The Healthy, Practical Plant-Based Diet: A Typical Day

[vegan stir fry image]

What do you eat during a typical day?

Even as the plant-based diet for athletes becomes more commonplace, people still ask me this question all the time.

And I like it — it’s an opportunity to explain that you can eat 100% plant-based and really, really healthily … without spending your life in the kitchen or subsisting on trail mix and sprouts (while living in a treehouse, I think).

I’m busy like anyone else. I have two young kids and work hard, and as a result, I’ve streamlined my diet so that it’s affordable and doesn’t take a lot of time.

But I do make food a priority, like it should be. I’m very happy with my version of a healthy, plant-based diet, and I’m happy to share it with you in this post.

A Typical Day on a Plant-Based Diet

I eat according to a few simple guidelines (e.g., until I feel mostly full). My focus is on simplicity and health, and one of the amazing things I’ve found is that over time my palate has adjusted so that simple, healthy food is the food that tastes good.

But there’s another important point here. I’ve set up my diet so that I eat the same types of meals most days until dinnertime, adding variety only within a certain category of foods (like mixing up the fruits or nuts in the smoothie, or choosing different veggies or dressing for the salad).

And what that means is that each day, there are relatively few decisions I have to make around food.

This is important because:

  1. The fewer food decisions you have to make early in the day, the better the choices you’ll make later (see: decision fatigue), and
  2. When you know ahead of time the types of meals you’ll eat, you can “engineer” your diet to include exactly what you want and none of what you don’t.

But I should add that what follows is only a “typical” day — this is the stuff I’ve consciously decided to eat on a daily basis. But because I’m a human, I like eating a muffin when my wife bakes them for the kids’ school, or the times when I have leftover (delicious) pasta for lunch instead of my usual salad. I don’t stress a bit about these little indulgences, because know that what I do most of the time is what matters.

With that, here’s what a typical day looks like for me.

6am-9am — Water, tea, or coffee.

Except when I’m actively trying to put on weight or build muscle, I don’t eat anything for the first few hours of the day. Just water and cup of tea or coffee.

I can’t really call myself an intermittent faster, but I do believe that one of the reasons people are overweight is that they don’t give their bodies enough time between meals. So I try to extend the overnight fast as long as I can, by making sure I don’t eat until I’m really hungry each morning. Most of the time, that’s not until 9am or 10am.

This isn’t easy for everyone, but I’d suggest just paying very close attention to your body in the morning — are you actually hungry, or just eating because that’s “what you do” when you wake up?

9am — Smoothie.

My first meal of almost every day is a smoothie. The Perfect Smoothie Formula is the template I use, but not strictly. Over time, and especially since having kids, I’ve learned to appreciate simplicity in the kitchen, and this extends to the daily smoothie. Most days, my smoothie recipe looks like this:

  • 2 handfuls of mixed frozen berries — raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, or strawberries (usually I choose two)
  • 2-3 very ripe bananas
  • 2 handfuls of frozen spinach leaves (or whatever greens we ate for salads last week that I moved to the freezer after they peaked)
  • 1/3 cup raw walnuts
  • 2 tablespoons flax seeds
  • 2-3 cups of water
  • DHA/EPA supplement

This makes enough for two giant smoothies, and I can usually count on my wife and kids to drink the one that I don’t. There’s no measuring; I just eyeball the amounts and adjust if something tastes off.

I make the smoothie in my Blendtec, which does a good job of grinding the nuts and seeds at once with everything else. But if you don’t have a Vitamix or Blendtec, you can grind the nuts and seeds into a powder in a coffee grinder, then add that powder to your smoothie.

As for protein powder? I used to add that, along with flax oil or coconut oil, but I’ve shifted heavily towards whole foods and found that I do just fine without any of those supplements. (I do take a DHA/EPA supplement and a vitamin B12 supplement each day, usually in a multivitamin that also includes vitamin D3, zinc, vitamin K2, and iodine. More on supplements here.)

And on that note, no, I don’t think about protein anymore. Or any other macronutrient amounts or ratios, for that matter.

