A couple of years ago, I made a goal to eat vegan 90% of the time. There’s increasing evidence that eating less meat is one way the average citizen can reduce their impact on the environment, and there’s no doubt that eating more vegetables has some serious health benefits (not to mention that — anecdotally — my hair and skin have never looked better).
The ‘90%’ part is because I have zero interest in giving up meat (or cheese) forever. A couple of times a summer, I want a burger on the grill. I love a good Italian hoagie (or cheesesteak, if I’m being honest), and my Mom’s Christmas dinner (Roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding) is NOT to be missed. Mike and I love going out to eat, and, at the end of the day…I just don’t wanna be vegan all the time.
I do, however, want to be vegan most of the time, saving meat (or cheese) for extra-special splurges.
Easy Vegan Weeknight Dinner Ideas For The Fam
Do we hit our 90% vegan goal? Yes! Pretty often! But not always. Some weeks we’re closer to 60% vegan, but the overall idea: reducing our impact on the earth, eating healthier-is more consistently achieved with some wiggle room.
One of the easiest ways to hit our 90% goal is to really focus hard on eating vegan during the week. That leaves weekends for BBQs with friends, dinners out, and chili at the ski hill.
Over the last few years, I’ve perfected a weeknight vegan meal plan that I can stick with. It’s not particularly fancy or inventive, but it features recipes my kids love, and an overall “schedule” that allows me some creativity and versatility…without having to think too hard.
I’ve divided each night of the week up into a category that makes eating vegan a cinch. Our categories are:
Monday: Soup/Stew Night
Tuesday: Taco Night
Wednesday: Something Over Rice (or Grains)
Thursday: Pasta (or Risotto) Night
Friday: Pizza Night
Our Top Vegan Dinner Ideas (For Each Night Of The Week)
Below I’ve listed our go-to vegan recipes from my favorite food bloggers. The vast majority of the recipes listed are ones that we make to over and over…ones my kids will actually eat. Best of all, these are the recipes that I can still handle during a busy week. Either they’re quick to make at night, or they have some element of prep that can be done easily the night before or morning of. We use our slow cooker a TON. The advantage is that the slow cooker recipes here are pretty foolproof. Unlike meat, these recipes really can cook all day, or sit on the ‘warm’ setting without getting soggy.
Monday: Soup/Stew Night
These dinners are almost always thrown together in the crock pot that morning, and I make enough to have leftovers for lunches the next day. Sending the kids to school with Thermos lunches almost always guarantees that they get enough food AND eat their vegetables for lunch.
Our Top 3 Favorite Vegan Soups/Stew Recipes
Recipe notes: We always double the recipe, and NEVER miss the herbed oil. We’ve actually started tripling that one, and the kids dump it in their soup with as must gusto as we do. It’s delicious.
Serve with: Crusty bread (I throw a baguette or loaf of sourdough in the oven for 10 min to crisp up), and Earth Balance buttery spread. The kids like the “butter”, but Mike and I will dip our bread into the herbed oil. Because this is a lighter dinner, and we have a teenage boy, I’ll sometimes follow it up with dessert, specifically these Coconut Cream Parfaits (but we just buy Coconut Whipped Cream because it’s SO much easier).
Recipe notes: This recipe is technically for an Instant Pot, but I’ve always made it in the slow cooker (directions are also included in the recipe). This stew is a brilliant mix of warming spices (making it great on a cold winter day)…but has such fresh, bright toppings that it doesn’t feel out of place for a warm weather meal, either. Also, don’t skimp on the toppings; the fresh avocado, tomatoes and herbs are delicious, but the real star is the kimchee. (We usually have to salt this one a bit more than the recipe calls for…and I swap out the cheese for vegan parmesan.)
Serve with: This one is pretty filling all on its own.
Recipe notes: I almost always just use water (instead of broth), and then up the salt to 3 tsp. We always use salsa instead of diced tomatoes. This is one of those recipes I’ve long since stopped measuring…just dump everything in the slow cooker and go.
Serve with: Tortilla chips, avocado, lime and cilantro. I like this soup alone, but Mike and the kids prefer it over rice. I usually make some sort of coleslaw for a side (usually just shredded cabbage and a vinaigrette).
