Low-Volume, High-Density Vegan Meal Plan, With Easy Recipes

I can't be the only one who gets tired of eating massive plates of food and feeling stuffed all the time. I love salads and roasted veggies as much as the next guy, but sometimes I need a break from all the big meals. At times like these, it's handy to know what to eat to keep meal sizes down without dropping your calories too significantly. To that end, here's a 2500 kcal meal plan for a full day of vegan eats. Jump straight to the vegan recipes or the meal plan.

The meals consist largely of wholesome, homemade snacks that greatly reduce time spent cooking each week. I'll be sharing my spin on the classic peanut-buttery energy ball, I call them "power bites." These little morsels have been a lifesaver for me; I whip up a single batch and I've got snacks for a week. Not to mention they're healthier and cheaper than buying boxes of Clif bars – they're not filled with brown rice syrup, for one thing (arsenic begone!).

Mmmm ... Tasty, Delicious Fats

One thing to keep in mind is that this is a high fat meal plan, that's the nature of calorically-dense foods, but the fats are entirely from whole food sources, no oils. Some people may not desire such a high fat intake on a daily basis. It's still a plenty controversial topic, so I'll let you decide whether or not it's a healthy choice for you. Either way, the point is that it gives you a great break from all the high-volume cooking and eating. This basically feels like eating two meals and some snacks throughout the day.

Typical vegan diets are anywhere from 1.5 to 2X the volume for the same amount of calories. For those of you who have to eat four big, veggie-filled meals on top of heaping beds of rice to meet your nutritional needs, it can't hurt to give yourself a break every once in a while. You could love those giant, low calorie meals – I'm not complaining – but a little variety never hurt anybody.

Your Well-Being Hangs in the Balance(d Diet)

I've done my best to put together a decently balanced meal plan, so what supplements still need to be considered? As always, some nutrients are not feasibly obtained from your food. Namely B12 is not found in sufficiently reliable amounts in vegan food sources – I don't recommend relying on nutritional yeast to meet your B12 needs, especially because it's an inexpensive supplement. I take 1000mcg of B12 from cyanocobalamin 2X per week [link to Jack Norris, RD, B12 recommendation].

The RDA for zinc is met but plant sources may not be absorbed quite as well, so vegans could consider shooting for 50% more than the recommendation. Zinc is ridiculously cheap, just break the standard 50mg tablets into quarters (the full 50mg is not intended for long-term use), and make sure the zinc is derived from gluconate to avoid cadmium contamination. The word on the street is that keeping your zinc levels up could reduce your risk of catching colds, so it's well worth the $6 to grab a bottle that'll last you over a year.

One area where the meal plan falls short is calcium. The RDA in the US is 1000mg, though there's anything but a consensus on this value; the RDA in the UK is 700mg – this meal plan reaches just over 650mg. There is some thought that having a somewhat lower calcium intake can reasonably maintain a healthy bone density when combined with adequate sunlight and weight-bearing exercise or impact sports (e.g. running). If you live up north, it's probably a good idea to take a vegan vitamin D3 supplement in the winter to make up for the lack of sunshine.

I remain skeptical of calcium supplementation due to potentially increased risk of stone formation. I think the 1000mg recommendation is unnecessarily high. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I'd be suspicious the dairy industry had a hand in that number. As always, check with your physician if you're unsure, especially for those over 50. If you want to increase your calcium intake, you can always eat more kale, collard greens and chia seeds, all of which are potent plant sources of calcium (blackstrap molasses, too, if you don't mind a little sugar).

One last item to note is water intake. Obviously the higher-density of the food means lower water content, so drink more water to make up for it, perhaps 10 cups.

Easy Peasy Lemon-Tahini Squeezy

Along with the power bites, I'm including a super simple hummus recipe. Both recipes require a food processor, and it helps to have a separate $10 coffee grinder for grinding up the flax seeds for the power bites – it's a handy appliance to have when you don't want to muck up your regular coffee grinder with seeds, spices, or when you want to make some fancy flours out of grains and nuts you have lying around.

The beauty of this meal plan is that it's super easy to meal prep. The power bites should last you a week, and, depending on the capacity of your food processor, the hummus can be doubled or tripled to store in the fridge for later. If you're feeling impish, the processor should be clean enough after scooping out the last of the power bite mixture to go straight into whipping up the hummus without having to clean everything twice. All right already, here are the recipes:

Makes 18 power bites.
Chop together in the food processor until you have a chunky flour:

2/3 cup desiccated coconut*
1 cup rolled oats
3 tbsp ground chia seeds
3 tbsp ground sesame seeds
2 tbsp ground flax seeds (you can grind the seeds together in the spare coffee grinder)
1/4 cup your choice of nuts
1/4 cup whole sunflower seeds
1/4 cup dried cranberries or raisins
Add the wet ingredients to the chunky flour and process until thoroughly combined:

10 tbsp peanut butter (a bit more than a third of a 16oz jar)
1/4 cup agave nectar
Scoop out with a spoon and compress into balls/ovals. Store in the fridge to set.
*If you can't find desiccated coconut, shaved/chipped coconut will do. Just chop up the coconut chips in the food processor until they're in fine pieces, then continue to add the rest of the dry ingredients.

Makes a single batch of hummus.
Process until smooth:

1 15oz can garbanzo beans, rinsed thoroughly
2 tbsp tahini
1/4 cup lite coconut milk
1 clove garlic
1 lemon, juiced
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp salt, or to taste

The Low-Volume, High-Density Vegan Meal Plan

Breakfast - On the Go Protein Fat Carbs kcal
3 power bites 13 32 31 470
1 banana 1 0 23 100
1 cup unsweetened, unfortified soymilk 9 4.5 1 100

Lunch - Pita Pockets Protein Fat Carbs kcal
1 batch hummus 27.5 29 57.5 655
1 large pita bread 8 1.5 42 220
1 medium avocado 2.5 19 2 205
1 medium tomato, diced 1 0 3 20
6 green olives, chopped 0 3 0 30
2 tsp sesame seeds 1 4 0 40
2 tsp nutritional yeast 4 0 2 30
fresh parsley for garnish #

Dinner - Steamed Veggies Protein Fat Carbs kcal
2 medium (about 300g) sweet potato, steamed 4 0.5 46 230
1/2 cup kale, steamed 1 0 2.5 20
balsamic vinegar to taste #

Snacks Protein Fat Carbs kcal
2 bananas 2 0.5 46 200
1/4 cup cashews 6 14 9 180

Total Protein Fat Carbs kcal
78 108 264* 2500
*Value for net carbs. Total carbs is 336g including 72g of fiber.

If you want to throw in more calories, it's super easy. Substitute the lite coconut milk in the hummus with full-fat coconut milk, add a couple tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Have another power bite, another banana, another glass of soymilk. Eat some more handfuls of nuts, peanuts would be the cheapest option, or crackers with peanut butter. Bon appetit!

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