The words “meal planning” may give you pause. It can seem especially daunting when you have a myriad of other responsibilities. Sometimes, it feels like it would be much easier just to live day-to-day, figuring out what you are having for dinner that same evening. But meal planning, in addition to saving you the stress of coming up with dishes on the fly, can be really great for your wallet, too.
When it comes to vegetarian meal planning, figuring out meals ahead of time can help vegetarians new and old alike stay on course. When you don’t know what to expect for your next meal, your hunger can take over and that non-vegetarian friendly snack you used to love so much may be that much more tempting. Vegetarian meal planning takes away that option, and instead sets you up for success by making cooking daily easier.
So, What is Vegetarian Meal Planning?
Vegetarian meal planning and “regular” meal planning are more or less the same, with the exception that vegetarian meal planning uses ingredients that aren’t animal proteins. The idea is the same, whether you’re a vegetarian or not: you decide ahead with meals you will be eating for the upcoming week by deciding on recipes, and grocery shopping at the start of each week so that you have everything on hand when you’re ready to cook.
Though some people plan out breakfast, lunch, and dinner, others may simply plan for a single meal they have the hardest time cooking daily. If you work long hours, for example, perhaps the last thing you want to do at the end of the day is make dinner; so, planning all your dinners ahead of time may be the most helpful to you.
One of the toughest things when it comes to sticking to a vegetarian (or vegan) diet is making sure that you’re meeting your nutritional goals. When you plan ahead, you can seek out recipes that include ingredients that feature all of the nutrients that your body needs.
The Health Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
Before we dive into explaining the health benefits of a vegetarian diet, let’s brush up on what exactly constitutes a vegetarian diet. When one embarks on a vegetarian diet, animal proteins like chicken, beef, pork, and fish are avoided. Seems pretty straight forward, right? Well, even within the vegetarian world, there are different forms of vegetarianism.
A lacto-ovo-vegetarian will eliminate chicken, beef, pork, and fish, but will continue to eat eggs and dairy products. A lacto-vegetarian abstains from meat and poultry, but allows dairy products, and an ovo-vegetarian only allows eggs.
A pescetarian eliminates chicken, beef, and pork from their diet, but eats fish, as well as eggs and dairy. This, and a flexitarian diet—which is a mostly vegetarian diet that occasionally allows for meat, fish, or poultry, are great segues into vegetarianism if you aren’t keen on going cold turkey.
Then, there’s veganism. This is considered one of the strictest forms of vegetarianism, as vegans eliminate meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. All animal-derived products, like honey, are also avoided.
Now that we have a better understanding of what a vegetarian diet is, we can look further into why so many people are becoming vegetarians.
The benefits of a healthy vegetarian diet are well known, from its positive impact on the environment through lowering your carbon footprint, to animal welfare. But one of the biggest motivating factors is that switching to a vegetarian diet may also vastly improve your health.
According to a number of studies, vegetarians are up to one-third less likely to succumb to heart disease, thanks to nuts, legumes, high-fibre whole grains, and other low-glycemic food that all help to keep your blood sugar levels stable. This means that vegetarian diets may aid in the prevention of type 2 diabetes. As well, vegetarian diets—and especially vegan diets—have shown the ability to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.
Because plant-based foods are generally lower in fat, cholesterol, and sodium, maintaining a vegetarian diet can help lower blood pressure. Vegetables and fruits are usually high in potassium, which also helps to lower blood pressure. A vegetarian diet can also protect against hypertension, renal disease, cancer, osteoporosis, dementia, diverticular disease, gallstones and rheumatoid arthritis.
With all of that said, it’s important to understand that despite the fact that you’ve cut animal proteins out of your diet, it’s still possible to fall into the trap of sustaining themselves with food that’s considered vegetarian, but not necessarily healthy.
This includes processed foods like chips, bread, or pasta, and excess sugar. As with any other diet, make sure you’re putting together a healthy vegetarian meal plan and that you’re feeding yourself a wide range of vegetables and fruit that contains all the nutrients you need to function optimally.
Disadvantages of a Vegetarian Diet
Here’s the thing: there aren’t really disadvantages, per se, but there are things you can do that will undercut the potential benefits of a vegetarian diet.
For example, if you don’t put together a healthy vegetarian meal plan, you may end up filling your meals with empty calories, or food that’s void of any nutritional benefits. To ensure that your diet includes all the vitamins and minerals your body needs to function, especially vitamin B12, it’s important to ensure that your vegetarian meal plan contains foods that are nutrient dense.
When people fail to eat enough protein—which is rare, as you’d need to be missing a drastic amount from your diet—this can lead to a number of health problems, such as hair loss, brittle nails, and loss of muscle mass. That said, there are a number of vegetarian foods that are chock full of protein—you just have to make sure you include these foods in your vegetarian meal plan!
Though it’s said that abs are made in the kitchen, it’s still important to ensure that you’re making time for exercise, avoid smoking, and avoid drinking excessively.
