5 of My Favorite Easy Vegetarian Dinners

I’m a big believer in meal planning. It saves time, money, and—above all—my sanity when I’m trying to feed my family well in the midst of parenting four children in three different schools, running my own business, and being in grad school!

Having a few go-to meals that I can either prep ahead of time or whip up in a heartbeat are life savers during our family’s busiest seasons. Here are five of my favorite vegetarian options:

TACO BOWLS (VEGAN).

When I tell my kids we’re having taco bowls for dinner, they all erupt into a cheer. My family loooooooves taco bowls, and I love serving them! Here’s what’s involved:

  • Cooked rice (white or brown). I cook large batches of rice in my Instant Pot and freeze it in family sized portions—usually 6-8 cups cooked. It microwaves well and is ready in about ten minutes or so.
  • Tomatoes, chopped.
  • Lettuce, chopped.
  • Cilantro, chopped.
  • Avocado, cut into bite-sized pieces.
  • Black beans or pinto beans. I cook large batches of beans in my Instant Pot and freeze them in family sized portions—usually 4-6 cups. I follow this recipe, which is delicious.
  • Shredded cheese (if you are vegan, Daiya makes a great cheddar flavored vegan “cheese.” I buy a lot of this when it’s on sale and keep it in the freezer.)
  • Taco sauce.
  • Meatless crumbles cooked with taco seasoning (optional).

Everyone gets a bowl with a scoop of rice. The rest of the ingredients are in bowls on the table. The kids love assembling their own taco bowls!

CHICKPEA STEW (VEGAN)

I can whip up this simple stew from the blog “Healthier Steps” in about ten or fifteen minutes. (I usually double the recipe for our family of six.) I also make large batches and freeze it, pull it out in the morning and it’s ready to heat up for dinner.

I serve it with quinoa, rice, or another grain (like farrow or barley), which I can cook pretty quickly in my Instant Pot or cook and freeze to thaw out in the morning with the stew.

My five-year-old daughter calls this her “Favorite Stew.”

VEGAN BURGERS WITH CORN ON THE COB

My favorite summer fare! We have some variation of this at least once a week when it’s corn season. I can make this meal in around thirty-five minutes or so. It’s a family favorite as well.

  • Meatless patties. We love these options from Simple Truth. I buy them on sale and keep them in the freezer. For a soy-free option, we sometimes use Carla Lee’s Nut Burgers. (Honestly, my kids are not as crazy about those, but if you need a soy-free option, that’s one to try. I’m sure there are others!)
  • Hamburger buns.
  • Corn on the cob with the husks on (one per person, or more if y’all love corn as much as we do!)
  • Watermelon, whole. You can save yourself even more time and effort by buying watermelon already sliced, but a) I’m too cheap for that, and b) it never tastes as fresh/good if it’s been pre-cut, IMO.

Turn oven to 350. Trim ends of corn husks and place them all directly on an oven rack. Set timer for 13 minutes.

Place meatless patties on baking sheet. When timer goes off, set it again for twenty minutes and place the patties in the oven with the corn.

Meanwhile, put the buns and condiments (ketchup, butter*, etc.) on the table. Slice your watermelon and put it on a platter or in a bowl on the table as well.

When the timer goes off, turn off the oven. Remove the corn and, wearing oven gloves to keep your hands from burning, remove the husks. Pull out the patties and place them either on a plate on the table, or you can plate the buns and patties individually.

BAKED PASTA (CAN BE VEGAN OR VEGETARIAN)

This is a great alternative to lasagne. It’s the same basic premise, but with a lot less work!

  • Cooked pasta (rigatoni works well, but any cooked pasta will do.)
  • Two regular jars or one large jar of marinara sauce of your choice.
  • Vegan meatballs. (I always have at least two bags of Gardein Classic Meatless Meatballs in my freezer.)
  • Ricotta cheese (if you’re not vegan)
  • Shredded cheese (asiago, parmesan, or mozzarella work best. If you are vegan, Daiya makes a decent mozzarella substitute.)
  • Optional veggies: mushrooms, peppers, zucchini, etc.

