the simplest method for weekly [vegetarian] menu planning

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A few months ago now, I wrote an article on my favourite method for menu planning.

Basically it involves buying a few core ingredients each week and then drawing from these to make different meals. So you end up with a simple shopping list, but still enough variety during the week to keep everyone happy.

I’ve had some great feedback and a few requests for a vegetarian version. So here we are. Enjoy!

the 10 ingredient shopping list

- eggs
- tofu
- canned lentils
- broccoli
- zucchini
- salad greens
- lemons
- tomato paste
- parmesan cheese
- hoisin sauce

the pantry checklist

- olive oil
- salt
- pepper

5 days of 5 ingredients dinner recipes

- zucchini ‘cabonara’ with green salad
- tofu & broccoli stir fry with lentils
- lentil ragu with zucchini ‘noodles’ + green salad
- baked zucchini frittata with green salad
- tomato scrambled tofu with steamed lemon broccoli
[recipes below]

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menu planning vego11
lentil ragu with zucchini ‘noodles’ recipe
serves 2

Inspired by the good old family classic spag bol (or spaghetti bolognese), these baked zucchini noodles are one of my favourite things when I’m looking for a gluten-free comfort food option.

You could boil the zucchini like pasta if you prefer, but I find the texture much nicer and the flavour more intense with this baking method. A mandoline or vegetable peeler are handy for getting lovely fine ‘noodles’.

Feel free to add to the lentils – I’ve kept it super simple but a little garlic, onion or chilli would work. Sometimes I use butter to give the sauce a richer silkier vibe.

2 zucchini (courgettes), sliced into ribbons
1 can lentils (400g / 14oz), drained
4 tablespoons tomato paste
parmesan cheese, to serve
salad greens, to serve

1. Preheat oven to 200C (400F).

2. Layer zucchini ribbons over a baking tray a few layers deep. Drizzle with olive oil and bake for 10 minutes or until the zucchini is no longer crunchy.

3. Heat 3-4 tablespoons olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add lentils and tomato paste and cook for a few minutes until hot.

4. Taste and season lentils, adding a little more olive oil or some butter if the tomato is too sharp.

5. Divide zucchini between two plates and top with lentils.

6. Serve with parmesan on the side and a green salad

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broccoli & tofu stir fry
serves 2-3

It’s amazing how changing the sauces and seasonings to a different cuisine can make the same old ingredients feel exciting and new again.

The lentils may seem a little weird – but trust me on this one. Much quicker and easier than steaming some rice to serve with and lentils have the added bonus of their high protein content.

I’ve used hoisin sauce here to keep the meal vegetarian, but oyster sauce would be a lovely substitute if dietary requirements permit.

A handful of nuts such as cashews wouldn’t go astray either.

300g (10oz) firm tofu, drained & crumbled
1 large head broccoli, cut into florettes
1 can lentils, drained
3-4 tablespoons hoisin sauce
lemon juice, to taste

1. Heat a few tablespoons oil in a large frying pan (skillet).

2. Add tofu and broccoli and cook, covered, stirring every few minutes until the broccoli is tender – about 6 minutes.

3. Add lentils and sauce and stir fry for a few minutes or until everything is hot.

4. Taste and season with salt and a little lemon juice if you think it needs it.

menu planning vego9
baked zucchini frittata recipe
serves 2

I’m so glad I discovered the trick of baking frittatas in a spring form pan, as opposed to the old school high maintenance frying pan method. So much easier to mix the egg with your flavouring then pop in the oven to bake for 15 minutes while you do other things. My type of dinner.

Feel free to play around with the filling. Tomatoes are lovely, as are different cheeses, canned chickpeas work a treat or fresh asparagus in the spring. So many possibilities.

2 zucchini (courgettes), sliced into rounds
4 eggs
2 handfuls grated parmesan cheese
salad leaves, to serve
1 – 2 tablespoons lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 200C (400F).

2. Heat a large frying pan (skillet) on a medium heat. Add a little olive oil and cook zucchini, stirring occasionally until they are tender.

