Vegetarian Meal Planning Ideas – If you are in the process of switching to a vegetarian diet, it can be a little overwhelming. One thing that helps is to start meal prepping and planning. This allows you to decide what you will eat every meal and snack of the day, and even prep some of these meals beforehand.
1. The Planning Stage
Now that you understand the benefits of meal prepping and planning while you are on a vegetarian diet, you can get started on the process. Meal planning is going to start with the basic planning stage, which means you are creating meals for the next week or so. If you prefer working in shorter bursts, then just plan for the next few days. There is no right or wrong way to plan your meals, but it does help to have some basic components down.
Vegetarian Meal Planning Ideas – Meal planning essentially involves knowing what you are going to eat for each meal of the day, making a grocery list with those meal items, and then prepping some of the meals or ingredients if you have time. Here are some things to do during the planning stage.
Be Realistic With Your Meals
When you start planning your vegetarian meals, try to remember that being realistic is going to help. Don’t assume you can eat plant-based foods every meal of the day, cooking 3 times a day and only eating fruit as snacks. This might not be something you can do right from the beginning. If you have a busy week coming up where your meetings will be going into dinner or you have to skip breakfast, then plan that into your weekly meals. Plan on some vegetarian-convenience foods to pick up for times when you can’t cook, but you also don’t want to get fast food.
Some vegetarian snacks that you can get for convenience, or pick up at a local gas station are:
- Packs of nuts and seeds
- Most protein bars (check the ingredients)
- Chopped veggies with hummus
- Bottled juices and smoothies (if you eat dairy)
Take Stock of What You Have
Once you have considered what you can realistically cook for the week, and have ruled out the days when you might be having happy hour with friends or picking up something quick on the road, you can begin actually planning your meals. A good thing to do before you get to this step is to take stock of what you have. This not only prevents you from purchasing something you already have, which saves you money, but the leftover ingredients in your kitchen can actually inspire new vegetarian dishes.
Take a close look in your pantry, spice rack, refrigerator and freezer to see if you have something you can put into meals. Perhaps you have a can of beans and another can of tomatoes, so you want to try veggie chili, or you have some veggies in the crisper drawer, inspiring you to try out a new stir-fry recipe. Make a list of what you have before you sit down to start writing out the meals for the week.
Focus on Proper Nutrition
As you begin writing down what meals you want to eat for the following week, also pay attention to the nutrition. Write down some macros for meals as you come up with them. You can use tools at MyFitnessPal and similar apps that allow you to create recipes by entering all the ingredients and seeing what the macros are. Macros are things like fat grams, carbohydrates, protein, and calories. With a vegetarian diet, pay close attention to the protein section so that you get plenty of protein from non-meat food sources.
2. Use Variation in Your Meals
Meal planning when you are new to eating a vegetarian diet is important not just to ensure you are getting the right amount of nutrients in your meals, but also so you can have some variety. It is very easy to eat the same exact thing every day, but that gets boring. If you are just switching to a new eating lifestyle, boredom quickly lends its way to giving up and going back to what your diet was before. A great way to make your vegetarian diet more interesting is to focus on having more variety. This is much easier to accomplish when you are meal planning, and being as detailed with it as possible. You want to make a list of everything you will eat throughout a week, including breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Here are some more tips for getting variation in your meals.
Try to Aim For a Colorful Plate
One good way to have balanced meals while on a vegetarian diet without overthinking it is by having more colorful plates. If everyone on your plate is all the same color, your meals are going to get dull and boring. Try to liven it up a bit, finding vegetables and fruits that have more color to them.
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If you are making a simple salad, don’t just have lettuce, cucumber, and avocado. While this is a good start, it is all green and dull. You can get even more nutrients and a more filling salad by adding more colorful toppings, like bell peppers, tomatoes, black olives, and shredded carrots. Suddenly your boring salad is more lively, more enjoyable, and more filling with lots more veggies in it. Do this with every meal, and you will be ‘accidentally’ eating a more filling and healthy meal each time.
Make Sure You Have Enough Protein
Vegetarian meal planning also means paying really close attention to how much protein is in each of your meals. Protein and iron often comes from meat sources like beef and chicken, but you won’t be eating meat anymore. So what you want to do is look at a list of other protein sources, then try to create meals with them. Here is a list of some high protein food sources that are not meat-based:
- Rice and grains
- Whole grain bread (Ezekiel is preferred)
3. Chop, Slice, and Dice Beforehand
Now that you have started planning what you are going to have each day of the week, you can start actually prepping certain ingredients. The thing about vegetarian diets is that you are obviously going to have a lot of salads, veggies, fruits, and grains. These become a major component in your meals as they are your carbohydrates, iron, and protein. It can be a little daunting when you are cooking each meal from scratch every night, especially if you worked all day before that. A better idea is to prep your meals.
Vegetarian Meal Planning Ideas – You can take many of the ingredients you will be using for your meals and start prepping them on a day off before the week begins. This involves slicing and dicing produce, cooking grains, and doing a variety of other easy meal prep tasks. Here are some things you can prep before your week begins.
Chop Your Fruit and Veggies
Start by getting all of your fruits and veggies for the week’s meals and snacks, and chop, dice, or slice them up. Consider what each type of produce is going to be used for. For example, you might be using cauliflower both for cauliflower rice and buffalo bites. Make sure you save some larger florets for the bites, and then use the rest in the food processor to make rice. Continue doing this for all the produce, putting them into containers for the refrigerator or freezer.