11am — (Sometimes) Whole wheat pita or pancake.

If I’m hungry before lunchtime (and I’m not usually), I eat a whole-wheat pita spread with almond butter, or perhaps throw a small frozen pancake in the toaster (always this recipe, which we make in huge batches and freeze for the kids’ daily breakfast). I don’t usually put anything on the pancake, and think of it almost like bread, but every now and then I drizzle some maple syrup on it. Because, again, that thing about being a human.

12pm — Giant salad with beans and nut-based dressing.

I used to eat dinner leftovers for lunch each day, but as dinnertime has gotten busier with kid activities, I found that too often I was skipping the big salad I used to eat before dinner.

So now I eat it for lunch.

A typical salad for me looks like:

  • Half a plate full of romaine or green leaf lettuce (pro tip: skip the clamshell packs and just chop it yourself; it lasts much longer and is cheaper)
  • Half a plate full of something more bitter, like dandelion greens, radicchio, or kale (usually, bitter = more nutrients)
  • Some cruciferous veggies like red cabbage, radishes, or broccoli
  • Whatever else I have around: carrots, celery, tomato, scallions, avocado etc.
  • 1 cup of chickpeas (I use different beans sometimes, but I like the texture of chickpeas the best. Whichever beans I use, if they’re not made from scratch, I buy low- or no-sodium cans)
  • Nut-based dressing (see below)

I don’t believe you need to eat 100% oil-free, all the time, but for meals built habitually into my day, it makes sense to make them as healthy as possible. Which means no oil, not even olive oil.

So what to use for dressing, then? Keep in mind that the point isn’t to remove fat, which is important for absorbing all the micronutrients in the salad. Instead, it’s to get the fat in whole-food form, which means nuts or avocado.

Most often I use this raw, cashew-based ranch dressing recipe I got from my friend Sid Garza-Hillman:

  • 2 1/2 cups cashews (you can soak them for a creamier dressing)
  • 2 cups filtered water for blending
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice (approx 1/2 lemon)
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3 teaspoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons dried dill
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper or to taste

Blend all ingredients (ideally in a high-speed blender) until creamy and smooth. Make sure not to blend so long that it dressing gets hot. If it’s too thick add more water. It’ll thicken in the fridge; just add more water to make it pourable again.

It’s delicious, even for non-vegans. The kids love it too.

Important: This salad isn’t a small meal. It takes a long time to eat, and I’m almost completely full when I’m finished. When salad is your meal, it shouldn’t leave you hungry.

3pm — A piece of fruit, or hummus & veggies.

Not much to say about this one. The salad digests quickly and I usually need a snack in the afternoon. If I’m going for a run, I’ll choose the fruit, so that I get some sugar in me to help with the workout (and usually have a piece afterward, too). The hummus I use is either Roots Oil-Free or a homemade version.

6pm — Dinnertime! 

It’s worth pausing here to note that up until now, there haven’t been many decisions to make, like I mentioned in the introduction. So no stress, no decision fatigue. And on my “best” days, before dinnertime my diet has been entirely:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Beans
  • Nuts & Seeds
  • Water, coffee, and/or tea

To me, these are the healthiest foods I can eat. I’ve got nothing against whole-wheat flour or other grains; I just don’t think they contribute as much in the way of micronutrients as the foods above. But when I’ve eaten this way all day, I feel totally okay about eating a big old vegan pasta dish, a whole-food vegan pizza (we use a sprinkled cheese made from cashews and nutritional yeast instead of the processed vegan cheeses), or stir-fry with brown rice for dinner.

Those are pretty typical choices for me. Other favorites around my house are lentil-and-rice dishes; a grain, a green, and a bean; rice and beans, curries and stews, and of course, tacos and burritos.