3. Combine eggs and parmesan and season.

4. Line a 20cm (8in) spring form pan with baking paper and grease the base and sides with butter or oil. Spoon the zucchini in then pour over the egg mixture.

5. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden and puffy.

6. Combine lemon juice with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Season and toss the leaves in the dressing to serve with the frittata.

menu planning vego15
tomato scrambled tofu recipe
serves 2
I’m a big fan of scrambled tofu after discovering it during my ‘vegetarian month’ last year. I’m happy to eat it out of a bowl on its own, but you could easily serve on top of toast or with some pasta if you fancy.

Feel free to spice this up with a little fresh or dried chilli. A little smoked paprika will take it to a new level, but you don’t have to go there. Roast red peppers would also work well.

300g (10oz) firm tofu, drained & crumbled
4 tablespoons tomato paste
steamed broccoli, to serve

1. Heat a few tablespoons olive oil in a large frying pan (skillet).

2. Add tofu and stir fry, breaking it up further with a fork or spoon. Cook for a few minutes.

3. Add tomato paste. Continue to cook and stir for a few more minutes until everything is hot and the tofu is well scrambled.

4. Taste and Season. Serve with broccoli tossed in a little oil and lemon juice on the side.

menu planning vego17
zucchini ‘cabonara’ recipe
serves 2
It’s hard to go past zucchini cut into rounds and cooked until meltingly tender. Nigel Slater calls it letting the ‘tenderness fairy’ work their magic and I can’t help thinking of that image every time I cook zucchini like this.

For a more substantial meal you could toss some hot pasta in with the zucchini, but to be honest, I love it just as it is. If the egg doesn’t seem cooked enough for you, just pop everything in the microwave for little while, being careful not to overcook the egg.

4 zucchini (courgettes) sliced into rounds
4 egg yolks, at room temperature
2 handfuls parmesan cheese + extra to serve
2 large handfuls salad greens
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice

1. Heat a few tablespoons olive oil in a large frying pan (skillet). Add zucchini and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally until the zucchini is tender and lightly browned – about 8 minutes

2. Meanwhile combine yolks and cheese in a large bowl.

3. Toss the hot zucchini in with the egg mixture and stir well. If the sauce is too runny, pop in the microwave for a few minutes.

4. Combine lemon juice with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season and toss leaves.

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{ 39 comments }

Rivki Locker (Ordinary Blogger) May 17, 2011 at 9:32 am

What a wonderful technique for menu planning. I have been trying to trim our grocery budget by introducing a few vegetarian meals each week. This will help a lot. I especially love the looks of the zucchini pasta. Brilliant.

Carolyn May 17, 2011 at 10:21 am

Hi – thankyou for this – exactly what I needed this week! Any chance this could be a regular post (eg once a month?) with different ingredients? With regards to ideas for you cooking school – anything vegetarian would be devoured with relish!! Thanks

jules May 17, 2011 at 11:35 am

Rivki
good point about vegetarian meals being inexpensive.

Pleasure Carolyn,
Will aim to do a post like this on a more regular basis but we’re probably looking at about once a quarter. And I have a class starting at the end of August called Veggie Love – Healthy Eating Made Easy which sounds like just the thing for you!

Shannon May 17, 2011 at 11:41 am

Can’t wait to hear where in ate in our fair, wet city of Seattle!

I second Carolyn’s suggestion of making this a regular feature. Its so interesting to see how you mix & match a few ingrediants into different combinations for the week.

yasmeen (wandering spice) May 17, 2011 at 12:22 pm

this is a lovely weekly planner, thank you!
i absolutely adore the lentil ragu with zucchini ribbons. such a creative idea. we eat lots of lentils in our home and this is a recipe i can absolutely see incorporating into our rotation :)

Rachel May 17, 2011 at 2:42 pm

I have to say, I never liked zucchini until I tried it raw, and now I’m hooked – it’s so tasty and so inexpensive during the summer!

April May 17, 2011 at 3:13 pm

I really hope you don’t find this offensive, as I’m trying to provide constructive feedback, rather than criticism. But perhaps the response to your cooking classes has to do with your video performance?