Tuesday: Taco Night
This is a family favorite: we put out a pot of black beans (either homemade or canned and heat with salt, salsa, cumin and onion), chopped avocado, cilantro, shredded cabbage (dressed with lime, oil & salt), pickled onions, different kinds of salsa or pico de gallo, and tortillas. Everybody makes their own tacos.
My Top 3 Favorite Taco Night Taco Recipes
Recipe notes: I don’t actually use a recipe for this, but this one from Delish Knowledge looks very similar to what we do.
Serve with: Tortilla chips (I like to make mine look more like a salad, and then scoop it up with chips). Otherwise, this dish is satisfying enough to be a meal, no side dishes necessary.
Recipe notes: Instead of the recipe’s seasonings, I’ll sometimes just sauté the jackfruit with olive oil, chopped onion, a packet of taco seasoning and a few tablespoons of salsa. It’s not nearly as good as the full jerk treatment here, but it’s super fast.
Serve with: This is a newer taco that I’m introducing to the kids, so they don’t pound these nearly as hard as their usual black-bean tacos. Because of this, I’ll sometimes add in some sides: rice, refried beans and chips, etc. Love & Lemons actually has a pretty good list of possible sides for taco night.
Recipe notes: For an old-school, Taco Bell spin on vegan tacos, I keep meaning to try this recipe from Minimalist Baker. I’d serve these in those yellow taco shells, with chopped tomato, shredded lettuce and vegan cheese shreds from Daiya.
Serve with: Some sort of corn and bean salad
Wednesday: Something With Rice (or Grains)
Stir frys, buddha bowls, fried rice, something stuffed with rice, or even a huge pot of rice & beans (especially if we didn’t do our usual black bean tacos that week)…on Wednesdays, serving something with rice is our typical move. And yeah, if I forget to pop some rice in the rice cooker that morning, I have no problem microwaving those ready-to-eat rice packets, or substituting quinoa, which cooks faster and has more protein.
My Top 3 Favorite Rice (or Bowl) Recipes
Recipe notes: I don’t know what magic Em has spun for this recipe, but my kids BEG for this one. To make it easier/faster, we completely skip the sunflower pesto (it’s not needed), and I always use frozen mango (just pull it out of the freezer in the morning). I also prep the tofu in the morning, and let it marinate all day. For the greens, we just use bags of pre-shredded brussel sprouts, and fry ’em up with coconut oil and plenty of salt. I keep the heat a bit high since my kids prefer when the brussels are a bit browned.
Serve with: Any sort of rice. These bowls are complete meals in themselves.
Recipe notes: I usually increase the other ingredients slightly to use up the entire can of pumpkin. It’s a pretty fool-proof recipe.
Serve with: Tons of lime wedges and chopped cilantro to really brighten the dish. We serve this over rice (and save time with those microwavable rice packets). This one is so filling that we don’t need to add any other dishes.
Recipe notes: I swap out the cheese for vegan cheese, and often omit completely the Greek yogurt and artichoke hearts. The dish is delicious with them, but for a weeknight dinner…I don’t always have artichoke hearts on hand. The quinoa adds a nice bit of protein, too.
Serve with: A green (lettuce) salad and some crusty bread. Because Raines is getting older (and hungrier), I’ll often do a beans-on-toast thing (or avocado toast) instead of just bread. Our version of beans on toast involves sautéing garlic in olive oil with two cans of beans (drained) and a can of tomatoes (not drained). Sauté them until warm, add salt, and finish with lemon (and chopped herbs if you want). Serve on top of toasted bread.
Thursday: Pasta Night
This one reminds me of my childhood. Think: steaming plate of red sauce pasta, salad with Italian dressing, French bread. Yes? Yeah. Still my kids’ favorite meal of the week. We often upgrade the spaghetti to Banza pasta (chickpea noodles) for extra protein…or we’ll do one box of each (regular spaghetti + chickpea spaghetti). The key to successful chickpea noodles are two fold:
- Serve immediately. Cooking these noodles should be the LAST thing you do before serving since they don’t rest or wait well.
