If you like to plan ahead, map things out, and know exactly what you are going to do three days from now, this Plant-Based Meal Planning Guide is not for you. Planning ahead is not one of my natural abilities, so I won’t pretend otherwise. However, I have learned a few tricks. So if you would like to gain more control over your meals without trying to become someone you aren’t, then keep reading!
Define Your Food Philosophy
First, we need to define your food philosophy. Everyone has their own ideas about eating. If you haven’t taken the time to identify yours, now would be a good time to do so. To help, here are my thoughts:
- I believe everyone benefits from eating more plants.
- While I avoid animal products, I occasionally allow eggs and dairy to slip in when I eat out. It’s just easier, and I don’t eat out often.
- I’m not against people eating meat (my family does), but I do think folks feel better when they eat less meat and avoid dairy.
- I believe processed oils should be limited. However, a healthy diet should include fats from whole-food sources like avocados, nuts, and seeds.
- All sweeteners should be limited or avoided. When necessary, the best options are whole fruits, dates, molasses, maple syrup and honey. (Many vegans view honey as an animal product and technically it is. I’m okay with that.) Agave nectar is a popular plant-based sweetener. However, it is very high in fructose — so I avoid it.
- I believe whole grains are an important part of a healthy diet. If you have an allergy or gluten sensitivity, you should avoid the grains you have trouble with, but you should not eliminate grains entirely.
- Some processed foods — such as frozen fruits and veggies — are good for you. I try to balance convenience and reality with healthy choices.
- I strive to eat a balanced diet with a variety of whole foods.
There you have it. As I learn more about nutrition, my food philosophy continues to evolve – as I’m sure your’s will too!
ANALYZE YOUR PLATE
For optimum nutrition, you should try to eat a variety of whole foods throughout the day. How does this break down for a plant-based diet? Here’s a handy pie chart to give you an idea.
While the chart looks like a plate, it doesn’t represent each meal. Instead, it shows the overall balance you should strive for over the course of a day or throughout the week.
Let’s look at each section more closely.
Vegetables should make up one-third or more of the foods you eat. And you don’t have to get fancy. Common options include:
- artichokes (I use canned artichoke hearts)
- broccoli (I usually go for frozen florets)
- brussels sprouts
- cauliflower (frozen is a good option here as well)
- dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, chard, arugula, romaine)
- green beans
Seaweed – like the nori sheets used to roll sushi – should also be on this list. It may not be a common choice, but it’s a good source of iodine.
Up to one-quarter of the foods you eat should be fruits – especially berries. Common options include:
- blackberries (frozen!)
- blueberries (wild – frozen)
- cherries (frozen, when not in season)
- coconut (unsweetened shredded)
- figs (fresh or dried)
- mango (fresh or frozen)
- pineapple (fresh or frozen)
- raspberries (frozen)
- strawberries (frozen, when not in season)
Starches and Grains
Up to one-quarter of the foods you eat should be starchy vegetables and whole grains. Common gluten-free options include:
- corn (frozen)
- peas (frozen)
- sweet potato/yam
- whole grain breads, and tortillas
- whole grain pasta
Include other whole grains, like wheat, rye, and barley, if you are not gluten sensitive.
Legumes, Nuts, and Seeds
Up to one-quarter of the foods you eat should be legumes, nuts, and seeds – with a slightly higher concentration of legumes. (And this is where you can slip in eggs or meat if you aren’t ready to give them up entirely. But try to keep them under 10%)
Common plant-based options for this category include:
- black beans
- garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
- kidney beans
- navy beans
- pinto beans
- split peas
- brazil nuts
- chia seeds
- flax seeds
- hemp seeds
- pumpkin seeds
- sesame seeds
- sunflower seeds
- nut and seed butter (natural)
Water should be your beverage of choice. How much should you drink? According to NutritionFacts.org, there is no scientific basis for the common advice to drink at least eight glasses of water a day. Research indicates women should drink at least 4-7 cups a day and men should drink at least 6-11 cups. These recommendations are based on moderate temperature and activity levels.
Hacks to Add Flexibility
The trick to successful meal planning is to be prepared for the times when your best-laid plans fly out the window. This happens to me on a regular basis. I begin each day, week, month, and year with the best intentions. Then real life gets in the way. I’m not nearly as organized or self-disciplined as I’d like to be.
Sound familiar? I’m guessing we might have something in common. Here’s what I’ve learned. I know I’m more likely to eat healthy when I plan ahead. But I’m not always good at sticking to a plan. So I need to create a forgiving environment.
How do you create the right environment to stay on track? Stock your fridge and pantry with foods that enable you to make quick, healthy meals.
Some of the items I rely on include:
- canned beans and bean spreads
- cooked grains and starchy vegetables
- fresh baby greens (washed and ready to go)
- frozen fruits and veggies
- nut butters
- plant milk
- salsa and canned tomatoes/tomato sauce
- tortillas and sprouted grain or GF bread
Then you need a few go-to recipes that are easy to prepare when you are tired, overworked or otherwise distracted.
Some of my favorites include:
- Black Bean Wrap
- Quick Rice and Beans
- Rice Cooker Pasta
- Quick Vegan Portobello Pizza
- The Perfect Salad
I can toss these meals together quickly with ingredients I almost always have on hand. The planning only goes as far as the grocery list.
So that’s Hack #1 – make sure you keep your fridge and pantry stocked with the foods you need to make quick, healthy meals.
Hack #2 is to identify a time when you are most likely to get things done. Be open to non-traditional approaches to meal prep.
What if you made dinner in the morning, so it was ready when you finished work? (You could use a slow cooker or fix it, refrigerate it, then warm it up.)
What if you made breakfast the night before? What if you did the bulk of your meal prep on the weekend?
The key is to find what works for your schedule and your personality.
I didn’t use to be a morning person. My children – especially my son, who as an infant woke up bright-eyed at 5 a.m. – slowly beat me into becoming one. Now I know if I want something done, I best do it in the morning.
But everyone is different. You gotta find what works for you.
Plant-Based Meal Planning Guide – Part 2
I hope you found part-one of my Plant-Based Meal Planning Guide helpful. Give the action plans some thought. Next month I will discuss:
- Basic meal plans for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks
- How to accommodate meat-eating family members in your meal planning
Note: This article is based on my experience and represents my opinion. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Do no disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of the information shared here. Also, this page contains an affiliate link. I may earn a commission if you use the link. I only recommend items/brands I use and trust.