Meal planning is a fantastic skill to learn, especially for vegans. Whether you’re a new or long-term vegan, planning weekly meals can be a great way to meet your nutrition goals and enjoy a variety of tasty foods.
This guide is perfect for anyone who is new to veganism or looking to change up their usual eating routine. You’ll learn my easy 4-step guide on how to meal plan as a vegan.
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What is Meal Planning?
Meal planning is the process of pre-selecting what recipes or meals you will eat, usually for the week ahead. Some meal plans can stretch as far as two weeks or a whole month.
Meal planning can be comprehensive and include all meals and snacks, or just one or two mealtimes that are a particular challenge. It’s always the best way to answer the seemingly-never-ending question of “what’s for dinner?”.
After meal planning, you’ll know exactly what ingredients you need to buy, which can greatly simplify any grocery store trips.
Sometimes people view meal planning as rigid and leads to boring meals through the week. Often people think they’ll need to eat the same thing day after day, but this is certainly not the case.
Meal planning can be as flexible as you like. And, contrary to what many people think, meal planning can ensure you get variety in your diet!
Meal Planning vs Meal Prepping
Meal planning is simply selecting the recipes or meals you’ll eat through the week. It doesn’t involve any preparation of those meals or ingredients.
Meal prepping, however, is the process of preparing some ingredients or full recipes/ meals in advance.
If you’ll have time each day to prepare all the recipes you select, you don’t need to meal prep. If you don’t always have time to cook through the week, you may want to work some time into your schedule for meal prep as well.
Meal prep can be as simple or comprehensive as you like.
It could be as easy as pre-washing produce and making a couple staple foods/ ingredients in advance (like cooking a pot of rice). More involved meal prep often focuses on preparing an entire recipe (or recipes) so you have very little cooking to do through the week.
It’s ultimately your choice how much to meal prep, but at the very least you’ll still need to plan meals before you can buy groceries and prepare food.
Benefits of Meal Planning as a Vegan
There are certain nutrients that vegans may struggle to get enough of; however, planning can make it much easier to meet your daily needs.
There are many other benefits to meal planning as well, including:
- Meeting nutrition or other health goals
- Knowing what’s for dinner every night
- Reducing stress through the week
- Less decision making through the week
- Easier grocery shopping
- Saving money
- Reducing food waste
- Enjoying a variety of recipes
- Saving time
- Getting out of a cooking slump
Meal Planning Guide
I like to follow 5 easy steps for meal planning, with the final step being to repeat the process. Meal planning is a skill that becomes easier and faster with practice.
Step 1: Set Your Intention
Before you jump into meal planning, you’ll need to decide a few things:
- How long is the meal plan for: To start, planning for one week (or just a work-week/ 5 days) will help keep you on track.
- What meals you want to plan: Will you plan all meals through the day including snacks? Or just dinners? Maybe something in between? If it’s your first time meal planning, stick to one or two meals of the day.
- How you will record your meal plan: You need to write down (or type out) what recipes you select, what meals they are for, and what days you’ll eat that food. There are hundreds of ways to do this, so find one that will work for you!
It’s also helpful to know what your overall meal planning goals are.
Do you want to reduce stress through the week or save time? If so, selecting simple meals or recipes you’re familiar with will help.
Maybe your goal is to add variety and get out of a cooking slump. In this case, picking one or two new recipes each week might be your perfect meal plan.
Decide what you hope to get out of meal planning and let that inform your decisions as you work through the four simple steps below.
Step 2: Select Recipes
This step is just as it sounds. Select which recipes you’ll make for each meal in your plan.
Some things to keep in mind:
- Your schedule: Busy nights should focus on easy/ quick recipes or meals you can prep in advance. You can schedule meals out as well to enjoy a night off from cooking.
- Recipe yields and portion sizes: When selecting recipes, check how many servings it makes and decide if one serving is truly what you’ll eat (or will you want to eat more/ less than one serving per meal).
- Meal repeats and leftovers: Making larger amounts of a recipe to provide leftovers can simplify your meal planning and lessen how often you cook. Of course, you’ll repeat meals which can limit variety, so decide how many times you’ll enjoy eating the same thing in one week.
- The enjoyment factor: When meal planning, people sometimes focus on a health or nutrition goal. This is great, but sometimes leads to selecting recipes that aren’t as satisfying or enjoyable. Make sure you’ll want to eat the foods you make and avoid recipes with ingredients you dislike. Planning for some treats can help as well.
- Balancing variety: Meal planning is a great way to try new recipes and add variety to your diet. However, trying too many new things at once can quickly become overwhelming. Try one or two new recipes per week at a maximum. Over time you’ll greatly expand the recipes in your collection.
Start with recipes you already enjoy and meals you know how to make. Use these to begin your meal plan, then add new recipes as needed.
If you aren’t sure where to find recipes, Pinterest, other social media, or search engines like Google are great places to start. I use Pinterest because you can save recipes very easily and organize them into convenient categories. Recipe binders are another popular choice.
You can categorize dishes based on type of meal or based on type of cuisine or the region it’s from.
If you’re at a loss for where to start, search for recipes for a specific ingredient you enjoy (like tofu recipes) or a specific meal type (such as soup) or for a region/ country (Mediterranean). Adding the word “vegan” to your search can quickly narrow its results.
So, given the examples above, you might search for:
- Vegan tofu recipes
- Vegan soup recipes
- Mediterranean recipes vegan
If there’s a specific dish/recipe you want, of course search for that.
SUMMARY: Select recipes for the meals you need to include in your plan. Try up to two new recipes in a week or stick with favorites you already love.
Step 3: Nutrition Check
If you have nutrition or health goals, it can be helpful to quickly check on your recipes to see if they meet your needs.
