As I’ve mentioned before, I work a pretty rigorous day job – not nearly as bad as it used to be at a previous place of employment (where 14 hour days were my “normal”), but still, I don’t have as much free time as I’d like to cook for myself on a daily basis. Because of that, back when I ate meat, I developed a really basic formula that would allow me to get dinner on the table in under 20 minutes on a busy weeknights – basically, the formula was meat + starch + cooked veggies or salad = dinner. This formula led to lots of different meal configurations – chicken and veggies mixed with pasta, steak and a potato with a side salad or steamed veggies, rice with scrambled eggs and broccoli mixed in, you get the idea. Since going vegan, I’ve had to re-think the formula, and it was a bit of an adjustment at first. In fact, for awhile, I was basically eating the same five things over and over again, and I found myself getting pretty bored in the beginning. But slowly but surely, I’ve been increasing the variety of foods in my diet, and I realized this week – as I assembled a plate of raw veggies, mini baked potatoes, hummus, and nuts without a second thought when I was short on time and in need of dinner – that I’ve managed to remaster the formula, and being vegan has finally become “easy” for me. Here’s the formula:
Veggies + healthy fats + protein source + carbs = meal.
For example, in the plate above, you’ll see I’ve got my veggies covered (snap peas, cucumbers), my healthy fats/protein (the almonds), and my carbs (the potatoes, the hummus). This formula is also the basis for some of my Three Ingredient Thursday recipes, like the Amaranth Walnut Bowl or the Green Machine (and will probably be the basis of lots more of those!).
Now, there’s definitely some overlap between the four categories, but I find that as long as I keep each of those four areas covered, whatever ends up on my plate makes for a well-balanced and filling meal.
Want to try the formula yourself but not sure which foods fit in which categories? Here’s a quick and easy guideline (it’s by no means an exhaustive list, but I think it’s safe to say that you’ll be able to find most of these foods at your standard US supermarket, which is key when it comes to easy vegan living).
Veggies: Anything leafy and/or green (kale and baby kale, spinach and baby spinach, every type of lettuce, broccoli, snap peas, snow peas, asparagus, cucumbers, celery), carrots, and bell peppers are my favorites.
Fats/Proteins: There is a TON of overlap between fats and proteins, so I’ve listed them together for ease of reference. My go-tos here are avocado, any type of nuts, nut butters, seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, etc.), seed butters, vegan “cheese”, quinoa (admittedly more of a protein source and not so much a fat), every type of bean (again, more of a protein than a fat source), vegan “meat” (I’m not a huge fan of faux-meat substitutes, to be honest, because I think it’s easier/better for you to just eat real food, but there’s definitely a place for faux-meat in a well-rounded vegan diet).
Carbs: Potatoes, sweet potatoes (a/k/a yams), eggplant, quinoa (yup, it’s a carb AND a protein!), beans (another food pulling double-duty!) amaranth, brown rice, oats.
So, for anyone thinking about going vegan and worrying that it’ll be too hard, or any newbie vegans who are struggling with meal planning, here you are – an easy, foolproof guide to a balanced meal!