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Want to start eating more plant based diet recipes? Here’s everything you need to know, including plant based protein ideas and recipes for every meal of the day!

Plant Based Diet for Beginners

Want to start experiencing the benefits of a plant based diet? You’ve come to the right place. Here at A Couple Cooks, we’re experts in plant based cooking, cookbook authors, and advocates for the joy of eating your veggies! We’ve devoted our careers to helping show you how to make eating vegetables delicious. Turns out, a plant based diet can be one of the most delicious, satisfying ways to eat. You’ll just need to start new habits that will result in filling, nutritious meals at every step of the way. Ready to get started?

What is a plant based diet?

First things first: let’s define what we’re talking about. The term plant based diet and whole food plant based diet (WFPB) have become very popular. But what do they actually mean? Does it mean you never eat any animal products, like a vegan diet? Or consume animal products in moderation?

According to Harvard Medical School, plant based eating focuses on foods primarily from plants. “It doesn’t mean that you are vegetarian or vegan and never eat meat or dairy. Rather, you are choosing more of your foods from plant sources.” This indicates that a plant based diet includes occasionally eating meat, like in a “semi-vegetarian” or “flexitarian” diet. Harvard and WebMD agree the following diets are included in the term plant based diet:

  • Semi-vegetarian or flexitarian. Someone who occasionally eats animal products, but not on a regular basis.
  • Pescatarian. Someone who does not eat meat and poultry, but still eats fish and seafood. Basically, a vegetarian plus seafood.
  • Vegetarian or Lacto-ovo vegetarian. Someone who does not eat meat, poultry, fish and seafood, but still includes dairy and eggs in their diet. (A Lacto vegetarian excludes all but eats dairy; an Ovo vegetarian excludes all but eats eggs.)
  • Vegan. Someone who eats not animal products at all: no eggs, no dairy, and no honey.

As you can see, there’s a lot of flexibility in a plant based diet! Take a moment to consider what type of diet will work in your lifestyle. Alex and I chose to eat flexitarian: we mainly eat vegetarian recipes and vegan recipes at home. But if we’re travelling or out to dinner, we’ll occasionally eat seafood or meat. This flexibly approach is what has made it sustainable for us to eat a mostly plant based diet for over 10 years!

What’s a whole food plant based (WFPB) diet?

The acronym WFPB is becoming a more widely-used term to stand for whole food plant based diet. It’s a diet that focuses on fresh, minimally processed foods that are mainly made of plants. Whole foods are minimally processed foods like vegetables and whole grains. Things like refined flours, sugars, and processed foods are not considered whole foods. Here’s a separate resource we wrote on the WFPB diet: Whole Food Plant Based Diet: Guide & Recipes.

Vegan Alfredo Sauce
This Vegan Fettuccine Alfredo sauce is made using cashews and cauliflower

Vegan vs plant based

You’ll find that some sources equate a “plant based diet” to being a synonym with a vegan diet: eating not animal products whatsoever. This is also a valid use of the term plant based diet. But for the purposes of this article, we’ll be using the flexible definition for “plant based diet” above.

However, vegan vs plant based recipe is a whole different matter! Keep reading.

So what is a plant based recipe?

Here’s an important distinction. What is a plant based recipe? In this post, a plant based recipe is the same as a vegan recipe and contains no animal products (meat, dairy, eggs, and honey). This approach still provides the flexibility for defining plant based diet. It just means that all of the plant based recipes you’ll find here are also vegan recipes. You can mix and match these recipes into your lifestyle as you choose.

Wild Rice Soup Recipe | Plant based diet | Whole foods plant based diet | Plant based protein
Wild Rice Soup is filled with whole grain rice and thickened with cashews

What are plant based foods? How do I get protein?

Plant based foods are any foods that contain no animal products (meat, dairy, eggs, honey). Here’s the most important part of plant based eating: protein is key for staying satiated and full. Alex and I have been doing this plant based eating thing for years. And we’ve learned the most important part of eating vegan and vegetarian recipes is to make sure they’re packed with protein. If not, we’ll be hungry an hour later!