Turn oven on to 350. Place cooked pasta across bottom of a baking dish. Place vegan meatballs and any veggies you’re using across on top of the pasta. Place dollops of ricotta over the veggies/meatballs. Pour sauce over the whole dish, making sure to cover meatballs and veggies. Sprinkle shredded cheese over that and bake for about twenty minutes.

GRAIN BOWLS (VEGAN)

  • Cooked grain (rice, quinoa, farrow, barley)
  • Avocado
  • Sweet potato, baked in oven or microwave and then cut into bite-sized pieces
  • Black beans (canned or made in Instant Pot)
  • Chopped tomatoes
  • Other optional veggies: shredded cabbage (purple is my favorite), sprouts, steamed broccoli, spinach, sliced or shredded carrots, chopped bell peppers, black olives, artichoke hearts—the sky’s the limit!
  • Vegan Ranch Salad Dressing

This is such an easy and beautiful meal to throw together. It’s the same concept as Taco Bowls, but with different ingredients. Place 1/2 cup to 1 cup of a cooked grain into bowls. Place 1-2 T of avocado, 2-4 T of sweet potato, 1/2 cup of black beans, 1/2 cup of tomatoes, and any other veggies over the grain. Drizzle 1-2 T of ranch dressing over the whole thing. So simple, so nutritious, and so delicious!

These are simple, fast meals that I go to frequently during busy seasons of life. What are some of yours?

My Favorite Easy Dinners

I love to cook. I love making everything from scratch, especially—hours standing in the kitchen, chopping, mixing, seasoning—it’s one of my favorite ways to spend a free afternoon.

But I live in the reality of having four active children who attend three different schools and have various extracurricular activities—not to mention weekly therapy, speech, and other appointments. Which means that grocery shopping sometimes gets pushed off a few days too long and cooking has to happen in between tying shoes, refereeing sibling spats, and monitoring bike riding in the street.

It’s kind of a miracle we don’t eat take-out at least five nights a week, now that I think of it!

The thing that has saved me is that I have several go-to recipes that are unbelievably simple and require very little forethought. Most of the items needed are in my freezer or pantry.

As I’ve focused on food in a few recent videos (here and here), I’ve gotten more questions about what eating looks like in my busy household.

I hope to do some more videos about food, but for now, I wanted to share a few of my quick-and-pretty-nutritious-not-to-mention-darn-tasty recipes:

Image result for frozen chicken thighs Pace Chunky Medium Salsa, 16oz

Salsa Chicken (about an hour and ten minutes)

Ingredients:

  • Frozen Boneless Chicken Thighs
  • One or two jars of salsa
  • Shredded cheese (cheddar is great)

Preheat oven to 375. Lay the frozen chicken thighs across a baking dish. Pour salsa over the chicken. Bake for one hour. Sprinkle cheese on top before serving. Serve with tortillas or rice (which you can cook ahead of time and freeze to heat up in the microwave), slices of avocado, and corn (frozen).

Image result for frozen meatballs  Prego Roasted Garlic & Herb Italian Sauce, 24 oz.

Spaghetti (about 30 minutes)

Ingredients:

  • One jar of spaghetti sauce.
  • One bag of frozen meatballs.
  • One box of spaghetti.

Warm the sauce. Add the frozen meatballs. Make the spaghetti according to the directions. Boom. Serve with a bagged salad.

Image result for turkey smoked sausage

Sausage and Vegetables (about an hour)

Ingredients:

  • Whatever of the following you have on hand: onions, potatoes, bell peppers, garlic
  • Smoked sausage/kielbasa (I usually use turkey, but whatever you have works)

Preheat oven to 375. Chop veggies into bite-size pieces. Cut sausage into large bite-size pieces. Pour everything into a baking dish. Toss with some olive oil. Bake for 45 minutes until veggies are done.

