Plant-Based Dinner Recipes, Made Quick and Easy
Get your weeknight game on with meal-prep strategies and 30-minute, healthy plant-based meals
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Above: 20-Minute Chickpea and Spinach Curry; photo by Olga Ivanova
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Jamie Vespa is a registered dietitian; she writes about food and nutrition at Dishing Out Health.
Anyone following a plant-based diet knows that weeknight meal planning can require a little more strategy and forethought. Especially if you count on meals that are filling, flavorful, and hit the notes of what you truly crave. Luckily, plant foods are some of the most versatile out there — and perhaps the most fun for challenging your creativity in the kitchen.
A little meal prep can take the guesswork out of plant-based cooking. Keeping your pantry and fridge stocked with some well-planned staples will set you up for success. Here, uncover our secret weapons for getting ahead and making the most out of weeknight plant-based cooking. Not only do these strategies make it easy to embrace more meatless meals, they’ll also help cut to the chase on the daily “what’s for dinner?” dilemma.
Once you’ve got the basic components at your fingertips, it’s a snap to fill in your weekly meal plan with inventive 30-minute meals. Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or just going part-time plant-based, these back-pocket recipes will become regulars in your rotation.
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6 meal-prep tips for easy plant-based meals
If you can devote just an hour or so on the weekend to prepping some basics, you’ll have your (vegan) ducks in a row for the weeknights ahead.
1. Cook grains in batches
Batch-cooked grains are the unsung heroes of easy plant-based meals. They’re the nutritious, filling backbone of many weeknight staples like stir-fries and grain bowls, and always a trusty side dish. They come in handy as the building block for many of the recipe suggestions below, too.
Luckily, it’s just as easy to make six servings of grains as it is to make two. Go for a batch of something familiar and versatile like brown basmati rice, and a new-to-you grain like pearled barley or wheat berries for diversity. Check out Ancient Grains: Oldies but Goodies for more ideas.
2. Prepare one or two versatile sauces
Homemade sauces can elevate even the simplest meals. Plus, they offer a better nutrition profile and fresher flavor than most anything bottled. Take 5 or 10 minutes to make a batch of creamy garlic cashew sauce, lemony tahini sauce, or avocado-and-herb green sauce, which you can drizzle over roasted veggies, spread on sandwiches, or use to dress up salads and grain bowls. Or take the flavor up a notch with a Thai peanut sauce, an easy vegan recipe made with peanut butter that you can toss with soba noodles or spoon over a stir-fry to add Asian flair. Learn more with our guide: The Secret’s in the Sauce.
3. Stock your pantry with healthy basics
Boxed and canned items like rice, pasta, beans, tomatoes, coconut milk, and vegetable broth are just a few workhorse ingredients that can aid in fast, flexible cooking. An assortment of nut butters and tahini can also come in handy for adding body to broths or richness to sauces.
4. Cook a pot of beans or lentils
Nutritious, cheap, and shelf-stable, dried beans and lentils should own some pantry real estate, too. Cooking dried legumes is anything but fussy. (Looking for plant-based Instant Pot recipes? Read on!). Plus, they’re endlessly adaptable, and a go-to building block for adding sustenance to meatless meals. Use them to bulk up soups or stews, bolster a salad, or create a fiber-rich taco filling. Learn more here: A Big Guide to Tiny, Mighty Pulses.
5. Roast several kinds of veggies
Roasted veggies are incredibly convenient to have on hand — and you don’t need to roast them one at a time. Just combine varieties with roughly the same cooking time on one sheet pan and toss with a little olive oil. For example, root veggies like carrots, beets, and chopped sweet potato — as well as butternut squash — take roughly 45 minutes to 1 hour to roast at 400°. Cruciferous veggies like Brussels sprouts and cauliflower need closer to 30 minutes. Want to know more? Check out The Ultimate Guide to Roasting Vegetables.
Once you have a stash of roasted vegetables in the fridge, hitting your daily veggie quota becomes effortless. Add them to grain bowls, tacos, or pasta for a virtuous lift. And if you have any leftover later in the week, blend them into soups or stews.
6. Boost flavors from a global pantry
Even the most basic meals can be exciting with the right condiments and seasoning blends. International flavor bombs like red curry paste, chili garlic sauce, and miso paste can build nuanced flavor with minimal effort. Also look to harissa and sambal oelek, two types of chili paste, to add spice and complexity to plant-based cooking.