This can be especially helpful for vegans as there are certain nutrients that may be missing from some recipes. Not every recipe needs to be completely “balanced”. Instead, focus on one day or week make sure you’re getting what you need in that time.
Here’s what I look for in a balanced recipe:
- A source of plant-based protein: Beans, peas, lentil, soy (tofu, tempeh, edamame, TVP, etc.) mock meats and seitan are good protein sources.
- Lots of veggies: These offer vitamin C which can greatly help iron absorption. Including dark green and orange vegetables as often as possible is best (for calcium and vitamin A respectively). Fruits can also fit into this category.
- A source of carbohydrates: Grains and starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc.) add energy and nutrition to the meal.
- Healthy fats: I like to make sure all meals contain a healthy fat from nuts, seeds, avocado, soybeans, olive oil (or other unsaturated oils). Don’t shy away from healthy fats as they make food taste better and can improve nutrient absorption (for fat-soluble nutrients).
Everyone has different nutrient needs and preferences so find what works best for you.
This checklist above is just a starting point. There are some nutrients of concern for vegan diets that you should become familiar with to ensure adequate intake.
SUMMARY: Do a quick check on the recipes you select to make sure they meet your nutrition needs and goals.
Step 4: Put it Together and Execute
Once you’ve selected and checked over some recipes, add them to your meal plan.
Record each recipe you select into the meal and day you want to eat it. For example, stuffed squash for dinner on Tuesday.
Keep going until your meal plan is full for the week. If you plan for leftovers, write out which meal/ day you’ll eat those leftovers.
Your meal plan doesn’t have to be anything fancy. A basic piece of paper with the days/ meals listed and the recipe next to it is fine. Use any template that works for you.
Next, you’ll need to execute the plan.
At a minimum, create a grocery list for the ingredients you need. Go through your kitchen, pantry and freezer first to see what you have. Then, write out the ingredients and amounts you need for your meal plan that week.
Purchase the food you don’t already have around, then decide if you want to do any prep. This could be a simple as washing produce or could include making parts of some recipes (like a sauce) or full recipes in advance.
Keep your schedule in mind. If you know you have a busy night each week, consider prepping for that night in advance.
SUMMARY: Fill out your meal plan by writing which day and meal each recipe is intended for. Buy the necessary groceries, and if desired, prep some (or all) of the recipes/ meals you’ll eat.
Step 5: Repeat
The first time you go through the meal planning process is the longest and usually most difficult. Repeating the process becomes easier and faster every time, especially if you repeat recipes where you’ve already “checked” its nutrition.
The more you meal plan, the more you’ll learn what works for you and what doesn’t. You’ll also build a collection of tried-and-true recipes you like, making the recipe selection process easier each time.
If you find one week that goes really well, save that plan for future. If a week went mostly-well, make a tweak or two to the plan and try it again.
Once you have a week that works perfectly for you, save it for later. Depending on how much variety you like, you can easily repeat the same weekly plans over and over if they’re working for you.
Many people enjoy a monthly rotation of meals, so you only need about 4 weeks worth of plans. Just make sure you enjoy the meals and they work for your lifestyle.
SUMMARY: Meal planning is an ongoing process that becomes easier and faster with time. Reusing a plan that previously worked well is a great way to keep up with meal planning.
Top Tips for Meal Planning as a Vegan
There’s plenty of tips above for each step of the meal planning process. If you’re looking for even more help, here are some additional tips for meal planning:
- Save and organize recipes: Anytime you make an enjoyable recipe, save it. You’ll also want to come up with a system of organizing recipes; there are many ways to go about this so find something that works best for you.
- Don’t plan to do everything from scratch: It’s fine to rely on some pre-made or already prepared foods through the week. This can help save time and is a very convenient option for many people. This could be a simple as pre-washed/cut vegetables, store-bought sauce, canned beans, minute rice or fully prepared meals from a grocery store/ deli. Find what works for you.
- Plan a meal out: Along the lines of not doing everything from scratch, if you enjoy eating out on occasion (or regularly) it’s fine to plan this into your schedule.
- Make extra to freeze: If you have time to make larger batches of certain recipes, freeze some for later. Having homecooked, prepared food in the freezer is so convenient. You can later plan to use these frozen meals in a future weekly plan.
- Set aside the time: Meal planning takes time, and if this goal is important for you to achieve, setting aside time each week is going to benefit you. The first few times are the hardest and take the longest, but it does become much quicker with time.
- Be flexible: Meal planning is meant to reduce stress, not create more. If you find yourself veering off your plan, try to go with it and get back to the plan if possible. You never know what life will throw your way, so flexibility is always helpful.
- Choose seasonal recipes: Seasonal recipes are those that use seasonal ingredients. Think squash in the autumn months. Often, seasonal ingredients are less expensive and let you enjoy different flavors as the seasons change.
- Select recipes based on sales: Meal planning should help save money because it often reduces food waste. To save even more, try selecting recipes using ingredients that are on sale that week.
- Start small: This is the best tip for beginners. You don’t need an elaborate plan with every breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, snack and beverage listed. Start with deciding on your dinner meals for one week (or whichever meal you struggle with the most; it’s usually dinner). Some people don’t need to plan more than this, but over time you can add more detail if you like.
Summary: Vegan Meal Planning
Meal planning is a great way to help ensure a balanced vegan diet. It’s not a difficult process but does become easier and faster with time.
After you decide what meals you want to plan for, go through 4 simple steps. Select your recipes, check their nutrition content, add to your meal plan, then repeat each week!
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About Nicole Stevens
Nicole is a vegan Registered Dietitian (RD) and founder of Lettuce Veg Out.
She helps people thrive on a vegan diet with balanced recipes and easy-to-understand nutrition science.