Veganism: Vegan Meal Plans for Beginners

When Sarah Tormey was a teenager, she and her high school friends went on a vegan diet for two weeks as a dare.

“I was already a vegetarian, but I felt so much better eating a vegan diet, so I never stopped,” says Tormey, who lives in New York’s Hudson Valley.

Since then, Tormey has remained a vegan for over 25 years and has passed along her enjoyment of veganism to her teenage son.

“Veganism is a great way to explore more foods,” Tormey says. “Our family eats a lot of Asian and Mediterranean-based foods, such as veggie stir fry or falafel.”

Like Tormey, many people with a desire to boost their health and energy are exploring a vegan diet. Others are going vegan for other reasons, such as protecting the planet or supporting animal rights. For some, the prospect of giving up cheese, fish and many other animal-based products can be daunting.

Still, millions of people follow the vegan diet. About 3% of the U.S. population adheres to a vegan eating regimen, according to a 2018 Gallup poll. That translates to nearly 10 million people in a country of 330 million people.

What Is a Vegan Diet?

Veganism is a plant-based way of eating that consists of fruits, vegetables legumes, nuts, whole grains and other plants, as well as plant-based dairy products. The vegan diet avoids all foods and byproducts that come from animals, including:

— Dairy.

— Eggs.

— Seafood.

— Meat.

— Poultry.

— Honey.

There can be confusion between vegan and vegetarian diets, but while they both exclude meat, the main difference is a vegan diet also excludes dairy, eggs and animal byproducts, such as honey. Many times, those who follow a vegan lifestyle also do not use any products that are made from or tested on animals, including leather and some personal care products.

[READ: What Happens to Your Body If You Go Vegan for a Month?]

Benefits of Going Vegan

There are many benefits to eating a vegan diet from being good for your overall health to having positive impacts on the environment. For example, a 2022 clinical trial of 164 male and female participants with Type 2 diabetes suggests that both a low-carbohydrate vegan and vegetarian diet can reduce body weight and improve glycemic control and blood pressure.

A literature review of clinical evidence in the journal Nutrients showed plant-based dietary patterns like the vegan diet contributed to preventing and reducing the odds of developing Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia. They found the impact was related not only to its specific dietary components, but also to the reduction of risk factors — including diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular diseases — associated with that way of eating.

What’s more, plant-based diets have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Research suggests that agriculture, particularly livestock production, is a key contributor to climate change.

[READ: Which Diet Is Best? Plant-Based, Low-Fat vs. Animal-Based, Low-Carb]

Tips for Starting a Vegan Diet

Whether your motive is to drop pounds, protect the environment or save animals, veganism can be a big lifestyle change for some, especially if you plan to stick with it for a while. Here are a few tips for easing into a vegan diet:

— Start off slowly.

— Read ingredient labels.

— Pay attention to protein.

— Supplement, supplement, supplement.

— Embrace meal prepping.

— Enjoy variety.

— “Veganize” your favorite foods.

— Consider consulting with a registered dietitian with an expertise in plant-based eating.

[READ: Tips to Adjust to a Plant-Based Diet.]

Start off slowly

If you’re interested in eating a vegan diet, it may be beneficial to start slow. For example, you might begin by working meatless Mondays into your usual routine.

Do that for a couple of weeks, then try a flexitarian diet, which is plant-based but allows for eating animal products — like steak, poultry or fish — on occasion.

“A lot of people find it helpful to transition to veganism gradually, over a period of a few weeks,” says Sharon Palmer, a registered dietitian and food writer in the Los Angeles area.

Read ingredient labels

Since there are restrictions to eating a vegan diet, it is important to read ingredient labels to make sure a product meets your criteria, especially in the beginning as you are learning how to incorporate it into your daily life. Keeping to a plant-based diet makes it necessary to be conscious of what you eat overall to make sure you are meeting all of your nutritional requirements.

Pay attention to protein

Protein is a critical component of a healthy diet. Our bodies use protein in many functions, including building and repairing muscle, keeping bones healthy, making hormones and enzymes, oxygenating the blood and supporting the immune system.

While most Americans get enough protein in their diet, shifting to a vegan diet could cause a drop in protein intake if you’re not adequately replacing animal protein with plant-based sources of protein.

The current recommended dietary allowance, or RDA, for adults is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight (0.8 grams of protein per kilogram). This is the minimum daily intake to prevent a deficiency. That means, a 140-pound person needs around 50 grams of protein each day, and a 200-pound person needs around 72 grams of protein each day. However, keep in mind that certain factors — such as physical activity levels, gender and age — play a role.

“It’s completely possible to get the protein you need on a plant-based diet,” says Alexandra Oppenheimer Delvito, a registered dietitian based in New York City. “Eating a variety of plant protein sources throughout the day helps ensure you are getting enough of all the essential amino acids, which are the building blocks for proteins that our bodies cannot make on their own.”

Supplement, supplement, supplement

Many of the foods on a vegan diet are rich in certain nutrients, such as vitamins A, C and E, but they may be lacking in other nutrients, such as calcium, iron and vitamins B12 and D.

You’ll need to consume supplements and fortified foods to meet all of your nutritional needs on a full vegan diet.

“Specifically, we get vitamin B12 only from animals, so if you’re vegan be sure to take a supplement with 100% RDA,” says Jill Weisenberger, a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator based in Yorktown, Virginia. “Vitamin D is also hard to get, as is zinc and a few other nutrients.”

Speak with your health care provider or a registered dietitian to figure out which supplements are right for you.

When selecting supplements, make sure to check what the capsules are made of. Oftentimes, capsule shells are made of gelatin from animal parts, typically cows or pigs. While this is not vegan, you can find vegan-friendly capsules made from vegetable-derived cellulose, known as hydroxypropyl methylcellulose, or HPMC, for short.

