We know. The words “plant-based diet” conjure nightmares of snacking on nothing but lettuce leaves and carrot sticks until the end of time. But it turns out this nutritious eating plan offers a lot of flexibility and delicious options that can boost your health and maybe even help you lose a few pounds. Here, your first week of eats on a plant-based diet meal plan, from breakfast to dessert.
What Is a Plant-Based Diet?
Nope, it’s not the same thing as being vegan. In fact, you can still eat meat and animal products on a plant-based (or flexitarian, if you will) diet—occasionally. This diet is more of a concept than a strict set of rules, which means you have a lot of freedom regarding what you put on your plate. The idea is to consume meals that consist mostly of plant-based foods, plus modest amounts of fish, lean meat and dairy. The Mediterranean Diet is one example of a plant-based diet, as is veganism.
In general, you’ll want to bulk up on whole, minimally-processed foods, eat fish and lean meat occasionally (and red meat only sparingly) and exclude processed, refined foods. The more locally-sourced and organic, the better. While you can incorporate healthy fish, lean meat and poultry into your diet, the idea is to minimize your consumption overall (including eggs and dairy).
Here are a few foods to work into your day-to-day…
- Fruits and veggies
- Legumes (like beans, lentils and peas), nuts and seeds
- Whole grains (quinoa! farro! millet!)
- Healthy carbs (like wild rice, sweet potatoes and fruit)
…and a few to avoid often or altogether.
- Refined and processed foods (wave goodbye to anything made with white flour, like regular pasta and white bread; refined grains like white rice; processed animal products like bacon, deli meat and sausage, and processed foods like potato chips, cereal bars and frozen dinners)
- Red meat
- Junk food
- Added sugars and artificial sweeteners
- Vegan junk food (steer clear of processed meat substitutes)
The Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
Not sold yet? Maybe the many nutritional perks will sway you. First of all, cutting down on meat alone has a whole slew of pros. It could lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, diabetes and obesity, according to the American Heart Association. The only downside is that you may have to take a supplement, like vitamin B12, if you choose to exclude all animal products from your diet. Ask your doctor what’s best.
A plant-based diet can also boost the immune system and reduce inflammation, according to the MD Anderson Cancer Center at The University of Texas website. It’s also a surefire way to up your fiber intake and maintain a healthy weight. Evidence shows that the Mediterranean Diet can reduce your risk of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and colon, breast and prostate cancers, as well as depression, according to the Harvard Medical School website. Plant-based diets are also great for brain health. Dairy, meat and fried foods high in saturated and trans fats can increase your risk for cognitive issues and Alzheimer’s. Avoiding these and replacing them with antioxidant- and vitamin-rich foods can have the opposite effect, says the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Did we mention a plant-based diet is also wonderful for the environment? Consuming fewer animal products saves water and reduces greenhouse gas emissions, says a 2019 study published in the journal Science.
Ready to get started? Here’s one week of plant-based meals you’ll fall in love with.
Monday Breakfast: Egg and Veggie Breakfast Bowl
A poached, runny egg makes everything better. It adds decadence (and protein) to a hearty mix of Brussels sprouts, arugula, sweet potatoes and a spicy harissa vinaigrette.
Monday Lunch: Vegetarian Sushi Cups
Homemade sushi takes a lot of rolling, time and TLC. These muffin-tin gems come together fast without having to deal with messy raw fish. Stick with cucumbers, carrots and avocado or branch out to other veggies. The soy-sesame dressing will taste good on anything.
Monday Dinner: Baked Sesame-Ginger Salmon in Parchment
Hate doing dishes? You’re preaching to the choir. Meet a 30-minute wonder in a sesame-soy sauce spiked with ginger, honey and red-pepper flakes.
Monday Dessert: Vegan Golden Mylk Cheesecake
It’s a good thing you had a light dinner, because this treat is seriously luxurious. Golden mylk, non-dairy milk mixed with ground turmeric, gets a whole new life in this coconut beauty made with vegan cream cheese.
Tuesday Breakfast: Overnight Oats with Chocolate and Strawberry
Old-fashioned oats turn creamy and flavorful after soaking in non-dairy milk and raw cocoa powder. Brighten up the mason jar with fresh fruit and coconut milk yogurt. Just skip the tablespoon of granulated sugar or swap it for honey.
Tuesday Lunch: Radicchio, Lentil and Apple Salad with Vegan Cashew Dressing
Don’t look now, but you’re the envy of the break room. You won’t believe the creamy dressing is vegan and dairy-free. The secret? Raw cashews, olive oil and lemon juice. We’ll take ours with extra toasted hazelnuts, please.
Tuesday Dinner: Vegan Lentil-Mushroom Burgers
The juiciest veggie burger there ever was. Lentils and portobello mushrooms make for fiber-rich, hearty patties that’ll fill you up just as much as beef would. Make it a lettuce wrap or swap in a keto bun.
Tuesday Dessert: Healthy Cookie Dough
If you’re like us, cookie dough only makes it into the oven *half* the time. And this version is vegan, paleo and gluten-free. Have it raw to your heart’s content thanks to a mix of almond and coconut flours, pure maple syrup and vanilla extract.
