Published by Heather Moore.

For some, “meal planning” means unwrapping a frozen veggie burger. For others, it means perusing the local farmer’s market, health food store, or supermarket and planning a week’s worth of healthy meals. If you fall into the latter category—or if you want to—these simple tips can help you streamline the amount of time that you spend on meal preparation.

Start with a plan

Many busy cooks make meals for the week and divide them into smaller portions. This essentially means that you spend one day in the kitchen rather than seven. (Be sure to stock up on microwave- and dishwasher-safe containers before attempting this!)

You can save money—in addition to animals’ lives—if you build your meals around versatile vegan staples, such as lentils, beans, rice and other grains, pasta, tofu, and fruits and vegetables. Of course, certain foods, such as fresh strawberries and spinach, won’t last as long as others, so you’ll want to eat them first—or opt for frozen varieties. And if you’re concerned about a particular meal going bad or getting soggy, simply freeze it for later in the week.

Variety spices things up

Instead of cooking several different types of grains for your meals, choose two per week. Just “spice things up” by using various spices or sauces. You can get all the nutrients you need from vegan foods—but who wants to eat the same few meals every day, week after week? Vary your menu to include an array of exciting foods, and make sure that meals include essential nutrients, including fiber, protein, calcium, and vitamins and minerals.

If you’re trying to lose weight or want to make the meals last an extra day, dole out smaller portions and always focus on wholesome plant-based foods rather than processed foods. If you’re trying to bulk up, split your meals into larger portions and consider having more healthy snacks, including nuts or fruit and nut bars.

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Prep your prep

The point of “prepping” your meals ahead of time is to save time and money, so cut, peel, chop, and measure everything before you turn on the oven (if need be). It takes time to assemble multiple dishes at once, and the last thing that you want to do is burn a dish because you’re busy cutting and cleaning the ingredients for another one. And you can save even more time by baking multiple dishes in the oven while cooking others on the stove top.

If you’re not sure what to make, check out PETA’s vegan recipes for ideas. And if you’re not sure what to do with the extra free time, consider becoming a PETA First Responder.

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