As an omnivorous slacker, the three words in this post’s title are like medina falafel on toasted rye – something yummy sandwiched between two things hard to digest. Going vegan is a compelling but daunting challenge. Planning is the curviest of curveballs.
Vegan meal planning involves goal-setting, meal design and, procurement of ingredients. It can be tailored to allow a gentle immersion for beginners. Meal preparation is the execution of the plan. Meal planning is necessary as it maximizes the many benefits of a vegan diet.
Vegan meal planning is not a single thing. To make it doable and enjoy its benefits, you should unpack the parts and tailor them to suit your goals and personal preferences. Let’s tuck right in.
Increasing numbers of people are considering the benefits of a vegan lifestyle. Some motivators include:
If any combination of these reasons has drawn you in, you may still feel that planning places a further unnecessary burden on what is not an easy challenge, to begin with. There are some key benefits to vegan meal planning:
The Meal Planning Value Chain
How do you proceed from the good intention to eat plants to a step-by-vegan-step for mealtimes? That largely depends on how customized you want to be and what resources you have. The meal planning value chain involves the steps from goal setting to meal plans over a period. There are four approaches:
Doing everything from first principles is the most time and research-intensive. It does, however, allow the greatest customizability as the timing and content of meals can be fully tailored to your personal preferences. A DIY meal planning process has the following steps:
Premade templates are vegan meal schedules prepared by others. They remove the labor in the DIY process and deliver a finished product upfront. As often, this convenience involves a trade-off.
Pros of premade templates:
Cons of premade templates:
Meal Planner Apps
Meal planner apps are designed to add some automation to the planning process. Several are free, and they have functionality that includes:
Some rated apps are:
Even if following a DIY or template-based approach, these apps are useful to look into as they provide functionality that may assist. Noom, e.g., is designed to help you stick to whatever plan you generate.
Custom plans are designed in consultation with a nutritional expert. Typically the dietician will do a professional goal setting, which includes a medical assessment and history taking in order to properly calibrate the meal parameters. This calibration will include vegan foods to avoid and nutrients to target above their normal levels.
Custom plans have the best chance of delivering nutritional benefits. A good dietician will also be wise to the psychological difficulties of adhering to a plan. This will enable her to schedule a vegan meal plan in a way that makes it likelier you comply with.
However, this is the most expensive planning option. It might also be difficult to find a good dietician, as veganism has only recently entered the mainstream.
Meal Planning Schedules
When it comes to vegan meal planning, timing isn’t everything. But it’s something. We consider a few approaches to the timing and composition of vegan meals. The schedules below differ in their time horizon and cater to vegan dieters at different levels of commitment.
In the planning tables, we will be referring to the meals below:
|Breakfast||Avocado Tofu Toast||VB1|
|Whole-Grain Pancake and Banana||VB2|
|Multi-Seed Granola and Poached Rhubarb||VB3|
|Sweet Potato Breakfast Bowl||VB4|
|Vegan Bircher Muesli||VB5|
|Steamed White Rice with Toasted Hazelnut Butter||VBR2|
|Vegan Breakfast Skillet||VBR3|
|Banana Macha and Green Tea Smoothie||VBR4|
|Teriyaki Tofu Kebabs||VBR5|
|Quinoa Edamame and Broccoli Salad||VL2|
|Potato and Tofu Burrito||VL3|
|Crispy Vietnamese Pancakes with Tofu||VL4|
|Vegan Buffalo Wings||VL5|
|Plant Power Potato Salad||VL6|
|Mushroom Kale and Barley Pilaf||VL7|
|Dinner||Mediterranean Stuffed Capsicums||VD1|
|Vegan Pesto Gnocchi||VD3|
|Vegan Charcoal Bun Burger||VD4|
|Sweet Potato Noodles with Crispy Kale||VD5|
|Kumara Tofu Green Curry||VD6|
In the tables below, VB1 refers to any one vegan breakfast option. VBR refers to a brunch option, and VL and VD stand in for lunch and dinner options, respectively. The schedules are designed to let you pick options, but consistently.
One Meal Per Day
This is a gentle-entry program for people transitioning to veganism. By having one meal a day, you get to develop a taste for vegan food slowly, as some people may feel deterred by sudden whole immersion in a new taste experience.
Migration to a full vegan plan happens in stages. If you have three regular meals a day, add a second vegan meal after a month or three, depending on how long it takes to feel acclimated to the vegan taste. Another option is to include vegan-only snacks in your one-meal-a-day program.
This program is not suitable for the vegan-curious, as the immediate reversion to “regular” eating masks the experience of having a vegan lifestyle. For similar reasons, do not expect to gain health or weight-loss benefits from it.
Notice that our sample plan varies two factors: the mealtime and the meal. Both varieties are to help train your palette across a range of vegan options.
One Day Per Week
As with One-Meal-Per-Day, this is a gentle-immersion program. It requires more commitment as there’s a longer wait until the next default meal. Although reference is made to “meals,” think of this as a vegan “day”; there will be no nonvegan snacking in-between.
Migration happens by adding a second and later third vegan day to the week. The pace of migration to full veganism can be managed individually, but try to avoid initial overconfidence – it can be discouraging to have to pull back from an aggressive schedule.
There’s total discretion in picking the day. Some pointers:
One Week Meal Plan
If you’ve eased in using one of the prior two programs, you might want to proceed straight to the schedule. If strong willpower has brought you here, please familiarise yourself with the coding described in “meal planning schedules” above.