Veggie Fried Rice

Ingredients:

  • Cooked rice (from the freezer)
  • Sesame or peanut oil
  • Chopped onion
  • Chopped garlic (from a jar)
  • Frozen mixed veggies
  • Soy sauce
  • Optional: frozen cooked shrimp or leftover cooked chicken

Heat oil in large skillet. If using frozen shrimp, add that first. Otherwise, add rice, veggies, and soy sauce to taste. Cook, stirring frequently, until it’s all hot and delicious.

Breakfast for Dinner I (15 minutes or less)

Ingredients:

  • Eggs
  • Bread
  • Fruit

Cook the eggs to your preference. My favorite way is to break eggs (two per person) into a large bowl (taking care not to break the yolks), heat a large skillet with butter (or olive oil if you have a dairy allergy in the house), pour the eggs into the hot skillet, cook for about two minutes then cover and turn off heat.

Meanwhile, put bread in the toaster. Toast. Top with butter and jelly of your choice.

Cut whatever fruit you have on hand. Applesauce from the pantry does quite well if you don’t have any fresh.

Breakfast for Dinner II (about an hour)

Ingredients:

  • Eggs (about 8-10)
  • Any of the following you have on hand: onion, broccoli (frozen florets are fine), tomatoes (I’ve used canned diced, drained), spinach, mushrooms (canned work), asparagus, etc.
  • Optional: shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 375. Break eggs into a bowl and whisk them well with a fork or whisk. If you’re going to use cheese, whisk that into the eggs. Chop veggies into small pieces. Heat a large skillet with olive oil. Sauteé veggies for a couple of minutes then pour eggs over veggies. Bake for about 45 minutes or so. Serve with cut up fruit or applesauce and toast.

Vegan Taco Bowls

Ingredients:

  • Frozen meat-substitute crumbles
  • Taco seasoning
  • Canned black beans
  • Chopped tomatoes or canned diced tomatoes, drained
  • Cooked rice (from the freezer or made ahead of time in the Instant Pot, which I use all. the. TIME.)
  • Avocado
  • Corn (from the freezer)

Heat a skillet with olive oil. Warm the meat-substitute crumbles. Add taco seasoning and water per instructions. Warm rice in the microwave. Warm beans in the microwave. Warm corn on the stove (I prefer that to microwave, but you can totally microwave the corn). Dish a cup or so of cooked rice into a bowl. Top with taco-meatless-meat, warmed beans, corn, tomatoes, and sliced avo. My family LOVES this one! It also works with the salsa chicken in place of the meatless meat substitute.

Chili

  • Canned beans (black, pinto, red)
  • Canned diced tomatoes, not drained
  • Chopped onion (from freezer)
  • Chopped garlic (from jar)
  • Chili powder (2-4 T)
  • Cumin (1 t)
  • Corn (from freezer)
  • Shredded cheese (optional)
  • Tortilla chips.

Heat oil in large sauce pan. Sauteé onions and garlic. Add beans, tomatoes, chili powder (2-4 TBSP), and corn. Stir and heat until simmering. Serve with shredded cheese and tortilla chips.

Cereal for Dinner

I’m not above serving bowls of cereal for dinner. My kids think it’s a huge treat. I usually do this when my husband is away.

PB & J for Dinner

I’m also not above serving PB & J for dinner. I usually serve it with fresh fruit or—yep—applesauce.

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A Few Notes:

  • I make large batches of rice in my Instant Pot and freeze it right away so it warms up nicely in the microwave when I need it and doesn’t get dry. So I usually have cooked rice in the freezer, which is a great go-to for a base for many last-minute meals. It’s also a good idea to freeze leftover rice the day you cook it rather than put it in the fridge in a plastic container. Rice gets dry so quickly in the fridge, but not if it’s frozen right away.
  • When corn on the cob is in season and at its cheapest, I buy TONS of it, cut it off the cob and freeze it in big freezer bags. The taste of frozen fresh corn is SOOOOOO superior to frozen corn from the grocery store freezer-section. It can been cooked easily on the stove or in the microwave.
  • While most of the meat I buy is ethically sourced, I do keep bags of frozen boneless chicken thighs, which I have not been able to find from ethical sources, which cook pretty well without thawing. To avoid this, you can substitute ethically sourced legs or thighs, but they need to be thawed before cooking.
  • Whenever I have veggies that are getting really ripe that I’m not about to use, I prep them — peel, chop, whatever — and freeze them to use later.
  • I periodically buy a bag of onions and chop them up and freeze them for using in recipes. This saves a bunch of time.
  • While I much prefer cooking with fresh garlic, I do keep a jar of chopped garlic—which is available from my Dollar Tree—in my fridge to use in a pinch.

