Transitioning to a vegan diet can seem overwhelming if you’re not sure what foods to eat or how to plan balanced vegan meals. Even people who have been vegan for a while might benefit from some tips and tricks to ensure meals are properly balanced to meet nutrition needs.
Meal planning can be one of the best ways to ease into any dietary change, ensure nutrient needs are being met and to save time and stress through the week.
This article covers:
- Reasons to Meal Plan as a Vegan
- How to Create a Balanced Vegan Meal
- What to Do After Creating your Balanced Vegan Meal Plan
- Make Vegan Meal Planning Easier and Faster
Please note: This article only covers topic of meal planning, not meal prep. Meal planning is the process of deciding on what recipes/ foods you will eat in the week. Meal prep is when recipes/ foods are actually prepared!
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Reasons to Meal Plan as a Vegan
Meal planning is a helpful activity to ensure you have a stress free week of eating. Meal planning can allow for:
- Less decision making through the week
- Easier decision making
- Easier grocery shopping
- Trying new recipes and improving confidence in the kitchen
When it comes to following a plant-based diet, there are some additional reasons meal planning is important:
- Plant-based diets can take a bit more work in the kitchen (planning can save a ton of time and effort)
- There are more nutrient considerations for creating a nutritionally balanced plant-based menu
- Many plant-based ingredients are perishable so having a plan to use your produce can result in less waste (and therefore save money)
How to Create a Balanced Vegan Meal
The first step is to decide how much detail you want in your meal plan. Many people just plan out their dinner and maybe a snack or two. Other people like to have all meals planned out for the week. It’s common to only plan out weekdays/ working days, and leave the weekends/ days off free!
If you’re just starting out with meal planning, I think it’s best to pick one meal to plan for, rather than overwhelming yourself with the task of creating a full plan each week, right at the start.
Think about the meal or time of day that is your biggest struggle, and start by planning for that meal.
After you decide how much of a plan you want, I use a three-step method for creating a balanced vegan meal plan:
Vegan Meal Planning Step 1: Outline the Recipes
This step involves selecting however many recipes are needed to get you through the week (or the number of days’ worth of planning you want). Maybe you will eat the same recipe twice. Maybe you’re feeding a larger family and need a new recipe each day. Sometimes you'll want leftovers for lunches.
Recipes should include a yield so you know how many portions each creates. You also need to use personal judgement here and decide if you think one of these portions is large enough for you (or whoever you’re feeding).
An example week of dinners for 2 might look like:
- Quesadillas: makes 4 quesadillas (enough for dinner and lunch the next day)
- General Tso tofu: makes 4 servings (enough for dinner and lunch the next day)
- Sweet potato lentil curry: makes 6 servings (enough for dinner for 2 days, plus one lunch)
- Shepherd’s pie: makes 8 servings (enough for 2 dinners and 2 lunches)
So, this example has 6 dinner meals and leftovers for 5 lunches (for 2 people). It’s also quite varied in terms of ingredients and flavours to keep things interesting.
Tips for Recipe Variety when Creating a Vegan Meal Plan
One of the main reasons people fall out of the habit of meal planning is they get bored of eating the same things all the time. Or they get tired of the same flavours through the week.
My top two tips to overcome this are:
- Categorize recipes by flavour. This way, you can easily select recipes from different flavour categories each week.
- Try new recipes. Keep a list (or Pinterest board) with new recipe ideas you want to try and make a plan to try one new recipe every week, every other week or every month (whatever works for you!).
I personally use a Google Sheet for organizing recipe ideas (not the recipes themselves although I do indicate where the recipe can be found). In the top row I have headings with different food categories. These categories are based on the flavours/ cuisines of each dish. For example, Mexican, Stir Fry, Mediterranean and Curry are a few of the heading I use.
A lot of recipes within each of these categories use similar flavours (although there’s also huge diversity). But, to keep things interesting through the week, I can select recipes from different categories and know they will all taste completely different.
Vegan Meal Planning Step 2: Nutrition Check
Hopefully the recipes you find are nutritionally balanced. However, this may not be the case so it can be helpful to do a quick nutrition check for the recipes you use (this likely only has to be done once).
There are two ways to approach this:
- Look for a variety of food groups/ ingredients among the recipes.
- Check the nutrition breakdown of the recipe, or look for ingredients you know are high in certain nutrients.
Nutrition Check Based on Food Groups
If you want to look for variety in terms of food groups, aim for recipes that include at least three or four of the following:
Nutrition Check Based on Nutrients
If you want to check the nutrition breakdown, keep an eye out for:
- Protein (found in legumes, nuts, seeds and vegan meat alternatives such as TVP, mock meats, seitan etc.)
- Calcium (found in tofu, fortified foods, leafy green vegetables)
- Iron (found in legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds as well as certain vegetables)
- Zinc (found in whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds as well as certain vegetables)
- Iodine (only reliable source is iodized salt)
- Omega 3s (one type of omega 3 called ALA can be found in chia/hemp/flax seeds, walnuts, soy)
- Vitamin D (would need to be fortified into the food)
Vitamin B12 is also critical but it’s generally recommended for vegans to supplement with B12 (always speak to a doctor before starting/ stopping any supplements).
Vegan Meal Planning Step 3: Put it Together
Now that you have your recipes and have checked they will provide a balance of food groups/ nutrients, you can put your vegan meal plan together.
This doesn’t have to be anything fancy. You can simply write out what recipe(s) you will eat for which meal on which days. A calendar or planner of some kind would be easiest to do this. Just write the days of the week on one side, and the meals you want to make/ eat that day next to it.
What to Do After Creating your Balanced Vegan Meal Plan
Congrats on creating a balanced vegan meal plan for yourself and/or your family.
Make Vegan Meal Planning Easier and Faster
The first time you sit down to meal plan, it may take a bit longer than expected. With time and practice you will become much faster. Some tips to keep in mind as you start your meal planning journey:
- Save all the recipes: After you find recipes that are nutritionally balance and ones you truly enjoy eating, save them! If you keep a spreadsheet of recipe ideas in one place, indicate where the recipe is saved.
- Utilize previous week’s plans: After a few weeks of meal planning, you will have a collection of plans to choose from! Only save meal plans that worked well for you and your family. Using these saved weeks is perfect for when life gets busy and you don’t have time to sit down and create a fresh plan.
- Try new recipes: As great as it is to get comfortable with recipes you know you like, it can get boring. Plan to try a new recipe every week or every month to keep things interesting.
- Don’t plan to do everything from scratch: While it’s nice to cook completely from scratch, it’s not realistic for most people. Save time in the kitchen by using ingredients that are prepped for you. For example, frozen vegetables and canned beans.
- Make extra to freeze: If possible, make recipes that can be frozen. Plan to freeze extra portions one week to save for later. Don’t forget to use up these frozen meals by planning them into future weeks!
- Plan for a meal out: Eating at home is great but for most people they will want to eat out sometimes. That’s perfectly okay and a fun way to enjoy new foods and get a break from the kitchen.
Summary: Vegan Meal Planning
Vegan meal planning can be a great way to lower stress and decrease the need for decision making through the week. It also makes grocery shopping much easier. After you decide how detailed you want your meal plan to be, follow the three simple steps above. Don’t forget that saving recipes and previous meal plans can help make the process much faster with time. Freezing meals for later is a great option. It’s also perfectly okay to not cook everything from scratch or to plan for a meal out.
Keep things interesting by selecting a variety of recipes that include different flavours so you don’t get bored. And challenge yourself to try new recipes as often as is feasible!
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This post has been updated: Original post date Aug 2019.