Requests for a vegan meal planner make up over half of the total nutrition queries that I receive. So many are surprised when I tell them that I’m not a big fan of meal plans — or at least not of most of the meal plans currently being shared on the internet.
When done right, meal planning can help you save time, money, and eat a variety of nutritious meals without losing your sanity.
Unfortunately, many meal plans are unbalanced and designed in a way that makes them unsustainable on the long-term. And even worse, a proportion of them make it particularly difficult to develop or maintain a positive relationship with food.
That’s why I prefer to approach meal planning from a slightly different angle.
This article won’t provide you with a vegan meal plan that breaks down exactly what foods to eat or avoid. Nor will it outline precise recipes to follow or a calorie goal to meet each day.
Instead, it will share the step-by-step process that I rely on, as a vegan dietitian, when planning my family’s meals. It will also give you a sneak peak at the vegan meal planner that I personally use and show you how to make your own.
Downfalls of traditional meal plans
Meal planners should help you whip up nutritious meals that can feed your family without breaking the bank, or having you spend hours in the kitchen.
Yet, I can’t help but notice that many of the vegan meal plans or fill-it-yourself vegan meal planners shared on social media come with some pretty significant downfalls.
First, most are time-consuming. The type and amount of recipes they require people to prepare often results in spending more time in the kitchen than most busy moms — myself included — would like to.
In addition, many classify certain foods as “good” and others as “bad,” and a proportion of them put a stronger emphasis on meeting a daily calorie target than on meeting your daily nutrient needs.
This makes it difficult to develop or maintain a healthy relationship with food, and isn’t conducive to the intuitive way of eating that I prefer to help people develop.
Finally, relying on someone else to design your meal plan increases the likelihood you’ll need to rely on them to design future plans as well.
Most people do not have the financial means to continuously outsource this task, which is why I don’t find it a sustainable long-term solution.
Instead, I prefer to teach people how to design their own meal plans, based on their schedule, particular needs, and the foods their families actually enjoy eating.
IN SUM — Many traditional meals plans are time-consuming and have a limited life-span. A proportion of them also make it particularly difficult to develop or maintain a healthy relationship with food.
Picking the meal planning strategy best suited for your family
Healthy meal planning can be done in a variety of ways. And luckily, not all involve you spending your whole Sunday afternoon cooking up a storm in your kitchen!
It should orient you towards the meal prep technique best suited for your lifestyle. It will also show you how to minimize cooking time and pick the right number of recipes for your family.
IN SUM — Picking the right meal planning strategy is instrumental in helping you succeed. Check out the article linked above if you’re not yet sure which strategy best fits your needs.
How to balance your vegan meals
The keyword here is well-planned, which makes learning how to balance your meals is of uttermost importance.
Taking the time to learn to do so will help ensure that your diet contains sufficient amounts of important nutrients such as long-chain omega-3s, iron, zinc, calcium or vitamins B12 and D (4, 5, 6, 7, 8).
Here are two useful resources to keep in mind when attempting to balance your family’s vegan meals.
Healthy vegan menu checklist
A well-balanced vegan menu starts with picking the right ingredients. Here are some of the foods I recommend you include on your menu on a daily basis.
- Fruit: aim to get at least three servings of fresh, frozen, or dried fruit each day.
- Calcium-rich foods: aim to include at least three to four servings of calcium-rich foods per day. This includes calcium-set tofu, calcium-fortified plant milks and yogurts, dark leafy greens, tempeh, as well as certain legumes, nuts and seeds.
- Cruciferous vegetables: plan to have at least one serving of cruciferous veggies each day. Examples include arugula, bok choy, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, radishes and watercress.
- Red, yellow or orange vegetables: aim to eat at least one serving of these bright-colored veggies each day. Examples include red, orange or yellow peppers, carrots, tomatoes, pumpkin or butternut squash.
- Other vegetables: plan to have at least two servings of additional vegetables each day.
- Legumes: aim to include at least three servings of legumes such as beans, lentils, peas, peanuts, tofu or tempeh to your menu each day.
