Introduction: Easy Veggie Bowl Meal Prep - Vegan
This instructable will help guide you through the planning process to create delicious and nutritious veggie bowls. We will break down your dish into 6 main components as the structure around how you can make a nearly limitless set of meal options with this simple model.
- Choose a Base Grain
- Choose a Plant Protein
- Choose a Dark Green
- Choose Vegetable(s)
- Choose a Crunchy Topping
- Choose a Sauce/Dressing
At the end I also included information about 3 example veggie bowls that I prepared which you can make for yourself or simply use as a starting point.
Goals of this instructable:
- To simplify your meal prepping by providing a structure around how to plan veggie bowl meals
- To teach you about new foods that you may not have heard of or considered eating before
- To have you understand the nutrition profiles of the foods you may be adding into your meals
- To provide you some tips on how to shop low waste
- To help you save some money on your grocery bill
Keep an eye out for HOT TIPS to learn about the meal prep and low waste tricks I share throughout the instructable.
HOT TIP: To get a better view of the nutritional information on some of the images, right click on them and select "Open image in new tab" so that you can zoom in.
*All photos in this Instructable are either my own or part of the public domain for free use without attribution. I found many of them through Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons.
**Nutritional information is presented via screenshots from SELFNutritionData and Cronometer.
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Step 1: Choose a Base Grain
We are going to work our way through choosing ingredients for your veggie bowls by going in order of how they will normally be layered in their preparation. To start things off we will choose a grain to have as the base of our meal. This grain will provide a lot of the bulk to fill us up in the form of healthy carbohydrates and fiber.
- There are so many different types to choose from that you have a lot of ways to customize right here at the start! Brown, white, black, red...short or long grain...or even wild rice (which isn't technically a rice but rather a grass).
- Often overlooked in the grocery aisles, barley makes for a great addition to the pantry. When cooked it has a delightful somewhat chewy texture that is similar to pasta.
- One of my favorites! Quinoa has a fun texture and cooks very easily, similar to rice.
- Amaranth grains are very tiny and when cooked resemble something like caviar. The texture has been compared to caviar too as the inside will soften but the outside stays a little tough to have them "pop" between your teeth when chewing.
- I have to admit that I don't have much experience with Sorghum, but I have loved it the handful of times I have used it. Served hot or cold this grain it has a delightful nutty flavor and chewy consistency.
- HOT TIP: You can pop sorghum just like corn to get popped sorghum! Switch up your home movie nights with this satisfying snack
- We are not using fresh corn for this! Dried corn available in ground form for things like making polenta and grits can make for a nice base to a veggie bowl. The smooth creamy consistency really sets it apart from the other grains I put on this list.
Step 2: Choose a Plant Protein
While our base grains provide us with a lot of carbohydrates, the bulk of the protein in the bowls will come from our second ingredient set. You can get all of the nutrients you need to live a healthy life from plants - a vegan diet has even been recognized by American Dietetic Association as healthy for all stages of life, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, and childhood. There is often a lot of confusion around protein and vegan diets, but have no fear! We will make these veggie bowls filled with enough protein to keep us healthy and satiated throughout the day.
- Just like rice there are so many options to choose from if you want to use beans as your protein source. Here are just a few of my favorites to choose from:
- Black Beans
- Kidney Beans
- Chickpeas/Garbanzo Beans
- HOT TIP: Don't throw away your chickpea cooking liquid (or the liquid from cans)! You can do some amazing things with that bean water affectionately known as aquafaba. Check out some crazy aquafaba recipes HERE.
- Cannelinni Beans
- Pinto Beans
- Just like rice there are so many options to choose from if you want to use beans as your protein source. Here are just a few of my favorites to choose from:
- Yet another food category with many choices (plants are amazing, aren't they?). Just like beans, different lentils will have varying flavors and textures. Here are just a few that are most commonly found in most US grocery stores:
- Red Lentils
- Green Lentils
- Brown Lentils
- Black Lentils
- These spongy blocks of soy are one of the most versatile proteins you can ever cook with. Slice it, chop it, crumble it, blend it, whip it, bake it, fry it, dehydrate it. Add it to a stir fry, add it to a stew, add it to almost anything.
- There are different textures of tofu available usually labelled as silken, firm, and extra firm*. For our veggie bowls you will want to avoid the silken tofu - it is too soft and not appropriate for how we want to use it in our bowls as our protein.
- *If you shop in Asian grocery stores the tofu may be labelled as silken, soft, and firm. Soft and firm in Asian grocery stores are the equivalent of firm and extra firm in more traditional US grocery stores. Confusing...I know...
