How to Meal Plan As a Vegan

If you follow a vegan diet or you’re thinking of transitioning to one, meal planning can be even more of a lifesaver than it is for omnivores.

Ingredients for an easy sandwich recipe. Bowls include: almonds, canned chickpeas, capers, mustard, mayonnaise, sprouts, lemon, celery and tomatoes.
Sally Vargas | Art Banner Credit: Elena Resko

No matter what kind of diet you follow, you’ve probably heard about the benefits of meal planning from its many evangelists. It’s a kitchen strategy that saves money, reduces waste, and eliminates weeknight confusion around what the family’s meal will be. 

But if you follow a vegan diet or you’re thinking of transitioning to one, meal planning can be even more of a lifesaver than it is for omnivores. 

Here are the major reasons why it can be so helpful to meal plan as a vegan. 

Mixing ingredients in a large bowl for a pesto pasta salad recipe.
Eliezer Martinez

Why It’s So Helpful to Meal Plan As a Vegan

Less ego depletion.

As a plant-based eater, you may have spent the day abstaining from non-vegan doughnuts in the breakroom and settling for a side salad at a restaurant lunch. Things are changing, but the food world at large can be a tough space for vegans. All these times throughout the day when you choose to go against the grain and stick with the plant-based program drain your willpower, which is a limited resource. 

This phenomenon is what psychologists refer to as ego depletion. When your plan for dinner is locked and loaded in advance, you don’t have to use any more precious willpower by deciding every night what to eat. 

Peaceful dinner times.

Vegan meal plans usually require a bit more preparation: more vegetable chopping and a few special ingredients. When you’ve set aside time for planning, shopping, and prepping, dinnertime is almost always smoother, faster, and more peaceful than if you had to be running to the store in the late afternoon to grab last-minute things you need. 

Meal planning is an effective form of stress reduction.  

Get your family to buy in. 

One of the toughest things about being vegan can be sharing food. If you cook for your whole family, it can mean making two meals: a plant-based one for you and something else for them. However, if you get the family’s input during meal planning sessions, it’s possible to make dinners for everyone to share. Ask your crew to help you choose from recipes you’ve flagged based on what looks good to them. Ultimately it’s worth the persuasion campaign to make one delicious and healthy plant-based meal for all.

So those are some of the most important reasons to meal plan as a vegan. Hopefully, they will inspire you to give it a try. Now here are some practical tips to help make meal planning really happen.

Cooked green lentils in vegan sloppy joes ingredients
Nick Evans

How to Meal Plan as a Vegan

Sketch out a week of meals.

You’ll want to choose a dinner for every day of the week. If possible, plan on leftovers for one or two nights. It’s fine to plan for take-out or a restaurant meal one night. It’s best to try new or more complicated recipes on the weekend and stick to simple non-recipes (like pasta + canned chickpeas + jarred tomato sauce) during the week. You don’t need to be as specific about lunch, but it’s a good idea to identify a couple of things that will make good lunches throughout the week like lentil stew, lentil sloppy joes, quinoa salad, or hummus

When you’ve got your lineup of meals together, it’s time to make a grocery list. Take your time to avoid missing anything. 

Check your nutrition.

Look over what you’ve planned. Do you have a variety of vegetables, including leafy greens (a good plant-based source of iron and calcium)? Do you see a mix of plant-based proteins like tofu, tempeh, and beans? What about whole grains in the form of farro, quinoa, or whole wheat pasta? 

You don’t have to use a nutritional calculator to ensure your vegan diet is well balanced, but you do need to make sure you’re eating a wide variety of plant-based whole foods every week.

Overhead view of chopped vegetables on a cutting board to make sheet pan sausage with peppers and onions

Chop vegetables.

One of the best things about a plant-based diet is eating a lot more vegetables. One of the less awesome things about a plant-based diet is chopping a lot more vegetables. Especially if you are newer to a plant-based lifestyle, your knife skills may not be super practiced and it can take time. 

Scan your recipes and meal ideas for things you can do in advance. You might find you need several cups of chopped onion, sliced mushrooms, or sliced cabbage – all hearty vegetables you can prep on a weekend afternoon while listening to podcasts. This kind of prep will make the week’s dinners so much easier. 

Keep track of your recipes.

Make it a habit to flag recipes you want to try. Keep some sticky notes near your cookbooks so you can easily return to appealing ideas later. Create a Pinterest board or a binder where you corral recipes you are interested in making. Then, when it’s time to meal plan, you know exactly where to turn for inspiration. 

Another valuable tool is a meal calendar where you record what you ate. Over time, it’s helpful to return to meals past so you can make your family’s favorite on repeat. 

Embrace batch cooking.

Fun new recipes and super fresh produce will fuel the front end of the week. Midweek, when life gets hectic, take the pressure off with batch cooking. Every week, cook up a pot of beans and a different whole grain. Roast one or two trays of vegetables. Make a favorite salad dressing or sauce. Wash and prep salad greens. Then, come Wednesday and Thursday, it’s fast and easy to build vegan bowls that are both nutritious and delicious.