Here is a general framework I use to make a simple, balanced and delicious savory whole food plant-based meal:
1. Choose Non-Starchy Vegetables
Examples include: broccoli, cabbage (cruciferous veggies) bell pepper, zucchini, spinach (green leafy veggies).These foods are lowest in calories, made up mostly of water, fiber, protein and many micronutrients and vitamin precursor molecules.
2. Choose Protein: Legumes
Examples include: Legumes (beans, lentils, peas) are the most protein-dense plant-based whole food and include many minerals, soluble fiber that feeds gut bacteria and brings benefits to digestive health and antioxidants.
3. Add Starchy Vegetable and/or Whole Grains
Examples include: potatoes, carrots, beets (roots/tubers), oats, wheat, barley (whole grains).
Whole grains and certain vegetables contain more complex carbohydrates (referred to as starch) though also contain some fat and protein. Whole grains and starchy foods are more often recommended since they retain more nutrients, are more satiating and are not associated with the glycemic effects of more refined foods. Some refined foods may still be included if wanted though and can be useful for active individuals needing more calories.
4. Add Fat (Nuts, Seeds, Other) + Toppings/Condiments
Examples include: almonds, hemp seeds, avocado + salt, spices, nutritional yeast and other toppings. It’s important food higher in fat to plant-based meals, because many other foods like veggies and legumes are low in fat. In addition to adding more flavor to the meal, fat can help to absorb fat-soluble vitamins and pro-vitamin molecules from veggies. Toppings and condiments can compliment the meal with additional nutrients, for example iodine in iodized salt or B vitamins in fortified nutritional yeast. Some oils may be included too, but I prefer more whole fat sources, because you get more nutrients.