This schedule speaks to the meal options we’ve described above but is perfectly substitutable with other options. Indeed, if you start with our program, you will want to expand the list with options of your own choosing.
This is a full program, so there are no cheat slots.
One Month Meal Plan
The one-month meal plan varies the weekly plans to rotate through all the options. You will be required to depart from the strict scheme as you enjoy leftovers or indulge a recent craving. This is no error, provided the deviations are not extreme.
When designing your own monthly plan, either through DIY or by adapting a template, be sure that you are balancing nutrients. Guidance from apps may be helpful as one month is a long time for new vegans to keep everything together. Habit-shaping apps would be particularly useful here.
How To Meal Prep For A Vegan Diet
In order to ensure that you eat the meals in your schedule, you need to do three things:
These three steps constitute meal planning. Typically the first is assumed, and the focus is on the latter two steps. My lifelong commitment to takeout made it hard for me to grasp the middle step, but it is crucial – even outside of vegan cuisine.
While shopping is obvious, vegan cooking may require ingredients that are not available at your local supermarket. The “research” item under “DIY” would have included finding suppliers. Be sure to have storage media like jars for preparing and storing pre-processed items.
Some items require preparation before cooking. Common vegan items are:
This can be guzzled as is or with toppings (like diced berry.)
The term “meal prep” is also used for cooking and storing entire meals in advance. There’s a fine line between a part and a whole of the meal, so we grant this usage. Next, we’ll consider various ways in which the final preparation of meals comes about.
Meal Prep Basics
Especially at breakfast time, many vegan meals will be eaten raw or with minimal processing. But when we’re not going raw, there is a small variety of ways in which to complete the prep. Be sure to familiarise yourself and ensure that you’re equipped to carry them out if required.
Vegan Slow Cooker Meals
Slow cookers are electrical appliances that cook liquid-based dishes. They are electrically powered and work by applying gentle heat over a prolonged period, usually several hours. You can prime a meal in the morning, leave it unattended and return to it later in the afternoon.
Usually, they’re associated with meaty stews, but slow-cooked vegan meals include:
Vegan Batch Cooking
We’ve touched on batch cooking under “How to Prep.” It involves cooking a large number of meals in advance and then storing them for later consumption. Batch cooking provides a handy way to ensure meal availability. Some meals are more tractable to the method as they do not decay in storage. Good examples are:
Vegan Freezer Meals
Freezer meals are those that preserve their flavor and nutritional value during the freezing process. As such, freezing is a process that goes hand-in-hand with batch cooking. Fit-for-freezing vegan meals include:
Be sure to have good airtight Tupperware. Also, some recipes require baking after thawing. Be sure to preserve the order indicated.
Vegan One-Pot Meals
One-pot meals are designed to take the hassle out of cooking. All the ingredients go into a single pot, very often at the same time. Despite the simplicity of the method, some gems can be conjured:
Vegan Sheet Pan Meals
A sheet pan is a shallow aluminum pan used for baking. Sheet pan meals transfer the one-pot concept from the stove to the oven; buy substituting a pan for a pot. You line the pan with baking paper, grease it with oil, and add a hodgepodge of veggies for baking together. Some sheet pan ideas:
Pre-cut veg and sheet pan cooking make for great convenience. Preheat the oven, and you’re on your way.
Vegan Pantry Meals
The idea behind a pantry meal is to cook using whatever is on hand. The reference to a pantry is that the ingredients will be staples. You don’t go out to buy anything fancy, and although the idea is to improvise, there are recurring ideas based on what you can expect to find in a pantry.
In the vegan pantry, seeds, legumes, whole grains, and vegetables are common. This makes them ubiquitous in vegan pantry meals, examples of which include:
Sample Meal Plans For The Vegan Diet
As mentioned, your goals are uppermost in shaping your vegan meal plan. Revise the reference plan above with meals that match your goal type. By applying the time schedules (meal-a-day, monthly, etc.) to a goal of choice, you have a ready-at-hand meal template.
Research into recipes and ingredients will guide your choice of recipes in the different categories below:
Affordable vegan meal plans use an array of low-cost ingredients prepared with minimal energy requirements. These typically will be common vegetables and grains. Pasta is in.
Online resources that will help are free vegan meal plans, vegan meal plans on a budget, and the template provided here. Use one of the free apps referenced earlier to help with scheduling and prompting.
Simple meals provide convenience. If you’re new to vegan cooking, targeting convenience is a good way to ensure compliance.
Research easy vegan meal plans. One-pot and sheet-pan meals are a good go-to for easy meals. Snacking is a good trick for having an overall easy time, as it reduces the need for filler meals.
Remember the notes on preparation. Concentrating your energy by pre-processing and storing makes for easy cooking overall.
When starting on the vegan path, simplicity is something to target, as it might be that an indiscriminate choice of recipes will lead to meals that feel burdensome to prepare. This could deter newbies vegans.
Overall, veganism is conducive to weight loss. But some choices are more conducive than others. Thinks to look out for are:
Other outcomes can be tracked as well. These include bodybuilding, muscle maintenance for athletes, and the targeting of calorie ranges (e.g., low-calorie targets < 1200 calories, 1500 calories in the mid-range, and 2000+ calories for heavy lifters).
In these cases, you’re entering the domain where expert help may be required not only to design (or at least co-design) the meal plan but to calibrate the outcomes that are right for you.
Variability makes vegan meal planning a fun activity. Because the planning and preparation processes, as well as the meal options, can be adapted, there’s a better chance that the plan is adhered to and that vegan yummy becomes a permanent part of your lifestyle.