So pretty much anything that’s Italian, Asian, Indian, or Mexican, as long as it’s vegan and mostly whole-food. 🙂

I’m a Dr. Fuhrman fan, and if you are too, you might have noticed that I get at least four of his six daily GBOMBS (stands for greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries, seeds) before dinner. So I do make an effort to include onions and mushrooms in most dinners, even if they’re not in the recipe I’m making. If they really don’t fit, I water-saute some kale with onions and mushrooms as a side dish when I have time.

We choose meals that are fairly quick, based on whole foods, and kid-friendly. (You can find recipes like these and many more on my recipes page — some are from the early days so they don’t necessarily represent how I eat now.)

Dinner is the one time the whole family eats together, and without TV. It’s not always blissful — sometimes the kids refuse to eat or keep wandering away from the table or take freaking forever to finish, and sometimes my wife or I am stressed from a hard day. But I do think it’s really important to have this uninterrupted time together, so we make a habit of eating together every day.

7:30pm — A glass of red wine or beer.

Almost always just one glass, and when it’s beer, I try to keep it low ABV.

Yep, this is my indulgence. Although we as a culture are fond of sharing articles that say alcohol is good for us, I don’t believe it. I think alcohol is the most unhealthy part of my diet, but it’s a small indulgence. Most days I choose red wine because I think it’s the healthiest option.

I don’t usually eat any dessert, but if for some reason I’m craving something sweet at the end of the night, I’ll have a bowl of cereal with almond milk or some fruit.

The Key to Lasting Change

So there you have it! If you’re new to a plant-based diet, or just trying to make yours even healthier, then I hope this is helpful. Coming up on six years as a vegan, my diet is still evolving, and trust me, it looks drastically different from how it did when I started.

You might also enjoy a post I wrote called 10 Foods Worth Eating Every Single Day, which I wrote about a few other small, specific things that I try to include each day within these meals. As I’ve learned more about nutrition, my thoughts about which foods are the most important have changed somewhat, but that post still provides a good place to start.

The key for me has been extremely slow, gradual change. Rather than trying to suddenly cut out a bunch of bad foods and add a bunch of healthy ones all at once — which so often results in failure — make just one tiny change at a time (assuming your health situation isn’t dire, of course), and you’ll be surprised at how quickly these tiny changes stack on top of each other to move you toward whatever “perfect” is for you.

41 Comments

 


Dig this post?
Spread the word!

Keep in touch:

Finally, a Way to Eat Healthily & Plant-Based ... Without Stressing Out



blueprint-cover-791x1024Simple, streamlined meals. Sensible expert advice. And live nutrition coaching.

All designed to take the stress out of meal planning and help you experience the health and energy you know is possible.

Health Made Simple features five 30-day, plant-based meal plans for all different lifestyles and needs, so that you can eat the way you know is right while making sure you get everything you need.

And with live Q&A sessions built right into the program, you'll never need to worry that you're not doing it right, or wonder how best to adapt it to meet your goals.

Ready to take your diet to another level? Learn more about Health Made Simple here.

Comments

  1. Seeing your typical day is so interesting to me! After going vegan in February (after 7 years as a vegetarian) I find that I am eating much more frequently, which is similar to what you described in your post. I’ve never really thought about it before this, but I wonder if that’s a typical experience and what the mechanism might be. I’m sure part of it is just being active people, as I started training for races around the same time as the dietary switch. In any case, very interesting stuff. Thanks for the insights!

    • I also started changing my diet at about the same time that I adopted a much more active lifestyle. And I never noticed any increase in meal/snack frequency until the last few weeks when my training for my first marathon ramped up into the 40+ miles/week range. Before that, even as I eliminated meat and dairy, I basically still ate three meals a day with very small snack between them. Since going more plant based, I’ve experienced an overall increase in energy level and duration. I suspect that it’s the active lifestyles driving these eating habits more than the diet makeup itself.

  2. Thanks Matt. I understand getting that question often (vegan for 20yrs). While I don’t necessary need to know, my husband (who has been a vegetarian for a year now) will I think benefit from seeing what a father of two who is athletic eats throughout the day. It is a close comparison for him although he works in a more corporate environment.

