Out of the many hurdles of starting a plant-based diet, coming up with easy, tasty recipes and a nutritionally sound meal plan for every day is one of the main ones. Few people know which foods to choose for a well-rounded meal and are almost intimidated to get into plant based meal planning.
But does it really have to be so complicated? Sure, there are a few new principles to learn if you’re coming from a non-vegan diet or have lived off of ready-made meals in the past. We have gotten behind them over the years of being healthy vegans and they definitely made our lives easier – which is why we are so keen on sharing them in this article with you.
Whether you’re already into meal planning and want to transition towards a plant-based diet or you’re already a vegan and want to reap the benefits of meal planning, this will be incredibly helpful. Having this information laid out so it’s easy to understand and put into action can be a game changer. But first things first.
Reasons for Meal Planning
Plant based meal planning is a little more complicated in the beginning compared to just cooking up random meals. So, why the heck should you even bother and educate yourself on how to meal plan properly? Well, it can offer you more benefits than you might think.
How would you like:
- A fuzz free week
- Less decision making and overthinking meals
- Easier shopping and a lower grocery bill
- Effortlessly sticking to healthy habits
- Easily meeting individual nutritional needs
- Trying new recipes
- Having a plan for your weight loss or weight gain
- Knowing what works best for you
- Keeping yourself accountable by having all the ingredients and meals on hand
Before we’re getting right into the vegan meat of the matter, there are a few tips to consider that can make your meal planning journey a lot easier, less frightening, and much more exciting! We really want you to succeed and this means that you’re enjoying the process as well as the results here.
So, here are our top starting tips:
Keep a food journal to track which meals you and your family liked as well as how much effort or time they require, so you know if and when to include them in your next meal plan.
Go for easy meals in the beginning, maybe just 3-4 ingredients each. An example would be rice, beans, broccoli, and avocado. These dishes don’t require a lot of cooking skills or time to prepare and can be batch-cooked easily.
Speaking of which, start batch cooking single ingredients for fast meals. Think beans that can be eaten with rice, in a soup, salad, or pureed and grains which can be used for stir-fries, salads, stews, bowls, or breakfast porridge.
Look out for recipes you could easily double for leftovers to take to lunch like chili, soups, or bean burgers.
Plan meals you’re already familiar with, replacing the animal-based foods with vegan counterparts like tofu slices for chicken and pureed beans for cream cheese.
Ask your partner or kids what they would like to eat so that everyone’s happy with what will be on the table.
Keep collecting recipes that look interesting and try a new one every week when you have more time. You can use the internet for some inspiration!
Also, keep a list of recipes that work well for yourself and your family so you can remember what to plan for the next weeks.
Finally, get creative with new combinations and think outside of the box to keep things exciting! Soba noodle salad, anyone?
Choosing your food
There are a few things to consider when choosing the foods which you will include in your meal plan. Again, keep these in mind to make the process more enjoyable and fun! So, for your plant based meal planning, make sure you…
- Go for the foods you already like before buying a huge bag of Brussel’s sprouts or rhubarb
- Add variety through different flavorings and spices, such as curry paste, paprika, Italian herbs, mustard, soy sauce, or BBQ sauce
- Use what you have at home to save money and avoid wasting any food
- Keep a running list of what you need so you won’t forget anything and stay well-stocked
- Make a grocery list to go shopping every week
- Go for bulk sections & seasonal produce to save some money
- Adjust your meal plan to your taste, season, and what’s cheapest to buy in your area
- Look out for frozen or pre-cut/pre-shredded produce and canned legumes to make your life easier
Next, let’s stock up your kitchen! How else would you be able to choose from a nice variety of tasty, healthy, and versatile foods to use in your meal plan?
We’re looking for filling staples such as rice, beans, millet, quinoa, lentils, whole grain pasta, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and corn. For condiments and add-ons, you can also get your favorites nuts and seeds.
Add fresh or frozen produce to these starchy staples. It’s always good to have some leafy greens in the fridge, along with tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, cruciferous vegetables, zucchini, eggplant, and mushrooms. Choose what you like the most and what’s available to you! Frozen berries are always a good option, so are bananas, dates, apples, and oranges.
For our condiments and flavorings, we like having some soy milk (or other plant-based milk), soy yogurt, mustard, ketchup, hot sauce, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, maple syrup, vinegar, lemon juice and a bunch of spices.
Extra tip: Have a steady supply of snacks in the house, such as fruit, nuts, and crackers!
Now that you’ve learned about some of the most important foundations, we can get into the planning-it-all-out part. When coming up with a concept for a meal plan, we like to focus on the following guidelines. See if your food or meals are:
- Nutrient dense
- Low in added fat, salt & sugar
- Rich in fiber
- Filling & satisfying
- Based on starches
- Adequate to meet your caloric & nutritional needs
This might seem a little abstract to you right now, so we wanted to give you a clearer picture of what your meals should look like.
