient-dense and high fiber (5 grams per slice!). Then I'll use a combination of Miyoko's mozzarella and Violife Smoked Provolone to make it extra cheesy and scrumptious. If I'm feeling the need for a bit of healthy with my comfort, I'll add arugula and sprouts to it as well. But sometimes it's just about pure indulgence with the bread and cheese ... and, that's okay! There's always the next meal, which can be leafy green or veggie-centric.
One of the most common requests I hear is "what plant-based meals can I make quickly for the whole family?" Another common comment is, "I want to eat more plant-based, but I'm not sure what to make." Today, I wanted to share five simple-to make, go-to meals in my household that are super satisfying, delicious, nourishing and energizing.
But, First, the Pantry
There is one caveat: You must have some plant-based pantry items on hand to easily create a meal in minutes. When my husband and I don't have the time or the energy to prepare something elaborate, we turn to the staples in our pantry, which typically include beans, pasta, and rice. Then we'll see which veggies and sauces we have in the fridge to whip something up quickly. The result is usually one of three things: pasta, tacos, or a stir fry.
The key to creating a tasty plant-based meal in minutes is having a least some pantry staples on hand. If you haven't had a chance yet, visit How to Stock a Plant-Powered Pantry to see which ingredients to keep on hand for quick and effortless meals.
Hopefully, these five recipes can serve as inspiration to you. Use them as a guide. For example, one of our staple recipes is chickpea pasta with red tomato sauce and whatever veggies we have on hand. Feel free to swap out chickpea pasta with whole wheat pasta. Or, if you follow a gluten-free diet, use quinoa pasta instead. If you don't love red sauce, consider drizzling just a bit of olive oil on top of the pasta. With the veggies, anything goes! Use what's in your garden or what needs to be used up in your fridge. The point is that these recipes are meant to serve as a guide and inspiration for quick and easy meals you could potentially create in your own home that can be customized to your personal preferences.
Pasta: Noodles + Veggies + Sauce
Here's the trick with this meal: Get the pasta water boiling and the pasta cooking before you start anything else. While the pasta is cooking, prepare your veggies. We typically chop up broccoli, peppers, and onions during this time (on really lazy nights, it's just broccoli), and throw them in a large sauté pan for 5–7 minutes. By that time, the pasta is done. We add the pasta to the sauté pan with the veggies, pour the sauce over top, stir to combine, and serve! The sauce can be red, a vegan pesto, cashew cream, or simply olive oil and garlic. We like to top it with chopped basil, vegan parmesan, or red pepper flakes, but you do you! Add whatever you'd like.
Tacos: Tortillas + Beans + Avocado + Salsa
This is one of my personal favorites, especially when I want all the flavors, textures, and I'm super duper hungry. Tacos are so satisfying! We always keep tortillas on hand. Ricky loves Trader Joes low carbohydrate tortillas. I love Ezekiel sprouted tortillas for their nutty flavor and whole food ingredients. They end up creating more of a burrito though since they're so large (I'm okay with that :D). Keeping one or two cans of BPA-free vegan refried black or pinto beans makes this meal quick and delicious. When we have five minutes, we'll sauté peppers and onions in a stovetop pan. We love to toss in some chopped spinach as well once the onions and peppers are cooked (toss the spinach in last since it cooks so quickly). Then we'll stir in the refried beans until warmed through. If you love warm tortillas, pop them in the microwave or heat them on a griddle before adding the veggie refried bean mixture. From here, the options are whatever you have in the fridge. Add salsa, chopped cilantro or green onion, sliced avocado, or your favorite hot sauce. This, my friends, is one of the easiest, tastiest, and nutritious meals that takes less than 15 minutes!
