6 Strategies for Healthy Plant-Based Meal Plans
Meal planning is the key to healthy eating no matter what diet or food program you’re pursuing.
This is especially true for plant-based eaters, because only a handful of plants contain complete proteins and none offer the accessible protein and essential nutrients (such as vitamin B-12) found in animal-based foods. Other nutrients such as vitamin D, calcium, iron and zinc are present but more difficult to absorb and utilize.
You’ll need to educate yourself on high quality plant proteins, calcium-rich foods, and critical vitamins and nutrients. To develop your own personalized plant-based meal plans, blend that information with these practical strategies:
- Keep it simple. One popular approach is to plan for three meals and two snacks at targeted intervals each day. Allocate 20% of your daily calorie and nutrient requirements to each, and identify the foods you intend to consume. Replicate that model for each day of the week, and keep menus fresh and interesting by rotating through your favorite dishes and food groups. Whether you opt for paper, the computer or a meal-planning app, use your plan to guide your grocery shopping.
- Prioritize protein. Plant-based diets tend to be naturally high in fiber, carbohydrates and fats, but they routinely fall short on the protein front. Adult women should strive to consume 46 grams and men should aim for 56 grams of protein each day. In practical terms, that means eating two or more cups of cooked beans or lentils, roughly three cups of cooked quinoa, or 1.5 cups of tofu or some combination spread across meals and snacks.
- Think outside the box. Instead of restricting choices to foods traditionally reserved for breakfast, lunch or dinner, be flexible. Any dish that suits your palate and delivers the nutritional mix you need that day is the right choice for meals and snacks.
- Do your homework. Commit time to researching plant-based nutrition, understanding daily requirements and becoming familiar with the nutritional profiles of your favorite foods. When this knowledge becomes second nature, you’ll be able to design meal plans more quickly and make informed substitutions on the fly.
- Be realistic. While it’s completely possible to eat a 100% plant-based diet using only fresh foods prepared at home, face facts. If your schedule is demanding and free time is at a premium, integrate nutritionally sound prepackaged foods, restaurant meals and carryout options into your weekly meal plans.
- Be flexible. One of the healthiest dietary trends is an emerging acceptance that most of us fail to achieve perfect nutrition every single day. Rather than obsessing over this, many doctors and dieticians recommend eating a varied diet that over the course of a week delivers the balanced intake of protein, carbs, fats and essential nutrients our bodies need for optimum health.