    If you have a moment, I am trying to help get my blog post some attention. It seems my 5 year old daughter’s PTA is set in their ways to keep a game at our annual fundraiser that awards kids a 2 liter bottle of soda as their prize! I sent a nice letter requesting a chance and got a very stern response back saying that game brought in a lot of money therefore will not be removed. If you have the time (which I know you rarely do these days) the post is here: http://trailmomma.com/2013/10/dear-pta-president/ Thanks!

  3. Check out the plethora of vegan restaurants when you come to Denver. My favorite is City O City.

  4. Your words on slow, gradual change are so true. If I’d set out to drop everything and go vegan right away when I first started adjusting my eating habits three-ish years ago, the ice cream-loving side of me would have probably given up. Instead, I just aimed generally for more fruits/veggies and less processed stuff, and began to realize bit by bit that I liked this way of eating/living a whole lot more! Cheers to plant-based life 🙂

  5. I love this post. It is very helpful to see what a plant based individual eats in a day. Our day is very similar to yours. Some of my favorite cook books are The Vegan Table by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau and Vegan Cooking for Carnivores byRoberto Martin ( he is Ellen DeGeneres chef).
    Matt I also make my own veg burgers and have them quick to grab out of the fridge. I try to keep some already cooked grains Quinoa,black rice etc. so we can add them to salads or burritos. Joe loves to have cold baked potatoes and dip them in hummus.

  6. Matt, having been a regular reader since 2009 I feel that this is one of your most informative posts. As someone who juices a lot I feel it is really important to show people what we eat/drink on a daily basis. To show folks how its done is so important.

    It was your blog back in 2009 that showed me that nutrition was just as important, if not more so than just exercising (helped me to lose 80 pounds and run 4 half marathons.) Here you give people a step by step blueprint on how to live on a vegan diet. Since hearing you speak at NYC I have decided to go vegan for 30 days and see how I feel.

    I also love the fact you are honest about having a beer. That is why your blog is inspirational and informative, you could have left that bit out but you decided to be totally honest with your readers. Like you I enjoy a beer but I know it is not doing me any good but I do not want to live the rest of my life in ‘monk mode.’

    Great post!

  7. This was a great post, thank you for taking the time to spell out what you eat daily. I’ve struggled with snacks and breakfasts and I’m really tired of oatmeal!

    Thanks again, so glad I found your blog
    @hippygyrl

  8. Anna {Herbivore Triathlete} says:

    Hey Matt!

    It’s great to see that you eat as many times/as frequently per day as I do! People are always surprised at how often I eat during the day. Eeriely our diets are very similar. I eat pretty much the exact same foods at the exact same time, minus the alcohol. I stopped even that indulgence about 6 months ago.

    I won a copy of your book on Nicole’s website (Life Less Bullshit) and can’t wait for it to arrive!!

  9. Seeing your typical daily diet is so interesting, thanks for sharing. I’m considering more frequent smaller meals because breakfast smoothies aren’t holding me to lunch more often lately even with protein powder.

  10. Check my blog ⬆️ for my expirience as a vegan , long distance runner, on the road as a professional musician . Similar to what you’re going through on a book tour.
    Thanks
    Bobby

  11. You lost me at “food at 3” and “running at 4″… I am doomed unless I’ve had all night to digest 🙂 Seriously though, thanks for the helpful examples…I know the book wasn’t “about you” but head knowledge isn’t very helpful without application.

  12. Thank you for posting this! Sometimes it is incredibly interesting/helpful to see how someone who successfully balances fitness/athleticism with veganism actually eats on a daily basis. It gives us ideas for how to organize on our own. 🙂

  13. Barbara Jean Sanders says:

    Matt, your practical advise and real life examples help me to eat a plant based diet. I enjoy your posts and the research you put into each one of them. I also try to read many of the books you list in your articles. Thanks alot!

  14. I see nothing wrong with how you eat everyday and each of those things sound very good. Maybe this whole vegan thing is not as bad as I make it out to be. The only question I have would be is eating like this good even if you are not working out during the day everyday?