Cook Rice and Other Grains
Vegetarian Meal Planning Ideas – You don’t have to just focus on your veggies and fruits when you are busy meal prepping. You can actually cook some ingredients beforehand, then put them in the refrigerator or freezer to be ready to add to the slow cooker, casseroles, or stovetop dishes. For example, you can cook a big batch of brown rice, wild rice, or quinoa and have it ready to go for a variety of different meals. Using a rice cooker makes this process go even faster, or you can use a pressure cooker like an Instant Pot.
Put Salads Together in Containers
Many people first starting out with a new vegetarian diet will go for salads first. It makes it easy to put together simple meals without thinking too much about it. If you want to have salads for lunch or dinner, you can put some of the ingredients together in a container. Large mason jars are perfect for salad prep. Remember to have the heaviest and dense ingredients on the bottom, with the lighter ingredients on top. So if you have chopped up veggies like bell peppers and cucumber in your salad, put those at the bottom of the jar, then put the greens on the very top. This keeps your greens from wilting before you rat the salad. Keep all ‘wet’ ingredients, including dressing, tomatoes, and similar ingredients, in a separate container.
Spiralize Your Veggies
Vegetarian Meal Planning Ideas – If you are going on a low-carb vegetarian diet, you are probably doing without regular pasta. In this case, you can use your veggies as a mock pasta option. These are a great substitute when you use a spiralizer to turn them into a pasta shape. Zucchini is best, but some other veggies can also be turned into ‘pasta’. Spiralize all your veggies on prep day to simplify the entire meal planning and prepping process.
4. Make Vegetarian Freezer Meals
When you get more involved with meal planning, you might become curious about how much prepping you can actually do beforehand. While a lot of ‘meal prepping’ or ‘meal planning’ involves just putting similar ingredients together or chopping up veggies, another option for you is actually putting together freezer meals. This means you are taking most of the components of a dish that will be put in the oven or slow cooker, then freezing those ingredients in the same casserole dish or freezer bag. This is going to speed up your cooking process during the week, helping you not only to eat a vegetarian diet, but a healthy one as well. Here are some different ideas for vegetarian freezer meals you can prepare.
Casseroles are perfect when you want to start putting together freezer meals that are prepped and ready to go. For a Mexican casserole, don’t feel like you have to just follow a single recipe. Put together different ingredients used in your favorite Mexican dishes, leaving out the chicken and carne asada. Some veggies often used are onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, jalapenos, and corn. You can also add in beans like pinto beans and black beans to make a more dense casserole. Try your favorite combination of seasonings, such as garlic, cumin, lime juice, and cilantro. It is up to you whether you want to use cheese or not.
Bean and Vegetable Soup
Soup can also be turned into a freezer meal, which is also great for a vegetarian diet. There are so many different types of vegetable soups that are hearty, easy to heat up, and super easy to prep for later. A great idea is to put together a soup mixture of vegetables and beans, preferably white beans. By using more liquid and just white beans, it is less like a stew or chili, and more like a delicious and soothing soup for a cold night. Think about ingredients like white beans, tomatoes, veggie broth, butternut squash, onions, carrots, and celery for your soup.
You can also have breakfast ready to go with freezer meals. Many people tend to skip breakfast or just grab a smoothie, but you can also have a hearty breakfast by planning ahead of time. One great idea is to make pancakes ahead of time. If you don’t consume eggs or milk, you definitely don’t need it to make pancakes. You can use dairy-free yogurt as your cream base, then combine oats, blueberries, baking powder, baking soda, flour, sugar, and maple syrup. Consider using vegan butter as well iny our mixture. Cook the pancakes, then freeze them for later.
5. Tips For Speedy Meal Prep
Now for the last few tips and you will be ready to meal prep and plan for switching to a vegetarian diet! Remember that you don’t have to move too quickly or do everything at once. You can gradually get into meal prepping by doing some prepping of your meals on a day off every week, then slowly start doing more prepping, and even cooking things ahead of time and freezing them. For this final section, we wanted to give you some last-minute tips for getting through your meal prep more quickly.
Make Hard-Boiled Eggs in the Oven
The first thing you can try doing for your vegetarian meal planning is switching up how you make hard-boiled eggs. This is of course if you allow yourself to eat eggs on your vegetarian diet, which would make you a pescatarian, ovo vegetarian, or lacto-ovo vegetarian. If you eat eggs, you probably like hard-boiled eggs because they are easy to grab as a quick snack or add to a salad. Unfortunately, boiling a pot of them can be a pain. A much easier method is to grab a muffin tin and add one egg to eat muffin slot. Then you just put it in the oven until the eggs are cooked through.
Prepare Smoothie Packs
If you like to have smoothies, you don’t need to actually blend all the smoothies on meal prep day. An easier way to do it is to create smoothie packs. These are freezer bags that each have the ingredients for a smoothie, but they aren’t blended up. All you have to do is empty the bag of frozen fruit and other ingredients into a blender, add your liquid, then turn on the blender. Making a big lifestyle change like going vegetarian is not a decision that should be rushed. Take your time, plan out your meals, and make sure you have well-balanced, nutritious meals every single day.