Becoming vegan nearly two years ago gave me the push I needed to cook a lot more meals at home. I had always been a fan of baking, but actual cooking of healthy balanced meals was a bit daunting! The benefits of cooking at home aren’t just for vegans. Homemade, not prepackaged food is healthier, you can control exactly what’s in it, it is cheaper (so much cheaper!), and it saves on single use plastic. Basically, it is all the things this vegan, minimalist, frugal, journeying-to-zero-waste girl loves!
While 95% of what I eat is homemade, it can get tricky when I have such a busy schedule, and sometimes no microwave on hand to heat up meals through the day. I usually only have one day or half a day to spare to do all my cooking for the week, so I rely on recipes that are quick, simple, tasty and filling, so I’m not tempted to buy a quick fast food fix. I’ve compiled some of my favourite recipes, tips and tricks below, as a cheat sheet to frugal vegan meal planning – and, as I’m partaking in Plastic Free July, these recipes are all plastic free!
Pancakes for breakfast?!
Before Plastic Free July, I was eating porridge every day – half a cup of quick oats, half a cup of soy milk, and half a cup of water in the microwave every morning. Top with golden syrup. Enjoy. But I quickly found out that it’s impossible to get plant-based milk without plastic packaging. I experimented with making my own rice milk at home, and the results were underwhelming to say the least. I’ve always loved pancakes, so one morning decided to make a larger than usual stack and kept some for subsequent breakfasts – and a new tradition was born!
These babies are so simple to make! Just combine a cup of plain flour, a cup of self raising flour, four tablespoons of sugar, and two cups of water (maybe a little less depending on your desired consistency). I cook them 1/3 cup of mixture at a time, meaning the shape comes out pretty uniform. I heat two of them up in the morning for thirty seconds in the microwave, and top with date syrup (combine half a cup of dates and half a cup of water in a jar. The dates will dissolve, making a sweet syrup). They’re filling, take no time at all in the morning, and they include far less sugar than I was topping my porridge with.
The options to customise these are also endless. I’ve swapped out some of the flour for oats before, you could add any variety of seeds, mashed banana, or other fruit.
Waste free snacks
The healthiest, cheapest, waste free vegan snack is fruit and vegetables, of course! My must-haves are definitely apples and bananas (and any brown bananas are perfect for baking). I always make sure to have at least one piece of fruit with me, as I eat breakfast so early in the morning I get peckish around 9 or 10 am.
As I’ve said, I’m a huge fan of baking, and while there are a bigger range of vegan treats out there now, they are usually quite expensive and of course packaged in plastic. A simple solve for this? Make them yourself! I’m a sucker for sweet, so I love making chocolate chip biscuits, quick and easy brownies, and these healthy and oh-so-easy peanut butter muffins (I’d definitely recommend checking out more of Jack Monroe‘s recipes, as they are so cheap and so divine!). I always make a big batch of whatever sweet treat I’m having for the week and keep them in the freezer, so I can have them for snacks and for desserts!
I pack my food in repurposed glass jars, homemade sandwich bags and cloth napkins (sewn using old tea towels I bought from an op-shop), packing everything in to one of my many canvas bags. As a once die-hard cling wrap devotee, I’m so impressed with how easy it is to go without plastic wrap.
Easy-to-prep lunches and dinners you can ration out all week
Here’s a collection of super simple, quick and easy recipes that I have made for lunches and/ or dinners. I like to make one huge lunch recipe and one huge dinner recipe on my food prep day, and then eat my way through it throughout the week. Most of these are fine to be eaten cold as well, in case, like me, you sometimes find yourself travelling and unable to microwave your meal.
Yellow and black bean burritos (I eat these without the burritos, as all burritos I’ve seen come wrapped in plastic!)/ Lentil chilli/ Chickpea shakshuka (soooo spicy and delicious, can be eaten hot or cold, and travels really well)/ Lentil loaf
And here’s some straight from my brain super easy recipes:
World’s easiest chickpea salad: finely chop one red onion, one capsicum, and one tomato (draining the liquid parts of the tomato, so your salad won’t go soggy). Drain and mash one can of chickpeas, and combine with the veggies. Squeeze lemon juice over the salad. Enjoy. This recipe is a great sandwich filler, and keeps really well!
Cheat’s pasta: This is a stupidly simple recipe. Cook your favourite kind of pasta. Chop up one onion and however much garlic makes you happy (for me, it’s a lot). Brown onion, add garlic and a can of Remano ‘Chunky Garden Vegetable’ pasta sauce from Aldi (very cheap, comes in a glass jar). When warmed through, combine with pasta. This is so delicious I have eaten the whole lot in one sitting before. You’ve been warned!
I also want to sing the praises of bread! I’ve been getting sliced loaves from the bakery put straight in to my canvas bag. When I get home, I freeze the loaf in a ‘single use’ plastic loaf bag I’m now reusing. I will take two slices of bread with me every day as a snack/ side. As much as I love veggies I find that I do need some carbs to fill me up, or I spend the whole day hungry. Having some bread on hand in the freezer also means if you’re ever stuck for a meal, you can pop some peanut butter on toast and not order out on impulse.
What to do with the waste
A lot of these recipes are based on fruit and vegetables, which I always buy package free, even if that means traipsing to different supermarkets (some don’t sell onions without that stupid plastic net bag! How silly!). I compost my food waste, collecting about a week’s worth before dropping it off at my parents’ place. They have a huge garden and gigantic compost bins. However, they don’t like to put any citrus, onion or garlic waste in to their bins, so if anyone knows any compost drop-offs in Melbourne that do accept these, let me know! I’ve chopped up some garlic and onion skins and put them on my little garden, where I’m growing garlic, and have also reused lemon peels by soaking them in vinegar to make a natural house cleaner.
Some of my ingredients are packaged, but I make sure everything is recyclable. I buy sugar and flour in paper packs, even if they only size available in paper is a two kilogram pack and I have to carry it home in my backpack! I do buy things like pasta sauce, peanut butter and coconut oil in glass jars, but I always reuse these for storing my baked goods or bringing my lunches.
I do buy chickpeas in tins, as buying it in bulk is five times the price (if anyone has found cheap bulk chickpeas, please let me know!) I also have had to buy some things in plastic, like flaxseed meal, which I couldn’t find elsewhere. I think the biggest thing is to accept and forgive yourself if you have to buy an ingredient in plastic. If you can’t afford the bulk version, or don’t have access to an item NOT in plastic, that’s okay! If we all put in some effort, that’s still a big difference we’re making.
Let me know some of your quick and simple go-to recipes below!