    • Marty,
      I am not Matt (obviously), but the benefits of a vegan diet are not only for athletes. A vegan diet is good for everybody, it maintains normal blood pressure, normal blood sugar and normal weight. While I work out, I also have periods when I work too much. I am 55 and have maintained my weight since age 23 and I still wear the same size clothes as I did then (size 2). I credit a vegetarian/vegan diet for this. There are scores of studies that show that a plant-based diet improves health and prevents high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and obesity. Plus it has more vitamins and minerals than the “standard American diet”. If you are interested in scientific facts and research studies and a good read i would recoomend “How Not To Die” by Dr. Michael Greger.

  15. I’m not sure if I could do a plant based diet but I really like the structure of your meal plan throughout the day.

  16. Great routine. I know how hard it is to stick with a diet like this for a long period of time.
    Very inspiring

  17. Carolyn in NC says:

    I would think you’d save some money if you assembled your salad from the items in the produce department rather than getting them from the salad bar. It would take buying more at a time and keeping them in a cooler in your car. Not so practical in the summer but do-able at other times a year. I can just see you now washing your stuff in the hotel sink !!!!

  18. Thanks for sharing your daily vegan regimen, Matt. I’m vegetarian transitioning toward vegan and hike 4 miles a day. You answered my questions about pre- and post-workout snacks. My blender is a MicroBullet.

  19. Great article! I also appreciate your honesty about what you do, the things you have in your book (that allow a variety of approaches), etc. I know there are still LOTS of myths about being either a vegetarian or vegan, so having real, practical information like this is very helpful. It’s how I choose to share & educated as well

  20. I work at Wendy’s and I am going to school, and I am also an aspiring vegan. When I wake up or get home from being on my feet for eight hours, the last thing I can fathom is throwing together 10+ ingredients… the average person can’t spend half their day focused on food, shopping for it, preparing it, or eating it, much less fit in some exercise or downtime. I am overwhelmed trying to eat a whole foods plant based diet and feeling like it is for an elite group of people with unending supplies of either energy or free time. But I can’t keep living like I’m living. I’m fat and miserable, and I get exhausted just looking in the fridge or cupboards. How the hell do you guys do it?

    • Suzanne says:

      I applaud your perserverence – something about your post resonated with me. When I first started eating a plant-based diet I, too, was overwhelmed. With a little planning, though, I began to save loads of time by preparing vegetables before putting them away in the fridge so it was quick to throw a salad together later. My freezer and pantry eventually held all the nuts, seeds, berries, almond milk, etc. I needed to throw in the blender for a morning smoothie…just start adding bulk items you want over a few shopping trips, and slowly get rid of (and stop buying) the processed food you wish to stop eating. Replace meat with beans, sweet potatoes, etc., experiment with spices…give yourself time to adopt this lifestyle. You’ll be so happy you did!

    • Preparation is everything. If possible take one day a week and prep your meals. Have stuff in the fridge ready to, that way you can take food with you and won’t be tempted to buy crap. Try easy recipes: tomato sauce with different veggies, stir fries, beans with green and brown rice. If you havea Trader Joe’s near you they have frozen stuff that you can use to prepare easy meals. If you have beans (in cans) and brown rice ready you can add various vegetables or sauces and presto a meal. Make some salad dressings, cut up lettuces and vegetables and presto – a salad. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

  21. Thanks so much for taking the time to post this. It’s a great framework to kind of compare and contrast my own. I’m freshly vegan and so I’m trying to soak up as much info as I can. I stumbled upon your blog by happenstance and already it’s been sooooo helpful! Will definitely check out the book.

  22. I have been plant based for 9 months now. I am 54 and had high cholesterol and high blood pressure for last 10 years (I smoked also) Last May they put a stent in my artery and life changed for the good! I quit smoking- couldn’t take all those pills they give you “post stent” so I did some research and decided to go plant based opposed to the “pills” and WOW did it work fast! I run 2 miles every other day- go to gym on days I don’t run- dropped 35 lbs and started to LOVE, LOVE cooking now (go figure). Blood pressure is 110/60 ish- cholesterol ok and doctor cant believe the turn around. WHY is this way of eating not presented to cardiac patients as a therapy to bypass surgery, stents and other illness? I know its not a cure all but needs to be an option for all! OH YEAH- I too make dinner thinking lunch next day…..It is an energetic lifestyle!