- Nuts and seeds: plan to eat at least one serving of nuts and seeds each day.
- Flax, chia, hempseeds & walnuts: Plan to include 2 tablespoons of flaxseeds or chia seeds, ¼ cup hempseeds or ⅓ cup of walnuts to your menu each day.
- Brazil nuts: eat 1-2 brazil nuts each day.
- Whole grains or starchy vegetables: plan to add at least three servings of whole grains or starchy vegetables such as potatoes or sweet potatoes to your daily menu.
- Healthy fats: feel free to add a touch of plant-based fats such as olives, avocados, nuts, seeds, shredded coconut or plant oils to each meal.
Occasionally track your nutrient intake
Ensuring that these categories of foods make a a daily appearance on your plate should help most people meet their daily nutrient needs.
You can double-check whether this is the case for you by tracking a few days in an online food journal such as Cronometer.
There’s no need to track every single day. However, occasionally doing so can help identify any vitamins, minerals or other important nutrients you may be consistently getting too little of, so that you can adjust your diet accordingly.
Balanced vegan plate method
At first glance, the checklist above may feel a little overwhelming. So I’ve also included a visual representation of the information above to help those who digest visual information better than in text form.
The large circle above represents your plate. When building a meal, focus on including foods from each of the categories inside of the plate.
For instance, try filling half of your plate with fruits or vegetables, a quarter with whole grains or starchy vegetables and the other quarter with nuts, seeds or legumes.
Then, follow the tips surrounding the plate to ensure your overall diet remains balanced on a daily basis.
For instance, all vegans should consider taking a vitamin B12 supplement. Many likely also benefit from adding iodine, vitamin D and long-chain omega-3 supplements to their diet.
IN SUM — Taking the time to learn how to balance your vegan meals is of uttermost importance, as it will help you and your family thrive on a vegan diet on the long-term. The tools above should help you do so.
How to plan your vegan meals for the week
Now that you’ve learned the basics of well-balanced vegan meals, let’s put them into practice. Here’s a video taking you through the step-by-step process that I personally follow when planning my family’s vegan meals for the week.
If you prefer reading, you’ll find a written version below.
1. Decide how many vegan meals you’ll need
The first step of an effective vegan meal planner is to figure out how many homemade meals you’ll need for the week. This can vary based on your schedule, lifestyle and interest in cooking.
For example, my family eats mostly at home. Both my partner and I like to cook but prefer minimizing the time we spend in the kitchen, especially on weekdays.
Therefore, we stick to simple weeknight meals that can be cooked quickly, and mostly without a recipe. I also often double the dinner’s portions and freeze the leftovers so they can come in handy when neither of us feels like cooking.
I’m also a fan of quick lunches. That’s why you’ll often see leftovers from dinner appearing the next day for lunch. I sometimes also make snacks like smoothies in larger batches, so I can enjoy them over two, back-to-back days.
As a result, my family’s weekly meal planner typically requires only five home-cooked dinners, and relies on leftovers, takeout or a restaurant outing for the remaining two.
2. Plan your cooking days
Once you’ve figured out how many meals you’ll need, go ahead and assign them to days of the week.
I personally like to take it a step further and assign a theme to each day of the week. I find this makes it easier to come up with meal ideas later on. Here’s what a typical week may look like for my family.
- Monday: ethnic meal
- Tuesday: pasta meal
- Wednesday: leftovers
- Thursday: soup meal
- Friday: healthified family-favorites (i.e. pizza, burgers, etc)
- Saturday: meal from a recipe book or food blog
- Sunday: takeout or restaurant meal
Most weeknight dinners consist of quick vegan meals that don’t require a recipe. However, I do try to reserve one day per week — usually on the weekend — to attempt a recipe from a cookbook or food blog as to expand my cooking skills.
Keep in mind that this menu template is only an example, so it’s absolutely normal if your own plan doesn’t look exactly like mine. The goal of this process is to end up with a plan that works for your own family.
