By: Jane Birch
WFPB food preparation very naturally becomes easier the more you do it. Don’t despair if it takes time at first. Make it an adventure/hobby, at least for a few weeks! It takes time for your taste buds to change and to find the foods you love and learn to make them just right. Once you have a few meals you love and know how to prepare, the bulk of the work is over. As you continue to make these same meals and experiment with new ones, you’ll very quickly figure out ways to make food preparation VERY manageable.
People have a tendency to over-think and complicate WFPB cooking when they first start. Take it one week at a time. Don’t start worrying now about Thanksgiving, the Church potluck or your summer family reunion. By keeping it simple and taking it one step at a time, you’ll soon develop the skills you need for any situation.
Here are some top strategies for saving time:
- Plan at least a week in advance so you can do all your shopping at once. See also: Meal Planning.
- Cook foods in large quantities so you have lots of leftovers. (As a single person, I can usually prepare 3–6 days worth of food at one time. I keep some in the freezer.)
- Use some frozen vegetables and fruits and some canned goods like tomatoes and beans. These are already chopped and can save lots of time. The nutrient loss (if any) is minimal compared to the time saved.
- Find a few recipes or meals you like and repeat these over and over so you are not constantly trying new recipes. The average family needs only 6-8 recipes.
- Instead of relying on new recipes for variety, use the same recipes but change them up by swapping ingredients, like alternative vegetables, grains, or spices.
- Most recipes are forgiving. You don’t need to run to the store to get “every” ingredient listed! Experiment with substitutions or just leave things out.
- Find some tricks to “saving” almost any meal if it does not turn out as good as you hoped. Some of my standbys include hot sauce (like Tabasco sauce), jalapeños (or other peppers), salsa, fruit, or even a little more salt.
- Use simple meal templates instead of recipes (see below).
Using Simple Meal Templates
There are thousands of WFPB recipes you can find in fancy cookbooks or free on the Internet (see WFPB Recipes). Many of them are wonderful, but they sometimes require good cooking skills, lots of ingredients, and plenty of time. Whether you are a fantastic cook or just a novice, a great alternative is to use simple templates to prepare foods. Please remember: if you are just starting out, it may take a few weeks for your taste buds to adjust; don’t get discouraged; keep moving forward in faith!
BASIC BREAKFAST TEMPLATE
- Cook any whole grain (cracked or bulgar wheat; 5, 7, or 10-grain cereal; rolled, Scottish, or steel cut oats; brown rice; quinoa, etc.). Make a big batch to last many days.
- For sweet cereals, add fruit (and a little sweetener if needed) along with a low-fat non-dairy milk (rice, soy, almond, etc.).
- For a savory breakfast, add some veggies cooked in a little soy sauce or other favorite sauce.
(For more breakfast ideas see, PCRM Recipe Archive: Breakfasts.)
BASIC LUNCH OR DINNER TEMPLATE
- Choose a starch.
- Add whatever vegetables you like.
- Use sauces and/or spices for added flavor.
- Have a piece of fruit for dessert.
For some great photos of simple WFPB meals using templates, see My Meals by Cathy Fisher (Straight Up Food blog).
More details on these basic templates:
1. Choose a starch. One of the keys to successfully switching to a WFPB diet is to eat enough whole starch foods. These foods are key to good health, weight control, and avoiding hunger. Make any one (or a combination) of these starches at least half your plate:
Whole grains: barley, oats, brown rice, quinoa, wheat berries (whole wheat kernels), buckwheat, rye, bulgur (a type of cracked wheat), triticale, corn, wild rice, millet. (Add 2-3 parts water to one part grain and cook until the water is mostly absorbed.)
Roots: white potatoes, sweet potatoes, celeriac (celery root), tapioca, Jerusalem artichoke, taro root, jicama, parsnips, rutabaga. (Steam or boil on the stove, bake in the oven, or cook in a microwave.)
Winter squashes: butternut, acorn, hubbard, banana, pumpkin, buttercup, turban squash. (Steam or boil on the stove, bake in the oven, or cook in a microwave.)
Legumes: Beans (adzuki, red kidney, black, mung, fava/broad, navy, garbanzo, pink, great northern, pinto, limas, white kidney/ cannellini); Lentils (brown, red, green); Peas (black-eyed, split yellow, split green, whole green). (You can buy these frozen or in cans or cook them yourself—cook in large quantities and freeze in small bags.)
2. Add vegetables. Add one or many more vegetables to your liking (for weight loss, add A LOT in volume!). There are so many to choose from. Vary them week-by-week for different flavors and nutrients if you like. Don’t worry if you don’t like most vegetables. Just start with what you like. Here are easy ways to cook them:
- Sauté without oil (use water, vegetable broth or any other non-oil liquid instead).