I have notice that you don’t seem very comfortable on camera—lots of shifting eyes and tense body language. Perhaps you could find someone to coach you in better presentation. It’s also very difficult to listen to more than a minute of someone um-ing and “yeah, so…” over and over. Practicing what you’re going to say a few times before recording may help with that. Perhaps even writing a script.

Your information is great (I love your blog) and the videos showing how to cook what you’ve written about is a great idea. But your execution could use a little bit of help. The value of your cooking lessons would go way up (and hopefully entice more students) if you worked on the quality of your video performance so the clips were more professional.

I hope this helps you, rather than upsets you. Like I said, I honestly don’t mean to offend.

jules May 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Shannon,
I actually had wonderful weather in Seattle. And wonderful food!

Rachel
Yes shaved zucchini in salads is one of my all time favourite things.

April
Really appreciate your honesty and for taking the time to share your opinion. And agree that video isn’t my strongest suit. Thanks for the motivation to get better at it!

Mandy - The Complete Cook Book May 17, 2011 at 3:54 pm

What fabulous meals and they are all so colourful and healthy.
:-) Mandy

Ruth May 17, 2011 at 5:42 pm

These dishes all look wonderful! Thanks for the inspiration!

Maria @ Scandifoodie May 17, 2011 at 6:45 pm

The frittata looks fantastic (as does everything else) and I love the idea of baking it. Will definitely give it a go!

jules May 17, 2011 at 6:50 pm

baked frittatas are the way forward maria. enjoy!

and thanks for dropping by mandy & ruth

Marie (a.k.a. gardenfreshtomatoes) May 17, 2011 at 9:47 pm

Ooooh, new lentil recipe! LOVE it!
I’m on a veggie ‘ribbon’ kick myself – asparagus right now, squash and zuchini once the weather gets hot.
If it ever does…

Cherie Bargery May 17, 2011 at 10:30 pm

I would like to see recipes that use asparagus as well! It’s fall here in Australia and it is in season. I just picked up 2 bunches on sale and would like recipes for the week with it. Thanks!

Erin Smith May 17, 2011 at 11:17 pm

Today’s lentil ragu sounds great. Thanks for posting!

Mike Lieberman May 18, 2011 at 2:36 am

Thanks for the inspiration. Have added more recipes to the list of ones to try out.

My tip is to spend a day in the beginning of the week to get things ready – like salad dressings, sauces or cutting up veggies. This way during the week, they are on hand and easy to use.

Mary Jensen May 18, 2011 at 6:34 am

I have been enjoying your blog for awhile and have finally subscribed. I fail at menu planning for the exact reasons you wrote about in your other post and have been feeling so frustrated! Jules, what size spring form pan are you using for the frittata? Mine is either 9 or 10 inches and might be too big for this recipe. Thanks for the inspiration and lovely photography.

bianca May 18, 2011 at 6:36 am

Its almost as if you have been reading my mind- while at the grocery yesterday I decided to start eating more vegetarian meals in the week! This is perfect for my new foray into veggie land! Thanks!

jules May 18, 2011 at 8:52 am

mary
thanks for picking up the lack of springform pan dimensions! I used a 20cm (8in) pan for the 4 egg frittata. Have updated the recipe above.

For your 10in pan I’d use 6 eggs and throw in an extra zucchini and expect to feed 3 people (or 4 at a stretch).

bianca
yay for more vego meals – glad this is helping!

cherie
I’m in Oz too! I thought asparagus season was spring? I have seen asparagus on sale here but they were imported – could be wrong though

Jenn Brigole May 19, 2011 at 4:26 am

Oh wow. That baked zucchini frittata looks so inviting! I remember when I was still quite small, when my aunt would slice and fry some zucchini for a recipe of hers, I always steal some, sprinkle a little salt and pop it my mouth. This is so going to be on her menu soon. :)

Lindsay @ Pinch of Yum May 19, 2011 at 10:03 pm

Just stumbled on your site for the first time… and I’m loving it! That lentil ragu and zucchini noodle dish looks awesome!! (And your photos are also top notch!) Thanks for the inspiration.