So I’d love to hear back from you! What are some of your favorite go-to easy recipes that you can whip up on a moment’s notice from things in the fridge/freezer/pantry?

When Your Guests are Vegan

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We had some of our new neighbors over for dinner last week, and a few days before the dinner, the neighbor, who is a vegan, followed exactly the right protocol for letting your host know of your dietary restrictions: she texted me that they were really looking forward to coming over, and by the way she’s vegan, and she is happy to bring a dish to contribute to the dinner (soup, salad, etc.), and more than anything they’re just really looking forward to spending time with us. (Gracious, generous, informative. I loved it!)

The good thing for my new friend is that I love making vegan dishes, and I have experimented with a number of recipes that have become staples in my catalog of vegan options for dinner parties.

If you’re expecting to host a vegan or vegetarian, but cooking entirely plant-based food is new for you, you’re in luck! Below are three of my tried-and-true vegan recipes that have been hits with herbivores and omnivores alike.

  1. Main: Raw Taco Gorilla Wraps (via Kimberly Snyder)
    I often include chips and salsa or guac with this as well.
    Side: Corn Salad with Lime Vinaigrette (via All Recipes)
    Note—I used fresh corn instead of canned. After shucking, I put the ears in boiling water for about 3-4 minutes, then ran them under cold water to stop them from cooking further. Then, laying them long-ways on the cutting board, I sliced off the kernals. So much better than canned!
    Dessert: Berry Bowl with Sweet Vanilla Coconut Cream
    Place cut up strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries in small bowls.
    Pour a can of coconut cream into amixing bowl. Add a tablespoon or two of maple syrup and a splash of vanilla extract. Mix together. Pour over the fruit just before serving.
  2. Main: Sweet Potato Shepard’s Pie (via Kimberly Snyder)
    This recipe is a bit of what my mom would call “a fusser.” I usually stick with really simple recipes that I can prepare in an hour or less. This takes a bit more time, because there are a few steps. But it’s so worth it. This is a great dish.
    Side: Mom Simmons’s Tossed Salad (chopped iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, 2 TBSP EVOO, 2 TBSP lemon juice, 1 TBSP Italian Seasoning, 1 tsp onion powder, a few shakes of garlic powder, all tossed together)
    I usually serve rolls or bread with EVOO for dipping with this as well.
    Dessert: Raw Cacao Truffles (via Kimberly Snyder)
  3. Main: Vegan/Gluten Free Mac & “Cheese” (via Kimberly Snyder)
    Unless your guest is GF, it’s not necessary to use GF noodles. I have made this with regular vegetarian pasta noodles and it’s wonderful!
    Side: Shiva’s Kale Salad with Almond Ginger Dressing (via Kimberly Snyder)
    A tip for preparing any raw kale salad: before adding all of the ingredients, take a few minutes to massage the kale with EVOO. What I do is wash my hands thoroughly, then pour about a tsp of EVOO into my hands and rub them together. Then I massage the kale in the bowl for a while. This tenderizes the kale and makes it easier to chew and digest. It also releases more flavor. Makes a huge difference!
    Dessert: Coconut Cashew Rice Pudding (via Food Network)
    You can make this a day ahead and save yourself some time the day of your dinner party!

Let me know: 

Do you host dinner parties?

Ever have a full-vegan menu?

What are your favorite vegan recipes?

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