- Steam on the stove.
- Microwave (you can use any container, but I like using a silicone container with a lid).
- Roast in oven (instead of oil, try balsamic vinegar, oil-free sauce, or juice).
- Boil in water (you lose more nutrients this way, but you should be eating so many vegetables that the nutrients you lose won’t make a difference health-wise).
- Eat raw.
How to sauté onions without oil:
- Use a good non-stick pan (like Berndes or Swiss Diamond) or a high quality regular pan (and watch it more carefully). Let it get hot.
- To hot, dry pan, add chopped onion and allow it to start to brown. It may appear to stick a little but let it get brown and caramelize without adding any water (otherwise you will start poaching the onion instead of sautéing).
- Once it starts to get brown, add a couple of tablespoons of non-oil liquid (e.g. water, juice, broth) but not too much (to avoid cooling the pan). The water added will bubble and steam.
- Immediately mix the onions around the pan with a non-metal spatula, using the small amount of water just added to collect the brown, caramelized contents from the sides of the pan.
- Add another couple of tablespoons of water to the pan and repeat the same process until the onions are brown and caramelized.
3. Use sauces and/or spices. The possibilities here are endless! Don’t be afraid to try new things.
Spices. Experiment with different spices and spice mixes (like Mrs. Dash or Table Tasty Salt Substitute). For a useful chart for matching spices with vegetables, see for “Herbs & Spices.”
Sauces. There are lots of WFPB recipes for sauces (see “WFPB Sauces”). There are also many sauces you can buy that fit the whole food, plant-based guidelines. Study the labels carefully to avoid animal foods and minimize sugar, salt, oil, and food additives. Here are sauces you can easily find:
- Salsas (there is a huge variety you can buy or you can easily make your own).
- Hot sauces (HUGE variety). I think Tabasco sauce spices up any dish.
- Mustard (many varieties).
- Vinegar (many varieties).
- Soy sauce, tamari, or Bragg’s Amino Acids (get low-sodium varieties).
- Vegetable or fruit relishes.
This Walnut Sauce recipe is as easy and delicious as they get. Almost everyone I know loves it. I use it on rice, potatoes, and any cooked vegetables.
Mix these ingredients in a food processor or blender:
1 cup walnut pieces
1 cup water
2–3 garlic cloves
2–4 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce or tamari sauce
Check out Chef AJ’s Yum Sauce
Check out dozens of sauce recipes: WFPB Sauces
4. Enjoy fruit for dessert. Once you have stopped eating sugary desserts, the fruit will taste sweet and satisfying.
Popular Food Templates
The following templates are well known to all of us. It is easy to be creative and find endless variety with little effort or just make it simple with 3–4 ingredients! Don’t make it too complicated. Remember you can use frozen or canned veggies and beans and pre-cooked or frozen grains (check out Jeff Novick’s 10 Healthiest Packaged Foods).
Note how each of these templates is a variation on the basic template: (1) starch; (2) vegetables; (3) sauces/spices.
Sandwiches or pitas. Get good whole grain vegan bread or pita bread with little or no added oil. Add your favorite veggies, like cucumber, tomatoes, lettuce, mushrooms, and sprouts. Mustard or low-fat hummus works great as a spread.
Burritos, tortillas, and tacos. Find whole wheat, brown rice, whole spelt, or corn tortillas. Fill with rice and/or beans or sweet potatoes and veggies. Top with shredded lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, black olives, etc. Use vegan taco seasoning or other Mexican spices if desired. Enjoy with salsa.
Enchiladas. Layer corn tortillas with beans, brown rice, enchilada sauce (homemade or store bought) and vegetables like onions, bell peppers, carrots, and zucchini.
Rice and/or bean bowl. This is an easy favorite for many people. You can season the beans with cumin or other spices. Add your favorite vegetables. Flavor them with soy sauce, salsa, enchilada sauce or another favorite sauce and top with green onions, cilantro, etc. See an example recipe here.
Mexican gumbo. Mix together a can of kidney, pinto, and/or black beans (juice and all); a cup of corn (or not); and a can of fire roasted diced tomatoes. Heat and add hot sauce.
Soup. A good vegetable and/or bean or lentil soup can be very filling. This is great for weight-loss because of the amount of water. Here is a good example of a quick soup template: ‘Minutes’trone Soup
Pasta. Use whole-grain pasta as much as possible. Make sure there are no eggs. Make or purchase low-fat vegan pasta sauce (like marinara) and add lots of cooked veggies.
