The Vegan Week
As a recipe developer, it’s probably my job to tell you how easy and joyful cooking can be. I ought to assure you that you, too, can have a nutritious and flavorful homemade dinner on the table in thirty minutes or less.
I’ll leave that message to another cookbook author, though, because, for me, getting dinner on the table is rarely effortless. I get overwhelmed easily and become discouraged when recipes go awry. If I haven’t thought about what I’m going to cook, I’ll default to pasta nine times out of ten. Try though I may, I’ll probably never be the sort of person who can cook without a recipe—or at least a plan.
For all these reasons and many others, I meal prep.
I didn’t always meal prep. Throughout my late twenties and early thirties, I balanced life as a recipe creator with being a graduate student in the health sciences. I was busy, but I worked from home. I could start preparing dinner in the early evening and cook at a leisurely pace. I even made a ritual of it, playing music and relishing the sight of my tidy mise en place. It’s hard to imagine now that cooking ever felt so relaxing.
When I heard people complain that they didn’t have time to cook, I was always a little skeptical. I took for granted the factors that influenced my own enthusiasm for being in the kitchen: freedom, flexibility, and time.
In September 2018, my routine shifted dramatically. I began my clinical internship year, which is the last stage of training for a registered dietitian. It’s a year of intense fieldwork, and most of the assignments are carried out in hospitals and clinics.
My internship consisted of 41 weeks, 1,455 hours, 9 rotations, and more than 150 earlymorning wake-up calls (think 5 a.m.). My longest commute could be nearly four hours round trip. I loved the work, but it was mentally and emotionally draining. There was a lot of information to retain each day, and many of the patients that I encountered were very ill.
I had known that my internship year would be challenging, but I wasn’t prepared for how exhausted I would be. Most of all, I wasn’t prepared for how the experience would change my relationship with cooking. For the first time in my adult life, there was nothing appealing about the prospect of dicing onions and garlic at the end of the day.
I resorted to a steady stream of toast and frozen food during the first few weeks of my internship. It was efficient and economical, but the food lover in me languished. I missed creative flavor combinations, varied and colorful bowls, vibrant homemade sauces, and cozy comfort foods.
And that is when my journey with weekend meal prep began.
I’d loosely experimented with meal prep in the past, but I’d never had to confine my cooking entirely to the weekends. Now, I began devoting two or three hours on each Saturday and Sunday to batch cooking. By Sunday evening, I had enough food to pack, store, and heat up between Monday morning and Friday evening. And it was all food I love to eat: hearty, vegan, and nutritious.
Batch cooking had its downsides, of course. Sometimes it felt like a chore, especially when it conflicted with other weekend activities. The payoff, though, was priceless: nutritious, ready-to-eat homemade food for the entire week. By the time my internship year ended, I was a batch cooking evangelist—so much so that I was inspired to write this cookbook. I wanted to pay tribute to the strategies and recipes that had made my routine a success.
I started working on the book in spring 2020—almost exactly when coronavirus erupted in the United States. Meal prep was no longer a necessity for me, but with restaurants shuttered, I certainly needed to cook. What better time to develop recipes?
Much to my surprise, it was difficult to get back into the habit of meal prep. In fact, I hardly wanted to cook at all. As the country saw a renaissance in sourdough bread baking and other time-intensive culinary hobbies, I struggled to heat up frozen vegan meatballs. Like many people who live alone, I spent the early months of the pandemic isolated and afraid. The depression I’ve struggled with throughout my adult life moved in and clung to me like a stubborn fog.
It was yet another humbling reminder that cooking is anything but easy when life is especially hard. I slowly found my way back to meal prep, one recipe at a time.
I began modestly, preparing a dressing or sauce, a vegan protein, and a soup or pasta dish each weekend. As the weeks went by, I was able to add more dishes to my routine: casseroles, sheet pan meals, and grain bowls. My confidence returned, and so did my enjoyment of meal prep. I started to prepare make-ahead desserts, just for fun. Bit by bit, I eased back into the familiar rhythm of planning, prepping, and then enjoying the fruits of my labor. It felt good; it felt like coming home.
If those difficult months taught me anything, it’s that meal prep is an essential part of my ability to enjoy homemade food every day. It’s the single factor that keeps me eager to try new recipes and unflustered in the kitchen. My enthusiasm for cooking will probably always wax and wane, but thanks to the habit of meal prep, I manage to cook and eat well even when I’m resistant or unmotivated. I become more intentional about what I eat, and my meals become more wholesome. My taste buds are grateful for diversity, and my body is grateful for sensible, balanced nutrition.
Best of all is the pleasure I feel each time I open my fridge to find a lovingly prepared dinner, grab a homemade snack to throw into my backpack, or remember that there are a few slices of cake waiting to be defrosted when a dessert craving strikes. My present-day self thanks my past self for her forethought and effort.
Meal prep doesn’t eliminate the work of cooking. It does, however, ensure that time in the kitchen will be well spent. A few steady hours of food preparation, along with good use of the freezer, can yield an entire week’s worth of meals—freeing up your weeknights as well as reducing decision fatigue and last-minute grocery runs.
No matter how seasoned you are as a home cook, I imagine there’s been a moment in your life when cooking felt practically impossible, whether because of a busy schedule or a period of personal difficulty. Forgive yourself for the days, weeks, months, or even years in which cooking felt more like a hassle than a joy.
And, when you’re ready to cook again, allow meal-prep recipes to welcome you home to your kitchen.