Charissa May 20, 2011 at 12:58 am

All these recipes just look great! I cannot wait to start using produce from our garden and when we do…I want to make a zucchini noodle dish!

kylieonwheels May 20, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Yeah I’m with you Jules, asparagus is woody, imported rubbish at the moment ;-)

You are right on track with my current menu planning. Sorting out life with a new job, new routine, new goals etc etc. Meals is the one thing that if I get it right, everything else will fall into place. Plan plan plan – save time and money!

Katherine May 23, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Le gasp! I missed this post somehow and am so glad I scrolled back and found it. Huzzah for another meal-planning post! These recipes look delicious, and that tofu stir-fry makes me actually want to buy tofu–something I haven’t wanted to eat since my strictly vegetarian days of yore. Thanks, Jules. Can’t wait to try them out!

Penny Speers May 24, 2011 at 2:01 pm

ooops! This is it I see now – silly me!

Penny Speers May 24, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Have you thought of affiliate advertising, where you invite certain companies to advertise on your pages, and anyone who goes to the advertised site (through yours), and buys something – you will get a omission automatically?

jules May 24, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Kylie
Great to hear about the new job. Congrats! And you’re right – funny how if you get meals right – other things fall into place.

katherine
Im glad you found it – you should subscribe so you don’t miss out!
And I’m even more excited about tempting you back to the tofu-dark side ;)

penny
thanks but no to the advertising. Stonesoup always has and always will be ad-free. I just hate how they look.

KatieLovesWags May 25, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Hi Jules, I’m really excited about trying the vego menu this coming week. I’ve just found out I’m pregnant and I really want to kick my nutrition into gear – something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time as I currently eat A LOT of processed carbs – and easing myself into it with these simple tea time ideas has got me all fired up!

I must admit this Dorito/white bread/chocaholic girl is feeling a wee bit nervous about the tofu… Eeek!

jules May 25, 2011 at 4:30 pm

congrats on the bun in the oven katie!
give the tofu with the tomato a go – you might surprise yourself.

Stuart S May 31, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Did the Lentil ragu last night. Also had it for lunch today and was very, very tasty. I added onion, garlic and chili.
The zucchini works so well. Has a similar texture as pasta but with all that flavour and it really gives a similar ‘comfort food’ feeling of a heavy pasta dish.
I’m going to try another one of the dishes tonight.

Stuart S June 1, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Did the Tofu, Broccoli and lentil one last night (and for lunch today). Was amazing also.

jules June 1, 2011 at 4:29 pm

thanks for reporting back in stuart!
glad you’re enjoying the recipes

Laura June 3, 2011 at 4:08 am

I just found you while searching zucchini noodle recipes. They are my current obsession. Just wanted to say your blog looks great. I can’t wait to try this lentil ragu! Cheers

jules June 3, 2011 at 7:30 am

thanks for dropping by Laura!

janet @ the taste space June 17, 2011 at 8:59 pm

Wow – a week of lentils! I love how simple these recipes are… so easy to whip together without all the fuss! :)

elise August 1, 2012 at 1:55 am

Dear. Jules,

I would like to say I’m a 58 yr. old lady who has just (10 mos.) changed my diet to vegetarian. I am leaving a comment in order to say Thank you so very much for the free lessons, and recipes. This old dog, is learning some new tricks ! ; )
Your generosity and kindness, is very much appreciated.
Very Best Regards,
Elicia (elise) Linwood McGinn

jules August 13, 2012 at 7:51 am

Thanks for sharing your story Elise!
Jx

Kylie September 18, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Just wanted to say Thanks sooooooooooo much for this plan …im newly vegetarian and have been looking for some easy cheap meals yum yum yum making them all this week

Harriet January 20, 2013 at 2:20 am

This is a really good selection and good tip, really looking forward to trying this out. However I noticed you included parmesan which isn’t vegetarian. You could have meant a vegetarian alternative but if this is the case please label it as so. I know it’s the responsibility of a vegetarian to look into the food they’re eating but presuming a cheese is vegetarian is an easy enough mistake to make for those starting out.

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