How to Meal Prep Plant-Based
Are you thinking of switching to a plant-based diet, but you’re not sure how you could possibly turn your weekly meal prep vegan? Maybe you’re wondering if your food’s going to last or if you’re going to make enough of it.
I had all of these concerns when I first started switching over to plant-based. I felt completely overwhelmed with the idea of even just trying it out for a few weeks since I was meal prepping 8 meals per weekday for myself. On top of that, I was worried about the added stress of a meal coming out bad and having to scramble to compensate.
In the beginning, it was definitely a struggle, but as I went on, I found a rhythm that made switching to a plant-based diet really enjoyable.
Here is a step by step guide on how I switched over my meal prep to be completely free of animal products.
Step 1: Assess How Much Meat and Dairy You’re Eating
The first thing that I did when I decided to switch to a vegan diet was to take a look at all of the meat and dairy that I was consuming in my diet. At the time, it was honestly more than I’d like to admit. Two years ago I was eating like a stereotypical weightlifter - consuming as much protein as I possibly could for my calorie range. All of that translated to eating lots and lots of chicken and turkey, which made it seem even more daunting to switch. At the time, I struggled a lot with how I was going to get enough calories and protein into my diet. There was no way you could do it completely plant-based, right?
Along with meat, I also looked at how much dairy I was consuming. Before I switched to plant-based, i honestly did not think I was consuming all that much dairy, other than a few protein shakes here and there and of course my unhealthy love for cheese. One of the things I’m most grateful for in going plant-based is it gave me the understanding of what’s actually in my food. I was so shocked at what I found when I actually went looking for dairy how much of it was actually in my cabinets. Things like bread crumbs and seasoning packets that I had all had some form of dairy.
Whenever someone asks about where to start going plant-based, the best place to begin is to figure out exactly what you’re eating. You might find that you’re also surprised to see how much meat and dairy you’re truly consuming when you actually examine it.
The most important thing in this process is to not let that amount deter you from switching just because it seems like a lot. The best way to tackle switching to plant-based (and often times the overwhelming feelings that come with it) is to chunk the process into bite-sized pieces. If we can break the process up by starting with very small items and then building to more prominent portions of your meal prep, it not only helps alleviate the stress, but can actually make the process of switching to plant-based downright enjoyable. But, knowing where you stand is the first part of the process - so don’t get discouraged!
Step 2: Replace Your Non-Essentials and Sometimes-Used Dairy Items
After you figured out how much dairy you’re eating, start with items that are non essential to your every day meal prep. These are items that are added to your meal prep for flavor or a cooking ingredient that may not add a whole lot in terms of substance.
The one that I like to recommend the most is stock. Switching to vegetable stock from chicken, beef or sometimes even fish stock is usually something that is not noticeable at all. Another ingredient that you can sub out relatively easy is honey, which can be replaced almost seamlessly by agave nectar.
I would also recommend starting to replace sometimes-used dairy items like bread crumbs, seasoning packets in rices, etc. out with plant-based versions like panko or making your own seasoning mix. Basically, anything in your cabinet that you’re using to flavor your food is a good place to start before you replace bigger portions of your meal.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you need to get rid of these items this very second. I recommend starting with one item that you’d like to switch out. You can choose to eliminate it immediately, give it someone else or even just make the choice to by a vegan friendly version next time you’re in the grocery store after you’ve run out of an item.
Once you’ve gotten comfortable switching that one item out, then pick one or two more items. What you might find, and I certainly did, is that once you switch out one item, it becomes much easier to expand that list. It’s really just getting past that initial sticking point.
The most important thing in all of this is that you start switching these out at your own pace. For some people, they might do all of these steps in a day. Others might take months before they get to start step 3. There’s not right or wrong here- only your pace.
Step 3: Completely Phase Out Dairy
Once you’ve eliminated items that are sometimes or seldom used, it’s time to start tackling the big ticket dairy items like milk, cheese and eggs. For me, this was one section that I was scared to start because well, cheese was my ultimate cheat food. It was really difficult to get over that mental barrier that I was going to have to give up my “feel good” meals.
If you’re feeling that way too, you should actually start getting excited. Right now, there are so many vegan versions of things like milk, cheese and now even egg alternatives that there are so many options for you to choose from. In the past, that’s something that hasn’t been often said about vegan food.
