The Healthy (But Practical) Plant-Based Diet — A Typical Day

iStock 000003404781XSmallTwo and a half weeks into my book tour, things are finally becoming routine.

I’ve mastered the last-minute hotel search, figured out how to eat healthily while traveling, and gotten used to answering many of the same questions over and over in interviews and Q&A sessions.

One of the most common questions: What exactly do you eat during a typical day? 

Several people have expressed surprise that I didn’t include this in my book. The reason? Mainly, I didn’t include my typical day’s diet because the book is not about me. There are so many ways to “do” a plant-based diet; my way is just one of them. The book provides a framework and my favorite recipes, but there’s plenty of flexibility for the reader to swing towards raw or oil-free or even a vegetarian-but-non-vegan diet. I think of No Meat Athlete as a “gateway book” that gives people the tools to try out a healthy, practical plant-based diet, so that once they’re on board, they can take it in the direction that works for them.

But since people are curious, I’m happy to share here what I eat most days (when I’m at home, not on the road).

My Typical Day’s Diet

I eat according to a few simple guidelines (e.g., until I feel mostly full), and of course my meals and snacks vary, day to day. My focus is on practicality and health, and one of the amazing things I’ve found since going vegetarian and then vegan is that as I get further and further away from the processed-food world, my palate has adjusted so that those two aims coincide amazingly well with the goal we all have of eating food that tastes good.

7am — Just about every day, I start with a smoothie. The Perfect Smoothie Formula is the template I use, but not super-strictly. My smoothie starts with a tablespoon or so each of chia seeds, flax seeds, raw walnuts, and pumpkin seeds, and usually includes frozen berries, frozen broccoli, spinach or baby kale leaves, a banana, ice, and water.

I used to add flax or coconut oil and hemp protein powder to my smoothie, but this year I’ve shifted heavily towards whole foods and I’ve found that I do just fine without any of those supplements. I make the smoothie in my Blendtec, which does a good job of grinding all the nuts and seeds at once with everything else (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).

8am – An Ezekiel sprouted whole-grain English muffin, usually cinnamon-raisin, spread with a tablespoon or two of raw, homemade almond butter. With this, I drink one 10-ounce cup of coffee, usually Counter Culture, ground in a hand-crank grinder and prepared as a pour over. I go through phases where I switch to green tea, and I think this is healthier than coffee, but I like coffee and always find myself coming back to it, even after weeks or months without.

10am – Fruit, usually an orange but occasionally an apple, a banana, or berries. Often I’ll have a few handfuls of raw-nut trail mix (“Strider’s Snack” from Whole Foods).

12pm – With few exceptions, my lunch is leftover from previous night’s dinner, reheated in a pan or steamer depending on what type of food it is (we ditched the microwave last year). See the 6pm meal for examples of what typical dinner/lunch might be.

I don’t know where my wife and I would ever find the time to actually cook lunch from scratch, so we always make a double recipe for dinner to make sure there’s enough for lunch the next day.

3pm – Along with the morning smoothie, an afternoon salad is pretty much a constant in my diet. I blend baby kale, spinach, spring mix, arugula or whatever else we have around and top with some combination of fresh tomato (when it’s in season), avocado, green onion, celery, carrot, hemp hearts, and sunflower seeds. Sometimes I add chickpeas or black beans, but not always. For dressing I used to always use a little bit of olive oil with apple cider or balsamic vinegar, but recently I tend toward oil-free dressings based on tahini or nuts (often using one of the recipes in Joel Fuhrman’s Super Immunity).

If I’m not in the mood for salad in the mid-afternoon, I eat homemade hummus with either a whole-grain pita or some broccoli or other raw vegetable that we have on hand, and save the salad for right before dinner — and sometimes, the salad is the dinner!

4pm – I usually run in the late afternoons, and depending on how I’m feeling, I eat some fruit, drink some fruit juice, or pop a few fresh dates for a quick boost of energy a few minutes before I head out the door. If the run is less than an hour, as most are, I don’t eat anything during it. When I get back, I eat more fruit or perhaps some hummus as a quick-post workout snack.

6pm – Dinnertime. We like to try new recipes as often as we have the time for, and mostly we cook from Thrive Foods, Appetite for Reduction, Clean Food, 1,000 Vegan Recipes, and Let Them Eat Vegan. (See this list of my favorite cookbooks.)

We choose meals that are fairly quick, based on whole foods, and kid-friendly. Dinner could be lentils and rice, a hearty soup, a pasta dish with beans and greens added to the sauce, tempeh or tofu stir-fried with vegetables, black bean tacos or burritos, or a simple Indian or Thai dish. Some nights when we’re short on time, dinner is just a huge salad with beans (usually crisped in a pan). Our son won’t eat salad yet, so on these nights we heat up a few Gardein tenders for him or give him a sandwich of almond butter or hummus on Ezekiel bread. (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.)

Side note: Though I try to eat most meals with my wife and kids, dinner is the one time when we always eat together. We’ve also been doing the whole “go around the table and everybody say what they’re grateful for” thing before we eat, which is fun with our toddler, and a good thing for us grown-ups too.

7pm – A beer or glass of wine. Almost always just one, and when it’s beer, I try to keep it low ABV. That’s not always easy, because the beers I tend to like are usually 6-7% alcohol.

Although we as a country 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 and I don’t think the harm from one drink a night is much. Barnivore is what I use to determine if a beer is vegan.

9pm – Dark chocolate. Just a small piece, usually 85 or 90 percent cacao. You’ve got to check to make sure it’s vegan, but most brands of chocolate this dark are.

Also check out a post I wrote a few months ago called 10 Foods Worth Eating Every Single Day for a few other small things that I try to include each day, like Brazil nuts and a B12 supplement.

The Key to Lasting Change

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 five years as a vegetarian and three as a vegan, my diet is still evolving, and looks drastically different than it did when I started. 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 “ideal” is for you.

Being on the road has changed my routine, for sure, but not by all that much. I’m working on a post about how I’m managing (and honestly, eating more raw food than I even do at home!), so look for that soon.

PS — If you’ve had a chance to read the No Meat Athlete book, I’d really appreciate it if you would leave a review on Amazon. Thanks so much!

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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?

  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?

  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.

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