Luckily, there lots of options for adding plant based protein to your meals to make them filling and nutritious. Here’s a plant based food list with the top protein-filled foods:

  • Legumes: Try lentils (red, green, brown, black, French), split peas, black-eyed peas, and beans (black, garbanzo or chickpeas, lima, navy, pinto, white, and kidney)
  • Grains: Try quinoa, barley, bulgur wheat, amaranth, millet, and brown and wild rice (see How to Cook Whole Grains)
  • Nuts and seeds: Try almonds, cashews, peanuts, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds
  • Soy: Soy based products like tofu and tempeh are rich in plant based protein; stick to 2 to 4 servings per week.*
  • Veggies: Some vegetables have protein, but in much lower amounts than the foods above. Some higher protein veggies are corn, broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and artichokes.

Variety is important!

When you’re eating lots of protein from plants, it’s important to get a wide variety of protein sources. The point isn’t just to eat a can of black beans every day! According to Harvard School of Public Health, make sure to mix up your sources so no “essential” components of protein are missing. For more on plant based protein and lots of recipes, go to All About Plant Based Protein.

Is soy healthy?

*According to the Harvard TH Chan School of Nutrition, soy is a nutrient-dense source of protein that can safely be consumed several times a week. It’s likely to provide health benefits—especially when eaten as an alternative to red and processed meat!

Notes on protein and Vitamin B12

  • If you eat a vegetarian diet that includes dairy and eggs, those foods are rich in protein as well, so you can keep these in mind to combine with the plant based proteins. Eating a flexitarian diet and occasionally eating meat or seafood makes it easy to incorporate protein.
  • Dairy, eggs, and seafood have the Vitamin B12, which is important for avoiding anemia and does not occur naturally in plants. If you eat a fully vegan or plant based diet, you may need to add a supplement (specifically vitamin B12) to make sure you receive all the nutrients required. Consult your doctor for more.
Best stir fry vegetables | Plant based diet | Whole foods plant based diet | Plant based protein
Best Teriyaki Stir Fry includes soy-based tempeh

How to start a plant based diet for beginners

Are you ready to get started? Unveiling, our most comprehensive list yet: how to start a plant based diet for beginners! Here’s what to do:

  • Review the recipes, listed by type. A plant based foods list is overwhelming. Here we’ve organized our recipes by type. Plant based eating revolves around main types of recipes based on function, from soups to sandwiches to tacos to breakfasts to snacks.
  • Remember plant based protein. Most of the recipes below are loaded with plant based protein. Review the list above, and if necessary serve with a side that includes it. A side salad with nuts and seeds or even a handful of almonds works.
  • Pick one and start! If you’re looking to start a plant based diet, you don’t have to know everything before you get started. Just pick one recipe and make it! If you like it, great! Save that for the future. If not, move on and keep trying things until you develop your tastes.

And now…all the plant based recipes!

Plant based cookbook

Plant based cookbook: Pretty Simple Cooking

Looking for a cookbook that outlines a plant based diet for beginners? This is exactly why Alex and I wrote the book, Pretty Simple Cooking! It’s all about making vegetables taste delicious, and features protein-packed vegetarian and vegan recipes. If you need more structure than a list of recipes, this is a great way to get plant based eating inspiration: right on paper!

Get it: Pretty Simple Cooking

Plant based diet meal plan

Plant based diet meal plan

If you’re looking for a way to put the plant based diet into action, our 28 Day Plant Based Meal Plan is a great place to start! It includes weekly dinner ideas, breakfast ideas, and lunch ideas, and a meal planning spreadsheet. You can also try out our Vegan Meal Plan, which has similar options.

We also have a Vegetarian Meal Plan and Pescatarian Meal Plan if you have a more flexible definition of plant based diet!

Benefits of eating a plant based diet

So, why do all this? Why eat a plant based diet? First, there are lots of health benefits of a plant based diet. What is the evidence of this? According to Harvard School of Public Health, the Mediterranean diet, rich in plant based food, has been shown to reduce risk of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, certain cancers, depression, and in older adults, better mental and physical function. A vegetarian diet has been shown to support health, including a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and increased longevity.

There are environmental benefits of a plant based diet as well. The EAT-Lancet Study that talks about how eating more plants and a little less meat is better for the planet. This New York Times Food and Climate Change article also shows that meat has the largest effect on greenhouse gases.

Alex and I started eating a mostly plant based diet about 10 years ago when we read a book called Food Matters by Mark Bittman. If it’s better for our health and the planet, why not give it a try? And in the process, we’ve found the most important thing: a plant based diet is the most delicious, too.

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Meet Sonja and Alex Overhiser: Husband and wife. Expert home cooks. Authors of recipes you’ll want to make again and again.

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