And guess what? They actually taste good.
That’s often been a stereotype about vegan food that has personally stopped me from going plant-based in the past. I had this belief that I was going to have to painstakingly sacrifice foods that I love or my meal prep flavor for blandness.
After 2 years of being plant-based now, I can tell you it’s not true and I certainly have fun now in trying new products. For this section, I love to encourage people who are scared to start to experiment with new vegan friendly dairy products to find ones that you love. This can be a really fun process and it has personally lead to some really great finds for me.
If you’re looking for some brands to start with, here are the items that I personally use and love.
Miyoko’s Vegan Mozzarella
Violife Cheddar Slices
Daiya Cheddar Slices
Blue Diamond Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk
Ripple Chocolate Pea Protein Milk
Silk Chocolate Soy Milk
This is not by any means a definitive list of what’s out there. The most important thing in this section is to have fun. I’ve seen so many people focus and stress over finding alternatives that it just makes them want to stop at step 2. This part is a trial and error process to see what you like and hey, you might find a product that really isn’t for you. And that’s ok - because now you know what not to buy. If you can turn this into a creative experiment for yourself, it should help take away a lot of the hesitation.
Step 4: Begin Incorporating Alternative Protein Sources
The scariest part for me was beginning to phase out my protein sources. When I first thought about going plant-based, the only source of protein I thought I was going to get was tofu. And to be honest with you, I hated tofu.
When I first started, I began to look to other protein rich sources to help start phasing out meat in my diet. I picked one meal and began experimenting on the weekend, when I had a more relaxed meal prep. I would attempt to make one meal and if it came out good, I began incorporating it into my meal prep during the week. Pretty soon, I was able to have an entire menu that was 100% vegan. I also began to find really delicious ways to incorporate items like tofu into my diet.
Even though this is probably the scariest part for most people switching, this is again a process to have fun and experiment with. There are so many sources of vegan protein out there that you can create a much more rich and diverse meal prep than most people realize.
One thing I like to do with people who are nervous about switching over their meal prep is to show them how much protein is actually in some vegan items comparatively to those in animal-based products. For this process, I like to use the USDA FoodData Central database, which is very helpful for getting a general idea on some nutritional basics.
Protein Sources (Protein in Grams)
Chicken Breast: 1 cup (cooked) = 40g
Turkey Breast: 1 cup (cooked) = 65g
Beef Steak: 1 cup (cooked) = 36g
Salmon: 1 cup (cooked) = 34g
Tofu: 1 cup = 44 g
Tempeh: 1 cup = 34g
Edamame: 1 cup (cooked, shelled) = 19g
Lentils: 1 cup (cooked) = 17g
Seitan: 1 cup = 16g
Black Beans: 1 cup (canned) =15g
Chickpeas: 1 cup (canned) = 13g
Quinoa: 1 cup (cooked) = 8g
Chia Seeds: 1 oz = 5g
*All nutritional information can be found in the USDA FoodData Central database.
This process of chunking can be super helpful to meal preppers since over time you should have a significant amount of meals that you’ll be able to get a completely plant-based meal prep rotation going before you know it! Once you can get over that last hurdle of knowing that you’re going to be able to match your current protein levels and do it with great tasting food, then the process actually becomes a lot easier and step 5 can be almost effortless.
Step 5: Completely Phase Out All Meat
In this last step,you should take care of any lingering meat items still in your meal prep. This can range from that one last thing that your scared to get rid to just waiting until your current meat supply is gone.
If you’re struggling on that one last thing to eliminate from your meal prep, I recommend attempting to make your favorite dish with that food vegan. For some people, they’re scared to give us the taste and for others, it’s more about meeting macros with that food. If you can mirror that dish with vegan protein and get it as close as possible macro wise, then that should definitely help getting over that last hurdle!
When it comes to shifting around my diet, I’m in it for the long game. I’m all about crafting my diet to fit my lifestyle and absolutely loving the process of doing it - on top of getting desired results. This step by step process was something that took me a while to figure out, but I really hope it helps you transition to the diet that you want to have - even if that isn’t plant-based.
If you’re looking for something to model, check out our vegan meal plans. It’s designed to be able to help you transition to a plant-based diet at your pace and it’s 100% scalable to whatever step you’re at.
If you found this article helpful, please share it with someone who could also benefit from this step by step process.
More Resources For You