Your breakfasts could consist of:
Oats, bread, cereal, hash browns, pancakes
Soy milk, soy yogurt, tofu (for scramble), peanut butter
Fresh, dried, frozen such as berries, apples, bananas
Nuts & Seeds
Flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, almond butter
Your lunches and dinners could consist of:
Potatoes, pasta, rice, bread, couscous, bulgur, millet
Beans, lentils, tofu, soy milk, hummus, tempeh
Leafy greens, broccoli, bell pepper, zucchini, muhrooms
Nuts, seeds, fruit, sauces, spices, condiments
As for snacks, there are no fixed rules – just try not to use this time of day to sneak some junk or vending machine food into your diet. Some better ideas are fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, whole grain crackers, rice cakes, hummus, veggie sticks, roasted chickpeas, granola bars, oil-free popcorn, or simply some leftovers.
Some of you might be thinking now: “But how will I meet all of my nutritional needs if I don’t really track my food? Isn’t that hard on a plant-based diet?” This next part is for you to educate yourself and ease your mind.
Nutrients & foods to focus on
We want to start out by saying that a whole foods plant-based diet is just about the most nutrient-dense diet you could come up with. That being said, there are still ways to miss out on a few essential ones if you don’t focus on a nice variety of foods. Some people like to just eat a bunch of fruit or starches, forgetting about vegetables and seeds for example.
It’s not exactly easier for people on an omnivorous diet to meet all of their nutritional needs since they usually get too little fiber, vitamins, and minerals while having too much saturated fat and cholesterol. Therefore, everyone should be planning their diet wisely!
As for the few nutrients that are a little harder to get on a purely plant-based diet, here are the best sources to go for and include in your daily diet. Choose at least one per nutrient:
- Calcium: fortified soy milk, tofu, kale, broccoli, legumes, sesame, whole wheat
- Iron: legumes, tofu, tomato sauce, dark green vegetables, oats, quinoa, brown rice
- Zinc: pumpkin seeds, legumes, whole grains, leafy green vegetables
- Omega-3: flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, romaine lettuce
- Vitamin B12: supplements, fortified food
- Vitamin D: sunshine, some mushrooms, fortified foods, supplements
Read More: Full Guide to Meeting Your Nutrients as a Vegan
Portions and calories
You might still be wondering about how much to eat on a plant-based diet. If you’re not aware of your daily recommended energy intake, check your BMR and add your activity level using a simple calculator. Most adults need around at least 2000 calories per day which you shouldn’t try to undercut too much, even when trying to lose weight.
Plant-based foods, especially when whole and unprocessed, have a lower calorie density which means you will have to eat larger portions and it will be a lot easier to lose some weight because these foods add much more bulk.
If you find yourself too stuffed or too hungry after a day of eating, make a note and adjust accordingly the next day or whenever you’re making your new meal plan. We cannot tell you exactly how much you need to eat, so please have your age, sex, activity level, stress level, and health status in mind. We’re advocates for eating intuitively, meaning go get something when you’re hungry and stop munching when you’re comfortably full.
It’s on you to decide how many meals per day you’d like to eat and if you want to snack. Different things work for different people here. No matter if it’s 2, 3, 4, or 5 small meals per day – work with your preferences and your schedule.
Customizing for weight goals
When adjusting your meal plan to your needs and goals, we advise that you shift your focus from one food group to another and not to cut something out completely. All whole plant-based foods are beneficial to your health (so long as you’re not intolerant or allergic to them) and can be eaten. We’re working with the principle of calorie density here which you can use to either lose, gain, or maintain your weight while fueling your body with healthy foods.
If you’re into weight gaining or body building, focus more on whole flour products and legumes as well as nuts, seeds, and dried fruit to get enough calories. The same goes for people with a small appetite who struggle to eat enough. You might also want to include more smoothies and even juices into your diet to increase your calories. Go easy on huge raw salads and vegetable stews since they offer only few calories while adding a lot of bulk.
Likewise, if you’re into weight loss, focus on non-starchy vegetables to go with your whole, intact starches like potatoes or brown rice for lunch and dinner. Don’t cut back on the starches too much, have around 50% vegetables and starches on your plate. Go easy on flour products and dried fruit, have fresh fruit as a snack and try to eat a green salad every day. Also, avoid added oils and reduce the amount of nuts and seeds you consume.
3 Day Plant Based Meal Plan
We encourage you to get started with all the information you have and write down your first vegan meal plan! Should you be a little overwhelmed or intimidated now, here’s a sample 3 day meal plan for you.
- B: Overnight oats with fruit and nuts
- L: Whole grain pasta with tomato sauce and veggies
- D: Rice with beans, avocado, and broccoli
- B: Whole grain bread with almond butter and fresh fruit
- L: Leftover rice with beans, rolled in a burrito with fresh veggies
- D: Stuffed winter squash with roasted veggies and tofu
- B: Tofu scramble with hash browns
- L: Hummus and roasted veggie sandwich
- D: Vegetable curry over rice
About the Author
Lars is the guy for all things technical of this site but likes to write the occasional article, too. He has a degree in computer science and media and has been vegan since 2010. He loves nourishing plant-based food (that one was obvious), playing tennis, and making noises with his guitar sometimes. Oh, and he's got a weird obsession for peanuts and coconuts.