If you are your household’s Chief Kitchen Officer (perhaps better known as the meal fairy), chances are you are a bit burned out. You rush to fill your kids’ lunchboxes in the morning, later regretting that you chose to shower instead of cutting the carrot sticks to look like bicycle wheels. Going through the morning’s emails, you glance at half-a-dozen pictures of amazing dishes sent to you by vegan food bloggers. You know you can’t pull off that “30-minute leek tofu quiche” after your youngest’s ballet lesson. While she’s in the studio, you dash to the grocery store to buy pasta and broccoli. In front of the produce section, you try to recall whether broccoli is one of the dirty dozen or on the clean thirteen list. Back home, you find out that you did have broccoli at the back of the produce drawer, but the jar of tomato sauce you planned to use is already half-eaten, and whatever remains is moldy. Now what?
Somehow, dinnertime comes and goes. After the kids have gone to bed, you realize they ate the last slices of nut-free banana bread that you saved for tomorrow’s lunchboxes. Much later, in the darkness of your room, you lie awake, wondering what you will make for dinner the next day. What about that tofu quiche? Is it ok to eat that much soy?
I am increasingly meeting people–mostly women–who are stressed out about what they feed their families. There are so many recipes out there, with new vegan blogs popping up practically every hour, offering sleek food photography and inspiring recipes. It’s called “food porn” for a reason. Just like touched-up models on magazine covers and actual pornography, food porn can make you feel bad about yourself and create unrealistic expectations, making your own life look quite depressing in comparison. Isn’t everybody shaving home-made vegan parmesan on their zucchini noodles these days? Now that food porn has invaded our inboxes and social media streams, it’s hard to think about anything else.
Fortunately, there are a few ways to make dinnertime easier (but no less nourishing) without the unnecessary stress. The following mindset changes and helpful vegan hacks will put the joy back in putting wholesome, simple plant-based dishes on the family table.
1. Relax your standards. Your kitchen is not a Michelin-rated restaurant, and you will not lose a star if your vegan Alfredo sauce is a little lumpy one day or if all seven colors of the rainbow aren’t featured in your Buddha bowl. Chances are that your family’s favorite meals are not even fancy anyway. Keep three-course meals for Saturdays, and make weeknights entrée-only affairs.
2. Stick with simple classics. One-pot wonders, such as hearty soups and stews, smoky chilis, sizzling stir-frys, and gingery curries, will stand proudly by themselves or in the company of whole-grain rice, pasta, or bread. Salads are crunchy and lovely, but beware of the complex ones that will lure you into washing, chopping, mixing, and cooking their many different components. On busy days, rely on dishes you can prepare without a recipe. If you don’t feel like you can trust your skills yet, start with only two different meals per week, repeating them until you feel confident adding new ones.
3. Get comfortable improvising with leftovers and pantry staples. Just because you’ve never seen it on Pinterest doesn’t mean it’s not delicious! The trick is to have a luscious sauce to tie it all together. Throw in the blender about 1 cup of cooked vegetable (or even raw, if you have a high-power blender), a bit of tofu or soaked cashew nuts (about 1/2 cups), and just enough vegetable broth to reach the desired consistency (add 1/4 cup at a time). No broth? Water will do as long as you add some seasonings.
You can play with the quantities depending on what you have on hand. Roasted beets are my absolute favorite for a punch of color; carrots, sweet potatoes, and almost any type of green (including carrot tops!) will work, too. Blend until warm or heat gently in a saucepan, then pour over a combination of leftover rice or quinoa, along with cooked beans, chickpeas, or even a vegan sausage or two. Sprinkle with pumpkin seeds, and there you have it: a yummy, filling, nutritious, and visually appealing meal. Add a dab of hot sauce and some seasonings if you are so inclined.
4. Settle for good-enough decisions. On the weekend, look at your calendar for the coming week, and plan a simple meal that works for each dinner. Start with what you already have in the fridge or pantry to narrow down the range of options and cut down on waste. It’s totally OK to batch-cook and stretch a veggie-rich meal over two or even three nights (with or without changing the presentation). You can also embrace routine and give each day a theme that you repeat every week (soup day, pasta day, slow cooker day, etc.). Write your shopping list, get your groceries once for the week, and resist the temptation to make last-minute changes.
5. Keep the food porn for the weekends. Create a rule in your mailbox so that food blogger newsletters land in a special folder that you only look at on the weekends when you are planning your meals. Even then, do not promote a brand-new recipe to weeknight status until you have tried it on the weekend first. Curl up on the couch with cookbooks and drool over the pictures, but learn not rely on them for guidance in the kitchen on weeknights.
6. Don’t worry (too much). The key to a healthy diet for you and your children is eating a broad variety of whole (unprocessed) plant-based foods with a focus on fresh vegetables and fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds. Follow that rule, and there can be no devil in the details. If you are not there yet (and few families are!), focus on making a little bit of progress every week.
What are your favorite vegan hacks and cooking tips?
Related: Best Cooking Tips from Pro Chefs
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