Embrace meal prepping

It’s really hard to eat a healthy, plant-based diet if you don’t have essentials on hand to prepare vegan meals, Palmer says. Many of the healthy foods and seasonings you’ll want to have on hand are pantry staples that you can store for a long time. Whole grains, pulses, nuts and seeds, as well as herbs and spices, are good choices.

It’s also a good idea to store low-sodium or unsalted canned vegetables and beans and canned fruits without added sugars. Frozen fruits and veggies are also good to keep in stock. Keeping these ingredients on hand will make it easier to prepare healthy vegan meals.

Vegan dishes you can prepare and refrigerate include:

— Grain bowls.

— Pasta bowls.

— Hearty salads.

Consider setting aside some time each week to prepare several meals at a time that you can keep in the refrigerator. Each of these can include a variety of fresh veggies and fruits, such as broccoli, cauliflower, sliced carrots and avocado slices.

If you need help with meal prepping, consider a vegan meal delivery service that conveniently delivers meal kits or fully prepared meals right to your door.

For more recipe inspiration, consider taking a cooking class, where you can learn how to prepare an array of dishes that will help you vary your vegan eating regimen. Talk to friends who follow the approach, or you can join a Facebook group for vegan eaters for a sense of support and camaraderie, Weisenberger suggests. Finding like-minded people is helpful.

Enjoy variety

Variety is key to maintaining your commitment, enjoying your meals and optimizing health no matter your diet.

“It’s easier to stick with a way of eating if you have a wide selection of delicious, healthy foods you enjoy,” Delvito says.

Incorporating a variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices of different colors and flavors also provides a mix of nutrients and polyphenols, which are strong antioxidants found in plants that support good health and immune function. Flavonoids, a group of polyphenols, have been shown to be beneficial for cardiometabolic health.

Foods that are rich in flavonoids include:



— Soy products.

Tea, such as black, green, oolong and white teas.

“Veganize” your favorite foods

It can be easy to make a vegan version of your favorite meal, Palmer says. For instance, if you love lasagna, you can prepare your version of this dish by leaving out the meat and subbing in lots of vegetables, like eggplant, spinach, summer squash and zucchini.

Keep in mind, most of your meals should consist of beans, lentils, peas, whole grains and a variety of vegetables. For lasagna, you could use either traditional pasta or pulse-based based versions. Palmer notes that individuals can find many vegan recipes and dish ideas online.

Consider consulting with a registered dietitian with an expertise in plant-based eating

If you’re starting a vegan diet it would be helpful to meet with a registered dietitian who knows about vegan diets. They can help you come up with a personalized eating plan and find the right supplements to round out your plant-based diet.

“They can help create a meal plan that works for you so you can meet all of your nutritional needs,” Palmer says.

However, don’t assume that all registered dietitians are familiar with vegan diets. Check the websites of registered dietitians and talk to them about their familiarity with vegan diets.

Best Foods to Eat for Vegans

Here are some of the best foods for a vegan diet that are full of nutritious fiber, vitamins and minerals:

Meat substitutes

— Beans.


— Lentils.

— Mushrooms.

— Tempeh.


Plant-based protein



— Hemp.

— Lentils.

— Mankai.

— Pea protein.

— Seitan.

— Soy protein.

Whole grains.

Plant-based milks

— Almond milk.

— Cashew milk.

— Coconut milk.

— Hemp milk.

— Oat milk.

— Pea milk.

— Soy milk.

Keep in mind that some of these plant-based milks are not as nutrient-dense as dairy milk. Soy or pea plant milks are comparable to dairy milks in terms of protein content. Each type of milk has about 8 grams of protein per cup.

[See: Vegan Breakfast Ideas.]

Vegan Meal Ideas

There are many websites and cookbooks that can help you find vegan dishes to easily incorporate into your life. Here are some ideas:


Choose one:

Avocado toast on whole-wheat bread.

— Granola with plant-based milk like almond or soy milk.

— Oatmeal with seasonal fruit.

— Smoothies with silken tofu, almond milk, nut butters, fruits and spices such as vanilla and cinnamon.

LunchChoose one:

— Greek salad with arugula, chickpeas, red onions, Kalamata olives, tomatoes and a red wine vinaigrette.

— Hummus and veggie wrap.

— Roasted veggie sandwich with balsamic glaze.

— Tomato or red pepper soup with French bread.

DinnerChoose one:

— Lasagna with vegetables and vegan cheese.

— Tofu and vegetable stir fry.

— Quinoa pilaf with grilled tomatoes, zucchini and portobello mushrooms.

— Vegetable biryani with basmati rice.


— Apple slices and celery with peanut butter.

— Guacamole and salsa with chips.

— Kale chips.

— Roasted chickpeas with oil and spices like rosemary or curry.

Bottom Line

If you’re thinking about going vegan, there has never been a better time to do so than now. As more people become increasingly conscious of their health and the health of the planet, veganism has become more mainstream. These days, there are more products, websites, recipes and restaurant options available that cater to this lifestyle.

But just because a diet is “vegan,” it doesn’t automatically make it good or bad. A vegan diet can consist entirely of soda and cotton candy, says Dr. David Katz, former director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center in Derby, Connecticut, and one of U.S. News’ Best Diets expert panelists. As with any diet, it’s important to make sure your eating regimen is balanced and varied, and that you make good choices as to which vegan foods you consume.

More from U.S. News

Try These Vegan Potluck Ideas

14 Tips From Real People on the Vegan Diet

Vegan Breakfast Ideas

Veganism: Vegan Meal Plans for Beginners originally appeared on

Update 09/05/23: The story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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