Pizza. Find (or purchase) a low-fat whole grain crust. Top with pizza sauce, pineapple, and vegetables. See guide to plant-based pizza.
Stir-fry. Stir-fry veggies you love, like peppers, carrots, and onions. Try some Asian favorites: water chestnuts, garlic, bok choy, bean sprouts, cabbage, or tofu. Flavor with soy sauce or other Asian sauces (I love adding a little Mae Ploy sweet chili sauce or any garlic chili sauce). Serve with brown rice or whole grain noodles.
Baked potatoes or potato bar. There is a huge variety of potatoes and lots of ways to cook them: bake, boil, steam, pressure cook or even microwave. Top with tomatoes, beans, corn and/or any type of raw or cooked vegetable: green onions, mushrooms, sprouts, jalapeños, etc. There are many possible vegan toppings: salsa or pico de gallo, barbecue sauce, soup, chili, sauerkraut, kimchi, or favorite condiments.
Mashed potatoes. Add non-dairy milk or veggie broth as you mash them. You can also mix in garlic, nutritional yeast, and/or seasonings.
Baked parcels. Cook any combination of vegetables/beans/rice you like, wrapped in parchment paper. Season with spices, herbs, Italian sauce, chili peppers, soy sauce, etc. Bake about 45 min. at 360º. See a demonstration here (note she doesn’t use all WFPB ingredients): CookingWithPlants.
Salad or salad bar. Choose your favorite veggies (adding fruit also works well). Include a starch: corn, beans, whole wheat bread or potatoes. If you are used to traditional fat-filled dressings, it may take some time to get used to non-oil dressings. Don’t worry—your tastes will change! Here is a simple no-oil salad dressing I make that has worked very well for me:
3-2-1 Salad Dressing
Mix these ingredients:
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons mustard of choice (I use Dijon)
1 tablespoon maple syrup
Check out dozens of salad dressings: WFPB Salad Dressings
Eating large meals will help cut down on the need to snack, but it is also good to have some healthy snacks around. Here are a few I like (note that most of these are more calorie dense, so keep that in mind if you want to lose weight quickly):
Fruit. This is the best! I especially love frozen grapes, YUM!
Microwaved popcorn. Put no more than ¼ cup of popcorn kernels into a small brown lunch bag; fold the top well, microwave until the popping slows way down. I like to spray some soy sauce on it for flavor. I sometimes also add some spices or nutritional yeast. This works well, but I’ve burned the popcorn enough times that I now use this microwavable popcorn popper. You can also use a hot air popcorn maker.
Potato slices. Microwave 5 minutes each side, or 20–25 minutes in the oven at 425º. Dip in no-oil hummus, salsa, or ketchup.
Corn tortillas. Cut into fourths, bake on a cookie sheet at 425º for ten minutes. Dip in salsa or a bean dip.
Raw veggies. Dip in a no-oil hummus.
Cold cereal. Choose a whole grain cereal with low sugar/fat.
Smoothies. Try making them green with lots of green leafy vegetables. Add crushed ice and a little fruit for sweetness. Experiment with non-dairy milks.
Check out dozens of snack ideas: WFPB Snacks
How Other People (Including Pros) Make WFPB Easy
- Cathy Fisher (Straight Up Food): My Meals
- Jeff Novick’s 5-minute meals: My Simple Recipes (See also: Quick & Easy Basic Recipes)
- Jeff Novick’s WFPB DVDs: The Cooking Series
- Chef AJ’s video on making these meals simple: “Easy Meals to Make You Thin.”
- This excellent cookbook used all templates! The Foodie Bar Way by Timaree Hagenburger
- Matt Jager: The Chipotle Method: How To Prepare 40,320 Plant-Based Meals In 5 Minutes Or Less
- Mark Sutton: Plant-Based Diet in a Hurry: Time-Saving Tips & Tricks
- Jeff Nelson has a video showing a typical day of eating: What I Eat in a Day
- Here are some great examples from Lindsay Nixon’s The Happy Herbivore Guide to Plant-based Living.