Foods to Eat
A healthy vegetarian diet, like most diets, should include a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Try to include fruits and vegetables that feature all the colours of the rainbow, which is an easy way to ensure you’re getting as many nutrients as possible.
Other foods to include are grains and protein-packed ingredients, such as nuts, quinoa, seitan, soy products like tempeh, and lentils. By including as many different types of food in your vegetarian meal plan, you can better ensure that the nutrients in your food work in tandem, helping your body better absorb them.
Foods to Avoid
Look, we love junk food, too. And while there are many vegetarian options when it comes to chips, candies, and even Oreos, filling your meal plan with junk food may be detrimental to your health as they’re often very low or have no nutrients at all.
If you eat highly processed foods that are high in saturated and trans fats that are technically still considered “vegetarian” will still lead to weight gain. Likewise, eating too much low-fat, plant-based foods may also do the same.
Just like any other diet, your healthy vegetarian meal plan should be balanced. We’re not saying that you can’t have those Oreos—just make sure that you’re also fitting in plenty of nutrient dense foods. Vegetarian meal planning that follows the recommended nutritional guidelines is the key to ensure that you’re reaping the benefits of a vegetarian diet.
So, ensure that your healthy vegetarian meal plan includes a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as healthy fats that can be found in such foods as nuts and olive oil, and make sure you practice portion control.
Steps for Vegetarian Meal Planning
Meal planning is a cinch, and the same principles apply to vegetarian meal planning. By following a few simple steps, you’ll be well on your way.
Step 1: Figure out your “why”
Why are you wanting to create a healthy vegetarian meal plan?
Your reason for why you want to start vegetarian meal planning may be different than that of someone else’s. This will ultimately influence what types of recipes you choose. Maybe you want to lose weight. Maybe you want to ensure you stay on track with being a vegetarian. Maybe you just want to save time. Figuring out why you want to meal plan will help you stay focused on your goals.
Find some tips on how to navigate the most common reasons as to why people fail at vegan (and vegetarian diets) here.
Step 2: Recipe time!
Dig up some recipes that you’d like to include. Now that you know what you should and shouldn’t be including in your vegetarian meal plan, you can prioritize recipes that include those ingredients. Aim to look for some weekday meals that are quick to prepare, especially if you do not usually cook. These simpler meals that are faster to cook will help ease you into the habit of cooking every day.
Step 3: Get shopping.
Compile a shopping list by writing down all the ingredients featured in the recipes you’ve chosen. The best thing about meal planning is that you won’t have to make multiple trips to the grocery store. Here’s a pro-tip: try finding recipes that feature some of the same ingredients to make the most out of your trip.
Step 4: Start cooking.
Now comes the fun part: cooking your delicious meals without having to worry about missing an ingredient. If you end up getting takeout one or two nights, don’t sweat it. Consistency is key, but even if you veer away from your healthy vegetarian meal plan, recognize that you are trying your best.
As well, don’t feel pressured to plan a whole month in one sitting. You can start with a 7-day plan, then work your way towards a 30-day plan.
Vegetarian Meal Plans
This 7-day vegetarian meal plan from Taste of Home can help you jumpstart your vegetarian meal plan journey. In it, they include three meals for each day, as well as snacks to stave off your hunger. Some of the recipes featured include Farmers Market Enchiladas, and Roasted Sweet Potato and Chickpea Pitas.
In the event that those recipes don’t whet your appetite, this 7-day vegetarian meal plan is high in nutrients and flavour, and is recommended by a registered dietitian.
If you’re new to meal planning, a 7-plan is the easiest way to get into the practice without overwhelming yourself by cooking, especially if you do not usually cook all your meals.
Feeling adventurous? Here’s a 30-day meal plan that will keep you healthy and satiated. From Vegetarian Pinto Bean Sloppy Joes to Quinoa-Stuffed Delicata Squash, you’ll be looking forward to making dinner every night.
One other option is to look into meal prep services, which are now widely available. Many meal prep companies offer vegetarian and vegan meal options, and some, like Planted Meals, are solely plant-based. While some meal prep companies measure and pack all the ingredients for you, Planted Meals prepares, cooks, and delivers meals weekly, making it perfect for those who are still unsure about having to cook daily.
Meal planning and sticking to it isn’t all about willpower. At the end of the day, getting into the habit of meal planning is just that: a habit. Healthy habits may be hard to keep because according to behavioral scientists, many of us go about forming these habits the wrong way.
Oftentimes, we dive in, head first, and make too bold of a resolution without setting ourselves up for success. Behavioral scientists recommend that we do this by starting small, stacking our habits (i.e. tie your new habit to an existing habit), and rewarding ourselves, but also that we do it every day and make it easy.
Through meal planning, you have the opportunity to cook every day, and because you’ve done all of your shopping in advance, cooking is made easy. All of this allows you to build healthier eating habits that will hopefully permeate other parts of your life.
Do you plan your meals? If not, would you consider adopting vegetarian meal planning? Let us know in the comments below, and visit The Root to read more on vegetarian- and vegan-related topics.