4 meat-free and mostly make-ahead meal plans... for the back-to-school crunch
Sorry, but September's coming fast! Here's how to make that Sunday batch cook go far
You're in one of two camps: you either think any time before Labour Day is too early to start talking about back-to-school, or you're like me and you started thinking of adjusting your kids' sleep schedules for September, oh, on Canada Day. For those of you already concerned about dinnertime routines, I'm here for you — as always.
But this time, I'm here with arguably a better version of a make-ahead meal plan, because this one is meat-free.
And it's simple.
Cook one meatless meal on Sunday and serve it alllll the way to Wednesday. It's as simple as reworking the leftovers so you don't get one complaint.
To get you started, I've laid out the plans below; four delicious meat-free meals and two genius ways to serve them again. Depending on your eaters, plan for extras by doubling or tripling the recipe. Plan to eat straight-up leftovers of these delicious recipes on one other night, and turn the rest into something entirely different twice more. You'll never tire of them. This way the one big effort you make on Sunday gets you fantastic, several distinct dinners with minimal work on weeknights. Here's how:
Soak the lentils on Saturday night for this vegetarian take on a casserole classic. You'll notice the flavours actually improve the next day.
Here's what to do with the leftovers:
Turn them into an empanada filling. Buy store-bought pizza dough or make your own (in advance — it can be refrigerated it up to three days). Roll out the dough to a ¼-inch thickness and cut out 6-inch rounds with a biscuit cutter (or use a wide-mouth mason jar, they'll just be smaller). Mound a tablespoon or two of the leftover shepherd's pie into each round, off-centre, then fold one side over the other and crimp the edges together tightly. Brush some egg wash (whisk one egg with one teaspoon of water) on top with a pastry brush. Bake in a preheated, 375F degree oven until the dough is cooked and turns golden brown, about 15-20 minutes.
Serve them over soft polenta. To do this, bring 4 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil and slowly pour in 1 cup of instant polenta, whisking constantly. Turn the heat down low and continue stirring until the polenta thickens and pulls away from the pan, about 15 minutes. Pour in a bit of milk or vegetable stock at the end to loosen it up a bit. Serve it with a scoop of reheated shepherd's pie topped with melted cheese, if that's your thing.
Ever tried making your own veggie burger? It's so easy! Packed with chickpeas, lentils and quinoa, these ones are lil' power packages. And there's so much you can do with the leftovers. Swap the bun for salad to make wraps, or layer them into in tortillas with all the trimmings. Here's how to change them up:
Crumble the cooked burger to make a filling for lettuce wraps. You'll want sturdy, whole lettuce leaves for this, preferably from the head of a sweeter green like Boston lettuce, but romaine will work just fine. Break the burgers into ¼-inch pieces or smaller for the first layer of your wraps. Add your favourite diced or shredded raw veggies and cheese — a combination of beets, carrots, microgreens and feta cheese work well, but they are, of course, just suggestions. Just don't forget to drizzle on the leftover secret sauce.
Use the leftovers as a flavour layer in quesadillas. Slice the chilled burgers into ¼-inch pieces and layer them on top of a shredded cheese-covered tortillas in a hot skillet. Cover with another tortilla shell and cook as you would any quesadilla. Serve with your favourite toppings, like grilled jalapeño guacamole. Plan for this by charring the jalapeños on Sunday, but you're probably already catching on to this game.
This plant-based meatloaf is nothing like the greyish rectangle of meat you love to hate. Cap your weekend off with this lively loaf, then let it carry you through the week in the form of sliders and stuffed peppers. Here's how:
Slice it up for meatloaf sliders. Simply reheat leftovers it and serve them sandwiched between toasted mini buns. You'll get the best toast by liberally buttering the buns and grilling them in a cast-iron pan, but if that feels like too much work, a toaster oven gets the job done.
Transform the loaf into a filling for stuffed peppers. If you're running low on leftovers, "beef" them up by tossing them with cooked brown rice, nuts and finely diced soft herbs like mint and parsley. Do this by frying an onion until it's translucent and begins to brown, about 15 minutes. Add chopped walnuts or any other favourite nut. Dice up the leftover meatloaf and toss everything together with the herbs and rice. Season well with salt and pepper and stuff the filling into any sweet pepper. May we suggest poblano? Stand the peppers up in a baking dish by cutting the bottoms flat, but not through the flesh. Pour in some tomato juice so they're full up to an inch from the top. Cover with a lid or foil and bake for one hour. Remove the lid and continue cooking until the peppers are totally soft. Cut the cooking time down with an Instant Pot if you've got one, and work ahead by cooking the rice and chopping the herbs on Sunday.
Keep Sunday dinner simple with a bowl of this rustic tomato soup, served with salad and crusty bread. Reduce a portion of the leftovers for a rich sauce; add hearty beans or chickpeas to the rest and you've got a stew. Here's how:
Make a tomato sauce for tofu. Bring leftovers to a boil and let them simmer away, uncovered, until they thicken and reduce. Shallow-fry a package of cubed, firm tofu in another pan and set it aside. Add a touch of sugar and salt and a clove of rasped garlic to the reduced sauce, and, optionally, a splash of soy sauce for depth, and whatever quantity of your favourite hot sauce if you'd like some heat. If it still needs something, a dash of white vinegar will help to balance flavours. Toss in the tofu and serve on a bed of rice or other cooked whole grains like quinoa, which cooks quickly.
Turn the soup into a stew by adding a can of drained, canned beans or chickpeas and a cup or two of cooked elbow pasta. Heat and season with salt and pepper. Serve with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, if you wish.
If you're looking for even more meat-free meals to get you through the back-to-school crush, check out the recipes below. And if you're left with leftovers, we'd love to see how you spin them. Tag us on Instagram or drop us a line in the comments below. We love hearing from you!
Jessica Brooks is a digital producer and pro-trained cook and baker. Follow her food stories on Instagram @brooks_cooks.