3. Set-up your custom meal planner template
With your personalized weekly menu template in hand, it’s now time to build a more detailed menu for the week. The vegan menu checklist or vegan plate method shared above will come in handy for this step, so keep them close-by.
I personally do all my planning on the computer, using a simple meal planning template that I’ve created, but you can absolutely do this by hand if you prefer.
You can download a free copy of my vegan meal planner template below, to follow along. The template is customizable, so you can use it directly to plan your family’s meals for the week, if you so wish.
I start by creating a color-coded list of food categories to include in my meal planner, and distribute them according to what works best for me. This makes it easier to visually check that I’ve included all necessary foods after I’ve chosen my meals.
For instance, I like to have fruit with breakfast and snacks, so I go ahead and distribute them this way. I’m typically not a fan of vegetables at breakfast, which is why I distribute mine over lunch and dinner instead.
In the downloadable meal planner template above, I’ve chosen to pay special attention to calcium-rich foods. So, I’ve capitalized all plant-based sources of this nutrient to quickly check that my family is getting enough of this nutrient each day.
4. Fill out your vegan meal planner
Now, it’s time to fill out your template with the meals you feel like eating this week.
Let yourself get inspired by the themes you assigned to each day of the week. If you prefer to follow recipes, you can use cookbooks when picking your meals.
Just make sure to write down where a particular recipe came from, so you can easily find it when comes time to make that meal.
Once you’ve filled your template, take a quick moment to double-check that you’ve included all the necessary foods. If you’ve color-coded your meal planner template like I’ve done to mine, this step will be a breeze.
Now, print your vegan meal planner and place it in your kitchen for easy access.
5. Optimize your groceries
The last step to my vegan meal planning process consists of making a time-saving grocery list.
To do so, I organize my list based on my supermarket layout. For instance, by listing all fresh produce together or all packaged goods under the same section.
This keeps me from having to go back and forth between the different grocery aisles, ultimately saving a lot of time.
I strongly encourage you to purchase all of your groceries ahead of time, so that you have them in-house before the week begins. This will make it much quicker to prepare meals, especially if you get home late from work.
Ordering your groceries online and scheduling a pickup, or organizing for them to be directly delivered to your home are great alternatives when you’re particularly short on time.
IN SUM — The free vegan meal planner template and five steps above are tools you can use to plan your family’s vegan meals for the week, in a simple, time-efficient manner.
20 Quick & easy vegan meal and snack ideas
Here are a few quick and easy vegan meal ideas you can use as inspiration when filling out your vegan meal planner.
Quick and easy vegan dinner ideas
- Red lentil dahl
- Fully loaded sweet potatoes
- Vegan taco bowls
- Pumpkin, white bean and quinoa soup
- Homemade pizzas on store-bought cauliflower crust
Healthy vegan lunch ideas
- Chickpea avocado toast
- Meal salad with beans, quinoa, veggies, avocado, nuts and seeds
- Tempeh, hummus, tomato and spinach wrap
- Black bean whole grain quesadilla with tomato salsa
- Homemade instant noodle soup with tofu and vegetables
High protein vegan breakfast ideas
- Scrambled tofu, spinach and potato hash browns
- Vegan pancakes topped with fruit, soy yoghurt or quark, nuts and seeds.
- Whole grain toast topped with nut butter, berries and hempseeds
- Mango, spinach, flaxseed smoothie made with soy milk
- Overnight oats topped with fruit and chia seeds
Portable vegan snack ideas
- Popcorn trail mix
- Apple and individually-packed nut butters
- Hummus and sliced veggies
- Raspberry hazelnut smoothie
- Nut-butter stuffed dates
IN SUM –– These quick and easy vegan breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack ideas can be used to fill out your vegan meal planner.
To sum it all up
A vegan meal planner can help you save time, money and ensure you eat a variety of nutritious meals without spending hours in the kitchen.
The trick is selecting one that’s customizable, well-balanced and adapted to your lifestyle.
I realize that the step-by-step process above may be slightly different than what you are accustomed to. So if you do give it a try, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it in the comments below.