Wednesday Breakfast: Gwyneth Paltrow’s Blueberry Cauliflower Smoothie
Blender, meet the best cruciferous veggie around. Cauliflower makes the sipper extra filling, so it’ll hold you over before lunchtime. It’s also loaded with antioxidants (thanks, blueberries) and protein-rich, unsweetened almond butter.
Wednesday Lunch: Vegan Slow-Cooker Detox Coconut Soup
So, you went bar hopping and had two big pieces of birthday cake last weekend. Happens to the best of us. Enter the Crock-Pot cure-all that’s made to cleanse your system. It’s gluten-free and has lots of fresh veggies and herbs like spinach, snow peas, basil and mint.
Wednesday Dinner: Vegan Spaghetti Squash with Mushroom Marinara Sauce
Have your pasta and eat it too, thanks to the most versatile gourd ever. Store-bought marinara (check the sugar content before you buy) is easy to spruce up with browned creminis, fresh thyme and rosemary and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast.
Wednesday Dessert: No-Bake, Gluten-Free Rose Petal Brownies
Aren’t they gorgeous? Don’t tell, but they’re also sugar-free. All their sweetness comes from pitted dates, cocoa powder and maple syrup.
Thursday Breakfast: Kale Quiche with Cheddar-Rice Crust
Spruce it up with diced bell peppers, spinach or sweet potatoes. Use brown or wild rice or substitute a broccoli or cauliflower crust instead. We’re having ours with a side salad.
Thursday Lunch: Vegan Sriracha ‘Meatballs’ with Noodles and Grilled Vegetables
Like takeout, only better. And healthier. Substitute beef for firm tofu, buckwheat flour and white chia seeds. If you really want to go the extra mile, peel your own cucumber and carrot ribbons.
Thursday Dinner: Clean-Eating Bibimbap Bowls
Gochujang is the spicy condiment you need in your life ASAP. The Korean fermented chili paste is the backbone of the honey-tamari sauce. Swap millet or farro in for white rice and voilà.
Thursday Dessert: One-Ingredient Watermelon Sorbet
It turns out that if you freeze, puree and re-freeze cubed watermelon, it transforms into the most refreshing frozen dessert ever. Genius.
Friday Breakfast: 10-Minute Smoked Salmon, Spinach and Egg White Wraps
Bring on the protein and healthy fats. Ditch the tortilla (and the carbs that come with it) and wrap smoked salmon and baby spinach in an egg white omelet instead. Fill it with avocado, roasted red peppers, asparagus and any other veggies you have on hand.
Friday Lunch: Watermelon Poke Bowls
Tuna who? You won’t miss the fish once you taste this fresh take on a Hawaiian staple. Melon, cucumber and microgreens make it refreshing while peanuts and sesame seeds add the most important factor, crunch.
Friday Dinner: Creamy Vegan Lentil and Roasted Vegetable Bake
The ultimate vegan comfort food. Its secret is a rich cashew cream sauce made with garlic, lemon and nutritional yeast. Want to make it gluten-free? Ditch the breadcrumb topping for double the toasted pine nuts.
Friday Dessert: Coconut No-Bake Cookies
Raw peanut butter. Cocoa powder. Oats. Shredded coconut. These treats are as wholesome as they are dangerously snackable.
Saturday Breakfast: Homemade Cereal
We know, we love the sugary stuff too. But this combo of rolled oats and white and black sesame seeds will give you the crunch you’re craving and the energy you’re lacking. Try it with macadamia, almond or coconut milk.
Saturday Lunch: Healthy Orange Cauliflower
Your go-to Chinese restaurant order, reinvented. The best part is you only need six ingredients to make it, and most of them are conveniently pantry staples. Swap white rice for quinoa and dig in.
Saturday Dinner: Greek Lemon Chicken Skewers with Tzatziki Sauce
Fire up the grill for a main that’s equal parts healthy, simple and delicious. Not only are the skewers dippable, but the chicken is cooked in lemon-yogurt marinade to boot.
Saturday Dessert: Roasted Mixed Nuts
Your gym buddies will be so proud. A handful of freshly-roasted nuts seasoned with rosemary, oregano, garlic powder and flaky salt will hold you over until morning.
Sunday Breakfast: Healthy Peanut Butter Granola Bars
Three ingredients + 30 minutes = the easiest, filling on-the-go breakfast. If you don’t have a food processor to combine the ingredients, use the blender instead.
Sunday Lunch: Vegan Mega-Burritos
We hope you brought your appetite. Sink your teeth into layers of walnut taco "meat," avocado, salsa and cashew queso. It’ll only take you 10 minutes to put together. Just be sure to use a low-carb tortilla made with ingredients like cassava or almond flour.
Sunday Dinner: Chickpea and Vegetable Coconut Curry
Your favorite local Thai restaurant will miss you. Transform a lowly can of chickpeas into a half-hour delight with the help of red curry paste, fresh ginger, lime juice and coconut milk.
Sunday Dessert: 5-Ingredient Vegan, Gluten-Free Cookies
Oh, banana. Is there anything you can’t do? We think not, especially with sidekicks like dates and natural almond butter.