The beauty of a modern plant-based diet is its uncomplicated definition. Dietitians define these eating patterns as those which focus primarily on plant foods — including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and beans — but do not disallow animal products like meat, dairy, or eggs. Essentially, meals are simply based on plant products. Pretty self-explanatory.
Such a definition allows a health-conscious consumer the flexibility to adhere to a variety of heart-healthy diets, like vegetarian and Mediterranean diets, as well as an escape from the anti-meat or anti-animal-product boundaries that might otherwise deter a well-meaning dieter from their plan altogether.
Here, I've gathered a day's worth of plant-based meal recipes that illustrate the diet's versatility and simplicity. This vegetarian breakfast, vegan lunch, and Mediterranean dinner are affordable, easy to cook, and tasty — as a college student, they're my healthy go-to's.
1. For breakfast, try a vegetarian quiche.sliced pie on white ceramic platePhoto by James Harris on Unsplash
This is my dad's recipe, and so it follows his laissez-faire attitude toward measurements in cooking. "Use whatever amount looks right," he always answers when I ask how much of a vegetable or spice to add, so good luck here. Quiche is hard to mess up anyway.
Preheat your oven to 350. After reaching the temperature, set two frozen pie crusts on a sheet pan and bake for about 3 minutes; then remove them, poke holes in the crusts with a fork, and cook another 3 minutes (-ish).
Dice about half a white onion and separate florets from two heads of broccoli. Gather spinach and sliced brown mushrooms, keeping all vegetables separate and in equal amounts. Layer these veggies one at a time in your warmed pie crusts, then top with a handful of shredded cheddar cheese and about two tablespoons of fresh parsley.
Prepare your egg filling by mixing 6 eggs; about 3/4 of a quart of heavy cream (for a 1:1 egg to cream ratio); dashes of salt, pepper, and allspice; and a TON of nutmeg until your mixture is whipped, but not wispy. Pour the mix slowly on top of your layered pie crusts and top with a generous amount of paprika. Cook the pies at 350 for 25-40 minutes, checking periodically after the 25-minute mark — the pies should be just firm enough that they don't seem to jiggle.
Your two quiches should give you a week's worth of protein-packed breakfasts worth around $2 per day!
2. Make a vibrant and vegan kale salad for lunch.nuts and parsley in a bowlPhoto by Deryn Macey on Unsplash
Easy to prep and fun to create, this salad boasts bold flavors that'll remind you of summertime. I like to combine my kale with chopped red apples (the tarter the better; I prefer Honeycrisp), sliced almonds, and dried cranberries. You could also add diced red onion, walnuts, pecans, or sunflower seeds—most nuts or seeds, really. If you've got a steamer, you could try blanching your kale for an easier, less crunchy bite.
Make yourself a tart vinaigrette by combining extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar (especially if you have any fruity-flavored variants), and honey to your liking. Season the vinaigrette with salt, pepper, rosemary, and thyme.
This vegan salad is nutrient-dense, antioxidant-heavy, and outstandingly flavorful. It's also a fresh contrast to our savory baked quiche breakfast.
3. Sauté a Mediterranean one-pan fish and veggie dinner.cooked foodPhoto by Casey Lee on Unsplash
I find myself making some variant of this dinner every single week. It's impossibly easy, especially if you'd rather forgo the cost-effective veggie-prepping route and buy pre-cut or pre-mixed veggies from your Trader Joe's or Wegmans. A few of my favorite combinations include:
- Tilapia, broccoli, and cauliflower, dressed with white wine , garlic, and Italian herbs.
- Salmon with zucchini, tomato, and spinach in a basil pesto.
- Fajita-like tilapia and peppers using chili pepper, paprika, cayenne, garlic, and onion.
Honestly, this style of dinner is whatever you'd like to make of it. Each combination I use requires the same steps, though: begin by heating olive (or avocado) oil over medium heat and sautéing a bit of garlic and onion. Add in your thicker veggies first, like zucchini, broccoli, or peppers, and season. After about three minutes, add in your fish and softer veggies, like spinach or tomato. Season and cook the fish for at least three minutes on each side, and enjoy!
You can find frozen fish filets often in bulk, low-cost packages, and these affordable veggies can also be tossed into your next quiche. Repeating ingredients but varying their flavors between meals is the easiest way to maintain a wallet-friendly diet.
Together, these meals constitute one nutritious plant-based day. It's easy to add or substitute meats into these meals, but they're still exceptional in their absence.
For more information about plant-based dieting, visit the Harvard Health Blog here.