Lindsay’s template: Grain/Potato + Bean/Tofu + Greens/Veg + Sauce
- Brown Rice + Kale + Black Beans + Pineapple or Peach Salsa
- Quinoa + Baby Spinach + White Beans + Strawberries + Balsamic Dressing
- Pasta + Broccoli + Chickpeas + Marinara Sauce
- Tortilla + Spinach + Tomato + Hummus
- Quinoa + Chickpeas + Bell Pepper + Italian dressing
- Sweet Potato + Black Beans + Corn + Enchilada Sauce
- Potato + Kale + Chickpeas + Gravy
- Brown Rice + Black Eyed Peas + Corn + BBQ Sauce
- Brown Rice + Frozen Mixed Veg + Tofu or Edamame + Soy Sauce
- Quinoa + Tempeh + Pineapple + Teriyaki Sauce
Lindsay suggests, “You can expand on any of these by adding sliced green onions or diced red onion, or another vegetable (cherry tomatoes pretty much go with anything) . . . If you can open a can, you can make these meals— and you can make them in the time it takes you to open the can. You can find precooked grains (like quinoa or brown rice) on the shelf or freezer of any store and they take a minute or two to heat up. Canned beans just need a rinse. The vegetables might need a moment in the microwave or steamer and the same for the sauces.”
Meals and Meals Plans You Can Purchase
- PlantPure Jumpstart (continental United States)
- Happy Herbivore: 7-day Meal Plans (anywhere)
- Forks Over Knives: Fresh Meals to Your Door (limited areas)
What I Eat
I am not a cook. I really mean that. You cannot be a worse cook than I am. When I first started this diet, I struggled so much that I finally got on the McDougall Discussion Board to plead for help. Others with experience responded with lots of great recipes and other ideas for succeeding. You can still read the posts here: “Help! I’m NOT enjoying my new food.”
It took me awhile, but after a few weeks, my taste buds changed, and I figured out what I liked. Since then, I’ve LOVED the food! If I can do this, ANYONE (over the age of 12) can do this. There are many wonderful foods you can eat on this diet. My way is extremely simple, and it works for me. Here is what I normally eat:
Breakfast: a whole grain, hot cereal (cracked or bulgar wheat; 5, 7, or 10-grain cereal; rolled, Scottish, or steel cut oats; brown rice; quinoa, etc.). My favorite is steel cut oats. I top it with chopped fresh fruit and frozen banana for sweetening and use non-dairy milk. I am also add a tablespoon of ground flax seed. This is all so delicious that before I go to bed each night, I’m already looking forward to breakfast!
You can cook whole grain cereals in the microwave, a slow cooker, pressure cooker, or rice cooker. On stovetop: Bring 2–3 parts water to boil, add 1 part grain, and turn down heat to low as you stir; then cover and cook for 10-30 minutes (depending on how chewy you like your cereal) without opening the lid (make sure you turn down the heat low enough that it won’t boil over). With a very large pan, you can make enough cereal to last you quite a few days, then just reheat in the microwave each day. I make one big batch (6 cups of dry oats) a week and then microwave a HUGE serving every morning in a silicone container.
Lunch and Dinner: My meals usually have three parts:
A starch. I make a starch item the center of each meal. My favorite is different varieties of brown rice. I cook a large batch in a top-of-the-line Asian rice cooker. The cooker does make a difference. Get an Asian brand, like the Korean Cuckoo (I have a Cuckoo CRP-HV0667F).
Beans. I use a variety over time. Beans are inexpensive; buy low-sodium beans in cans (drain and rinse before using). They are even cheaper if you cook them yourself in a pressure cooker or slow cooker. I cook a big batch in a pressure cooker and then freeze them in small bags. I often add dry (or soaked) beans to the dry rice before cooking the rice.
Veggies. These also vary widely, and I often have two to four kinds on my plate, though one is enough. I typically steam or sauté them, but they can also be boiled, roasted, or microwaved. You can experiment with adding spices, but I’m not very good at that. I do like to sauté some garlic and onion in a little water or vegetable broth; then after it is cooked, I add the vegetable and continue to cook until done, maybe adding some low-sodium tamari (a Japanese soy sauce) and chili garlic sauce. Adding tomatoes also works for me since I like juicy foods.
Note: I use no sodium or very low sodium ingredients and add no salt while cooking, but then I sometimes add salt once the food is on my plate. I often use some “walnut sauce” on the veggies and/or beans and rice (see recipe above). I love to add fruit to my meals or eat afterward as dessert. I also frequently have a very large salad for a meal (greens, a few veggies, garbanzo beans, fruit, etc.) with the 3-2-1 dressing (see above). I’m addicted to arugula! I also eat other foods, but the above is my mainstay.
Treats. I often eat healthy snacks that are not calorie dense, but I occasionally eat a sparing amount of more calorie dense foods for a treat (e.g. dried fruit, whole grain cold cereal, fruit smoothies, nuts, WFPB cookies, avocado). I know people on a SAD diet who are trying to include more of these types of foods into their diet because they are so much healthier than SAD. So, for some people, these are the healthiest foods they eat, whereas for me, they are the richest foods I eat.
More WFPB Food Resources
Last updated: June 18, 2016