- HOT TIP: In most scenarios of cooking with tofu you will want to press the excess water out. This allows it to crisp up more if baking or frying and allows any marinades/sauces to be absorbed more readily by the tofu. There are tofu press devices available for purchase but you can get by with the free version of sandwiching your block of tofu between two flat things like plates or cutting boards and applying a weight on the top for 20-30 minutes. The excess water will drain out so do this setup over your sink or a baking sheet to catch the water.
- Tempeh not only has the protein power of the soy bean but is also more easily digested since it is a fermented food made with a specific strain of yeast.
- HOT TIP: If you are allergic to soy there are many other forms of tempeh available. Tempeh can be made from any bean and many grains so keep your eyes open at your grocery stores!
- If you have Celiac Disease or some other gluten sensitivity you will want to avoid seitan. Seitan is the gluten from wheat after all of the starches have been removed. This makes for it to be a very good source of protein and has a chewy texture that many liken to meat.
- Seitan is most often available in grocery stores already prepared and seasoned to mock different types of meat but you may also be able to find it in an untreated form which you can then season to your own liking. You can also make seitan at home with nothing but a bag of flour
Step 3: Choose a Dark Green
Yes, I know that the step after this one has you choose more vegetables but I wanted to put an emphasis on getting dark greens into our diets. Dark green vegetables are nutrient dense foods that often get pushed to the side and forgotten when up against some other veggie competition. I decided to have this as its own step to focus in on the importance of green veggies.
- Kale is my personal favorite leafy green. There are several different varieties of kale available so if at first you don't fall in love you may want to try it in a different cooked form or a different variety. Curly kale is most often what I see in stores around me and is my preferred variety.
- Spinach is probably the dark green that most people are familiar with. I would only recommend buying it fresh and cooking it yourself - it will have more nutrients available for your body but the taste and texture will be beyond anything that comes frozen or canned.
- HOT TIP: When buying fresh spinach in loose bundles be sure to wash it before eating. Spinach is notorious for having a lot of dirt/sand caught between the leaves. Buying pre-washed spinach in plastic bags or cartons is one way to avoid this, but at the expense of creating more plastic waste.
- Collard greens are common in southern US cooking. They have a more bitter taste than other greens on this short list so your mileage may vary on whether or not you enjoy it.
- Bok choy isn't the darkest of greens since the bulk of the plant is a white stalk but regardless I decided to keep it on this list since it still provides plenty of nutrients in a dense package. The crunch of the bok choy body can be a nice change of pace from the rest of these green veggies.
- I'll be honest here...I don't have much experience with mustard greens. I included them on this list as a way to guilt myself into buying them for myself more often. Mustard greens are just as they are named - the leafy parts of a mustard plant. The greens have a somewhat peppery taste.
- Broccoli deserves more respect. So often it is neglected and only brought to the party when accompanied by cheese. Broccoli is delicious, easy to cook, and nutrient dense.
- HOT TIP: If you have never had oven roasted broccoli, do yourself a favor and go make some as soon as you are done reading this instructable.
Step 4: Choose Vegetable(s)
This is the step where you can go crazy! Add as many or as few of these additional vegetables as you want. Remember, these are your veggie bowls - make them to suit your tastes!
- Crunchy if left raw or par-cooked, soft and delicate if cooked all the way through. Carrots have their own sweetness that accompanies their adjustable texture making them incredibly versatile.
- Celery can be eaten in more ways than with peanut butter and raisins. Saute or steam your celery and throw it into your veggie bowls for an extra bit of crunch and flavor.
- Full of umami, mushrooms provide a very satisfying flavor element that can elevate any veggie bowl to the next level. You also have so many mushrooms available to play with that even if you don't like one you may still find the right mushroom for you.
- White, Yellow, Red, and Sweet onions (plus shallots if you want to include them alongside onions) are found in so many recipes for a reason. They taste great and are a very affordable fresh food flavor element to add to dishes.
- Tomatoes are a quick addition to any veggie bowl. You can cook them or throw them in raw depending on the vibe of your dish and it will still be delicious. Maybe you want to be extra fancy and use sun-dried tomatoes!
- Brussels Sprouts
- Broccoli gets recognized as tiny little trees, and I think of brussels sprouts as tiny little cabbages. I have learned to love brussels sprouts in all forms from raw to steamed, but for any newcomers to this veggie I think it has to be roasted or bust.
- The humble cauliflower...great raw, great steamed, great roasted, great even in "rice" form. A well priced head of cauliflower is hard for me to resist.
- Avocado can be a great way to add healthy fats to your veggie bowls. The creamy texture of an avocado can be so much more satisfying than something like an oil based dressing when paired with the right foods.