Sandwich: Smashed Beans + Whole Grain Bread + Veggies
One thing that should never be out of stock in a plant-based pantry is beans. They are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet and can create a meal in minutes. Stumped on what to make for lunch or dinner? Open a can of beans, drain them, and then place them in a large bowl along with an avocado. Smash the beans until about three-quarters of them are mashed (leave the other quarter for fun texture or smash completely if you prefer a full smash!). Then stir in chopped veggies like celery, cucumber, and radish. Sprinkle in your favorite spices, like garlic powder, oregano, or chili powder. Chop up and add some of your favorite herbs like chives, cilantro, or parsley. Add a touch of salt, if that's part of your meal prep and stir to combine. Squeeze a bit of lemon or lime juice to brighten the salad before placing it in between two slices of toasted whole grain bread, a whole grain wrap, or a leafy green wrap (like collards or Romaine leaves). For extra nutrition bonus points, add leafy greens as well, like arugula or spinach. You could also add some chopped pickles or pickled onions (both of these elevate just about any sandwich!). Use this Chipotle Chickpea Salad as your guide for this simple meal. Side note: When I am out of avocados for morning avocado toast, I turn to smashed beans as a replacement for avocado. They make a delicious breakfast toast when you add spices, herbs, and other veggies to the smash.
Stir Fry: Brown Rice + Veggies + Edamame + Nuts or Seeds
Having a whole grain on hand does require a little pre preparation, but once it's made, the sky's the limit! You can make a stir-fry, grain bowl, big salad with grains, veggie burgers and more when you have whole grains cooked and ready to go. What's more, there are some grains that take less than 30 minutes to cook. Here's a situation that happens a lot in my house: It's 5 o'clock and the dog is crossing her legs to go outside. I realize I have nothing on deck for dinner. At that moment, I start boiling the water and rinse the rice while the water is boiling (approximately 2 cups of water to 1 cup of rice). Once the water is boiling, I add the rice, reduce the heat to simmer, cover the pot, and walk the dog around the block. When I return, the rice is ready! You can do the same while you're in a Zoom meeting, taking a shower, or chopping up some veggies. (Warning, make sure to be cautious with any flame! Have someone else keep an eye on it while you're doing your thing, if possible.)
Other quick-cooking grains include quinoa, bulgur wheat, millet, black rice, wild rice, and buckwheat. Once that grain is cooked you're golden! You can heat frozen veggies up in the microwave or stir fry fresh veggies, like mushrooms, carrots, and peppers, in a stovetop pan. Having frozen edamame or other bean on hand is key here. Simply add edamame or other pre-cooked bean to your pan with the veggies and heat until warmed through. Adding a few tablespoons of reduced sodium tamari or coconut aminos is the quickest and easiest way to create a tasty stir fry, but here's a recipe for Ginger Sesame Sauce and a Kung Pao Sauce if you'd like to make it extra saucy. Topping stir fries with chopped herbs and nuts (cashews, peanuts, or pistachios) or seeds (sunflower, sesame, or pumpkin) is a great way to elevate the flavor, nutrition, and texture of any stir fry.
Chili: Beans + Salsa + Spices + Veggies
If you've been following purely planted for a while, you know this is a go-to for me. I love chili for so many reasons—it's fulfilling, comforting, nourishing, easy-to-make, and always a crowd pleaser. If you have beans on hand (again, stock those beans!), salsa (or at least tomatoes and onions), spices (onion powder, garlic powder and chili powder are all you need for a simple chili), and any additional veggies you'd like to add, then you have chili ingredients. This recipe takes less than 15 minutes to prepare (cook time is a little longer) and always makes for a happy family and happy bellies.
Burgers: Another staple in our home is burger night. I try to keep homemade plant-based burgers in the freezer at all times so that we can easily thaw them for dinner on nights when there is no time to cook. The great thing about veggie burgers is that you can load them with all the veggies to make them extra nutritious and full of flavor and texture. Again, add any veggies you love or have on hand, like avocado, leafy greens, sprouts, sliced tomato, pickled, red onion, or jalapeño if you love a little spice. Slathering vegan mayo or your favorite burger sauce is also a fun addition to any plant-based burger. The trick here is making the veggie burgers ahead of time and freezing them (with parchment paper in between each one) so they're ready to go on nights when there's little to no time. Here are three recipes to get you started:
Okay, you're turn! What's your favorite go-to plant-based meal that's easy to assemble?
For more easy recipes, join the 3-Step Course: 5 Simple and Tasty Plant-Based Sauces and Dressings.