- Only cook chickpea noodles for 4 min, max. 2 minutes if it’s Angel Hair pasta. I don’t care what the box says (or even what brand of chickpea noodles you buy), 4 min is the right time to cook them. Anything longer and they’ll be mush.
My Top 3 Favorite Pasta Night Recipes
Recipe notes: We’ve been making Martha Stewart’s simple red sauce for years. It’s literally the first thing Mike and I learned to make after college. And frankly…it’s just as fast as heating up jarred sauce, but infinitely better. We haven’t bought jarred sauce in…20+ years? And somewhere along the way we stopped adding in the fresh oregano, but nobody cares — the sauce is delicious with or without it. (Sidenote: Mike always cooks the sauce down properly…I usually just boil the crap out of it for a couple of minutes if we’re in a rush. Both methods work.)
Serve with: As I mentioned, we go old school with this one. We toss lettuce with Brianna’s French Vinaigrette (think: 1980s Italian dressing taste without the sugar or weird oils) and crusty bread.
Recipe notes: Full disclosure: I only use the cherry tomatoes in the summer, the vast majority of the time I just sauté some spinach and call it a day. But this is the recipe I credit for making my kids love toasted pine nuts. Cheese is optional, or vegan.
Serve with: Since I almost always use spinach (and therefore we’ve already got greens), I’ll often serve this one with some sort of veggie side: sliced tomatoes or cucumbers with salt, grated carrots with a vinaigrette, etc. And crusty bread.
Recipe notes: While ‘couscous’ doesn’t sound like pasta, this recipe calls for Israeli couscous (or Pearl Couscous) which is actually just tiny little balls of pasta. Once you’ve eaten these slippery little things cloaked in the delicious garlic and lemon oil…whoa. This is another recipe my kids beg for. They, of course, skip most of the herbs but are getting better about adding some in. It’s fun to serve this dish plain (just couscous and beans), with little bowls of chopped herbs on the table so they can do a taste test.
Serve with: Bowls of chopped herbs, extra lemon wedges, and a little salad of arugula, lemon and olive oil. Mike and I dump our salads right on top. Because this one is all stove-top, adding some sort of roasted veggie side is our usual move.
Friday: Pizza Night
If we’re not going out, we’ll make this a thing: pizzas, fun drinks, and a bunch of appetizers (olives, veggies & hummus, crackers & vegan cheese, etc.) It’s a little end-of-week tradition we all LOVE.
Truth be told, we almost always just use leftover tomato sauce from pasta night and add vegan cheese on top (we do one pizza for Raines with real cheese). Or I’ll do a couple with sautéed spinach, vegan feta and sliced olives. Done.
My 3 Favorite Pizza Night Recipes
Recipe notes: If we’re making our own crust, this super simple recipe from King Arthur Flour is the best. It’s the only one I’ve found that doesn’t include unnecessary steps or any sugar. It’s our fav.
Serve with: bowls of olives, and other fun appetizers
Recipe notes: I first heard about ‘socca’ from one of Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbooks…but it IS a fun change-up from regular pizza. The flour is primarily chickpea flour, which lends itself to a really soft, chewy sort of crust (think: chickpea flatbread). It’s totally different from real pizza, but an option if you still want something homemade, but don’t want to wait for dough to rise. (NOTE: This particular recipe has you ‘rest’ the dough for 30 min…I never do that.)
Serve with: Olives, salads, other mezze, etc.
3. Vegan Cauliflower Pizza Crust via Crowded Kitchen
Recipe notes: I’ve been researching the heck out of vegan cauliflower pizza crusts…and if I ever get around to making one, it’s gonna be this one. That said, there’s plenty of store bought cauliflower pizza crusts that are not bad (even if some of them have eggs) so that’s where I typically end up: with a store bought crust. I’m calling it good enough.
Serve with: Wine and plenty of screen time. 😉
That’s it! As I mentioned, this isn’t the ONLY set of recipes we use, nor do I stick to this schedule religiously. It’s just nice to have something laid out for those weeks that are busy, the ones where we’re barely hanging on, the weeks where I don’t have time to think or make decisions.
As always, I’d love to hear from you: are there any other vegan (or vegetarian) weeknight recipes you rely on? I’m always looking for new ideas.