- Bell Pepper
- Similar to tomatoes, bell peppers can make great additions to veggie bowls in their raw or cooked state. The light crunch and snap of a fresh bell pepper is very satisfying as is the trip to flavor town you get to go on when they are well cooked. Using a variety of bell peppers (red, orange, yellow, green) can also make for a very colorful veggie bowl!
- Edamame is soy in the immature green form. You can find edamame still in the bean pods or with that removed. I rarely find fresh edamame in grocery stores, so the freezer section is going to be a safer bet. For the purpose of our veggie bowls you should get the edamame with shells removed.
- Lima Beans
- Another bean I can never seem to find fresh, the freezer section offers up these soft and delicious beans which I love to have in dishes besides just succotash.
- I don't think I need to say much about potatoes. We all know how great they taste. For the use in veggie bowls you can get creative with how you cut/shape them - bite sized cubes, long wedges, round slices, etc.
- The same goes for sweet potatoes as was mentioned above for white potatoes. Sweet potatoes just have the advantage of being "sweet" which can be enjoyed with a different mix of flavors.
- This time we are talking about fresh corn. Shiny yellow corn kernels thrown into a veggie bowl brightens my day! They add little pockets of sweetness that goes will with well seasoned/spiced dishes.
- Red or green cabbage is another veggie that I think could be added to almost any veggie bowl cooked or raw. Maybe you want to go the extra mile and ferment some into sauerkraut (all you need is water and salt)!
- I wish I could give asparagus more love, but the season for fresh and inexpensive asparagus seems to be such a small window of time. I strongly prefer roasted asparagus to any other method for cooking it.
There are many more vegetables out their in the world, so this list is not even close to being exhaustive. Keep on exploring the wonderful world of plants as you meal prep your future veggie bowls!
Step 5: Choose a Crunchy Topping
Depending on what other ingredients you have chosen to add into your veggie bowl you may be in need of some additional texture elements. I love having some kind of crunch added into any veggie bowl or salad that I make so here are some of my favorites:
- Somewhat sweet, almonds are a favorite nut of mine. And readily available in different forms like whole, sliced, and slivered allows for easy texture variety in your veggie bowls.
- Pecans can make their way into your savory dishes, they do not have to be reserved for just holiday sweets.
- A lighter crunch and smooth flavor, walnuts may surprise you when added to a veggie bowl.
- HOT TIP: Most walnuts you purchase have not yet been roasted. Roasting them in the oven on a baking sheet at 375F for 5-10 minutes can really make their flavor pop.
- My personal favorite. Hands down. No competition. Cashews are rich and delicious without being too crunchy even when roasted.
- The classic peanut does a great job of adding its iconic flavor and crunch to almost any veggie bowl.
- Pumpkin seeds, also labelled as pepitas, have an added bonus of containing great levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids on top of being delicious!
- Be sure to get the sunflower seeds with hulls removed if you are planning to throw them into your veggie bowls. Sunflower seeds also contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Woot woot - go seeds!
- Croutons are a great application for old bread that has gone stale. I would recommend avoiding pre-made croutons as they are often very high in sodium. Making your own is just a matter of drying out your own bread in an oven, and you can oil/season them to suit your own tastes.
- Haven't we all been left with an empty jar of salsa but still had a half bag of chips at some point in time? Those leftover chips would love to be part of your next veggie bowl!
- Many of the containers of bacon bits available on the market are not made from bacon at all. Instead they are made from textured vegetable protein (TVP) which is a soy protein derivative. I know this item goes against what I said earlier about trying to avoid highly processed foods, but with it being such a popular salad topper that is readily available it seemed appropriate to include it here as a crunchy veggie bowl topping.
Step 6: Choose a Sauce/Dressing
Some of you may be happy and content with your bowls just as they are right now, but that is not my vibe. I want to have some kind of sauce or dressing to help bring it all together. The sauce/dressing is also how I like to really give my veggie bowls their flavor identity. In many cases the sauce that I add onto my bowls is also how I am going to ensure that I get a nice supply of fats into my diet too. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Olive Oil and Lemon
- Simple, classic, and easy. Mix oil with lemon juice and any seasonings like salt and ground black pepper to give yourself a satisfying dressing.
- Traditional Dressings
- Make your own or buy from the store, traditional salad dressings can be an easy way to bump your bowl to the next level. Ranch, balsamic vinaigrette, Italian, etc.
- Hot Sauce
- Depending on what else you include in your bowl a hot sauce might be all you want to add. One week you may use sriracha, and another could be a buffalo sauce. You choose the destiny of your taste buds.
- Cashew Cream
- Cashews get to make a second appearance! Raw cashews that have been soaked in water become very soft which can then be drained and blended into a rich and fatty cream. Adding something like lemon juice gives you a quick vegan sour cream. Mixing in fresh dill along with other seasonings can make for a nice ranch. The cashew cream can be a base for so many delicious dressings.