30-minute plant-based dinners
Now that you’re ready to master meal prep, let’s get to some easy plant-based dinner recipes. These 30-minute meals prove that simple can be super-satisfying.
These meatless “meat”balls are made with wholesome ingredients like cauliflower, cooked quinoa or brown rice (back to that weekend meal prep!), and oats. The healthy recipe makes roughly 10 servings, which can translate to a myriad of weeknight dinners. Enjoy them once with classic marinara sauce and spaghetti, and again with masala sauce and brown rice. Kids will also love eating these bite-size balls on their own to dunk into their favorite sauce.
You've got brown rice, black beans, and all the classic, crave-worthy fixings of a burrito in one bowl. This recipe can be endlessly riffed upon, so feel free to use any mix of fresh, frozen, or even canned veggies you have. To make this vegetarian recipe quick, it calls for microwaveable brown rice, but you could use another cooked grain you have on hand, including quinoa, which would up the protein ante.
Classic Israeli shakshuka is a saucy skillet of simmered eggs with tomatoes, peppers, and spices. This version, however, goes rogue by swapping the eggs for cannellini beans, making it a true plant-based weeknight pantry meal. Top the stovetop dinner with a few dollops of almond ricotta or unsweetened coconut yogurt for a creamy finish, and break out the crusty bread for dipping.
Consider this less of a recipe and more of game plan to utilize your batch-cooked grains and pre-roasted veggies like butternut squash and Brussels sprouts. If you have those, some baby kale, and avocado on hand, this wholesome bowl comes together in 5 minutes flat. The recipe includes a 3-ingredient tahini dressing to drizzle over top; however, you can use whichever sauce(s) you prepped, too. Feel free to also throw in some sauteed tofu or tempeh for extra heft.
Crumbled tempeh stands in for classic ground beef in these plant-powered, Mexican-inspired tacos. (By the way, tempeh’s toothsome texture and adaptable flavor make it a great option for revamping just about any meat dish.) The recipe suggests setting up a taco bar to let everyone load up on his or her favorite toppings; you might set out homemade guacamole, salsa, quick-pickled onions, broccoli slaw, and cilantro. You can also make this into a mighty delicious taco salad, perhaps with greens and some crispy baked tortilla chips, if you’re craving something lighter.
The beauty of this Mediterranean pesto pasta is that it comes together in one pot. For more staying power, use protein- and fiber-rich chickpea pasta. The recipe calls for baby broccoli (aka broccolini); however, you can also use regular broccoli florets. And if you’re avoiding dairy, swap the feta for a few dollops of almond ricotta or sprinkle with nutritional yeast. Some toasted pine nuts would be amazing here, too.
These hearty, homemade veggie burgers lean on pantry staples like canned beans, tomato paste, and spices. Plus, they're rich in both protein and fiber, which will keep you full. Serve them on toasted whole-grain buns with your favorite toppings (and homemade sauce!) or crumble them over a salad.
Stir-fries are synonymous with weeknights. This one features crisp, better-than-takeout tofu in a downright addictive sesame-soy sauce. If you don’t have broccoli on hand, you can use carrots, snow peas, mushrooms, or green beans instead.
This simple plant-based soup only requires 10 ingredients and one cooking vessel. The base is a meatless matrix of lentils, root vegetables, and sturdy greens, which just epitomize comfort. Plus, you can make it days ahead, easily double the recipe, and freeze any leftovers for a meal-prep trifecta. All this one-pot wonder needs is some crusty bread or warm pita for dipping.
Every weeknight dinner handbook needs a quick curry recipe. This comfort-food special happens to be cozy, craveable, and nutritious — not to mention adaptable and gluten-free. It spotlights pantry staples like canned chickpeas, coconut milk, and dried spices, though leaves room for some fresh fixings. Toss in any leftover veggies from the week (spinach, mushrooms, broccoli, onion) or top with a tangle of fresh herbs at the end. And for serving — you guessed it — break out the batch-cooked grains (or cook up a batch of basmati rice).
More plant-based dinner ideas
Looking for additional inspiration? Easy plant-based meals are just a click away with these next collections.