  23. Thank you for this outline of a typical day. It is exactly what I was looking for. My husband and I and our 14 kids are just starting on our vegan diet, and it has bee n tricky thinking of things to eat through out each day. This was extremely helpful.

  24. This sounds like a great way to go healthy. I want to start on this diet – or way of eating – but being in another country, there are some of the plants I have never heard of, like: chia seeds, hemp hearts, tempeh. What is similar to these items? What can I use instead of these?
    I could not find the Ezekiel bread recipe on your Recipes page. Could you please send it to me via my email. Thanks.

  25. paleo vegan says:

    of all the diets WHOLE FOOD VEGAN is the HARDEST go figure.. once you cut the salt oil sugar store bought sauces and dressings and fermented crap you are left with fruit and then all these vegetables and seeds that arent edable on their own haha meanwhile your contemplating with yourself if you should go raw for maximum health but you dont wanna fight the cooked adiction ;p

  26. Alex Johnson says:

    I was wondering how you get your Vitamin D. Do you take a supplement and if so, what supplement? If not, what do you do? Thank you!

  27. Thank you for this! I’m working on transitioning my whole family (me, my 3 yo, and my meat and cheese loving husband) to a plant-based diet. Needless to say, going has been slow and inconsistent. Alot of this is because I’m still adjusting recipes and learning how to cook withkut

  28. Sorry hit post before I was done….

    But I’m learning to cook without meat after being raised behind a deli counter and in a hunting family. The hardest part though is Always being hungry.

    This is the most realistic meal schedule I’ve seen yet and the timing makes so much sense! I’d love an article on some of your favorite kid friendly recipes – and any you think would satisfy a heavy meat eater (who very patiently eats my plant based dinners even if he isn’t very satisfied)

  29. Thank you so much for posting and I am going to get your book. My concern for me is I am female and I need to drop about 10 pounds. Seems like eating all day might not achieve that. I went quickly through all the comments so not sure if anyone else posted something similar. Can I lose weight on that much food? I am very active run about 10-15 miles a week but I am just at a stand still in weight. I can’t get down and I am eating primarily plant based foods. help

  30. Susan Robinson says:

    Thank you for posting this! after watching the last video where she said to eat 3 times a day I thought oh no I will truly starve. I do not have a weight problem. I ride a bike instead of run but my eating pattern is similar to yours minus and the beer.

  31. This was so great to read! I’m starting to eat more plant based and to focus on my carbs being beans and sweet potatoes as opposed to processed grains. However I find if I eat a salad for lunch and workout in the evening, it wreaks havoc on my stomach. My digestive system definitely has trouble when I add in more raw veggies, even the slightest amount. What time of day do you usually do your workouts, and do any of you have advice for easing the stomach pains the plant based diet can cause for a while?

  32. Thanks for sharing….I think Im more curious what your WIFE eats in a day….& you should have her on the podcast more. Her chef AG weight loss was very inspiring.

  33. Awesome. Great work putting this together!!

  34. Nicoal Fontanesi says:

    Thank you! This article was very helpful!!!

  35. This article is well written, extremely detailed and nothing short of amazing.

    Thank you!!

  36. Thanks for posting the beer/wine. I thought that I was the only plant based eater that enjoyed a drink after reading blogs /viewing youtube channels of fellow plant based peeps. Not one of them mention alcohol as a daily intake.

    I admit, that I have daily drinks to unwind at the end of the day. However, I have more than your one. For example, I might have one as soon as I walk in the door from work. Another at the dinner table. I usually have my last one after the toddler is in bed. I know that I shouldn’t count calories but the calories in these 3 beers add up especially if they are craft beers.

Leave a Comment

*