- Why not add more veggies onto your veggies? Salsa can add a lot of extra moisture to your bowl along with a punch of flavor.
- What other sauces or dressings might you want to add to a veggie bowl? Let me know down in the comments!
Step 7: Example 1: Grits and Greens
Now I will share three examples of veggie bowls that I have made for myself. I'll give specific cooking instructions when needed, but otherwise everything is prepared to your own taste and liking.
- Base Grain: Corn Grits
- Plant Protein: Tofu
- Dark Green: Collard Greens
- Vegetables: Mushrooms, Onion, Lima Beans
- Crunchy Toppings: Imitation Bacon Bits
- Sauce: None
- Prepare corn grits according to instructions on your package. I add a splash of olive oil and nutritional yeast to liven it up.
- Tofu should be pressed of excess water (see the HOT TIP back on the protein step) and then cut into cubes. Toss the tofu with seasonings of your choice, I went with a cajun spice blend as well as extra salt and black pepper. Pan fry the tofu cubes in a little oil on all sides until they start to lightly brown then remove from heat.
- Saute your greens*, mushrooms, onions, and lima beans together into a pan. You can use oil or you can get away with just sauteing with water.
- Mix everything together into your bowl and top with imitation bacon bits! Enjoy!
*I had extra kale on hand when I prepared this dish for my photos, otherwise I would have made it with collard greens.
Step 8: Example 2: Chipotle Crunch Bowl
- Base Grain: Brown Rice
- Plant Protein: Black Beans
- Dark Green: Spinach
- Vegetables: Bell Pepper, Fresh Corn, Avocado, Tomato
- Crunchy Toppings: Tortilla Chips
- Sauce: Low Fat Chipotle Dressing
- Prepare brown rice with whatever method you prefer. Stove top, rice cooker, pressure cooker, steamer.
- Prepare black beans with whatever method you prefer. Stove top, pressure cooker, buying cans of beans.
- Saute spinach, bell pepper, and corn together into a pan. You can use oil or you can get away with just sauteing with water.
- Blend the following ingredients together to create a low fat chipotle dressing
- 1 block of silken tofu
- 1-2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
- 1-2 tsp of adobo sauce from the chipotle peppers
- Juice from 1 lime
- 1-2 cloves of garlic
- 1/8-1/4 tsp cumin
Step 9: Example 3: Coconut Curried Bowl
- Base Grain: Quinoa
- Plant Protein: Brown Lentils
- Dark Green: Kale
- Vegetables: Onion, Carrots, Cauliflower, Sweet Potatoes
- Crunchy Toppings: Peanuts
- Sauce: Curried Coconut Milk Dressing
- Prepare quinoa* with whatever method you prefer. Stove top, rice cooker, pressure cooker.
- Prepare lentils with whatever method you prefer. Stove top, pressure cooker, buying cans of lentils.
- Cook kale, onion, carrots, cauliflower, and sweet potatoes. I used my pressure cooker along with a steamer basket to make very quick work of this! Feel free to prepare them however you wish.
- Mix the following ingredients together in a small sauce pan to create a curried coconut dressing. Heat over low-medium heat stirring regularly until it starts to thicken.
- 1 can of coconut milk (lite coconut milk works fine if you want to cut out some calories)
- 1 Tbsp garam masala powder
- 1 Tbsp corn starch
- Salt and pepper to taste
*When I was shopping for quinoa the grocery store I was at had the pre-mixed box of quinoa and rice blend that you see in my photos on clearance so I opted for that to save myself some money instead of buying plain quinoa
Step 10: Low Waste and Cost Saving Shopping Tips
- If available to you, buying from bulk food bins is often cheaper and if you have reusable bags or containers is also lower waste. Buying things such as your rice and beans from bulk bins produces less waste then buying them in plastic bags. The same goes for things like nuts and seeds.
- If you have a Whole Foods near you they will likely have bulk bins to shop from. Other local food coops or health food stores also often have bulk bins for food and even sometimes household cleaning products like laundry detergent.
- Mesh reusable produce bags (such as these) are great to have around. You can deal with having their weight properly tared, but they weigh so little that I don't even bother.
- Carrots - if you plant the ends of your carrots in the top of soil you can have them grow carrot greens for your future bowls
- Celery - putting the base of celery into soil or a cup of water will grow more stalks of celery for you
- Almost every veggie scrap can be saved for creating veggie stock for future soups. It is easy to keep a container of veggie scraps stashed away in your freezer and when you have enough to make stock it is as easy as boiling it all in water
- When in doubt, compost. You can do your own compost at home or if you live somewhere with a local compost pickup service you could also partake in that
Runner Up in the
Meal Prep Challenge