10 Essential Plant-Based Cooking Tips

Sharon Palmer

Plant-based eating is hot, hot, hot! All across the country—even the world—people of all ages are growing interested in the idea of filling their plates with more plants. Whether it’s going flexitarian, vegetarian, or vegan—or even just planning for more plant-based meals during the week—there’s a lot to love about this lifestyle! Not only is plant-based cooking nutritious, it’s really exciting to discover new, delicious recipes that you can make in your own kitchen. But what if you’re new to the plant-based world, or even stuck in a bit of a rut in your plant-based cooking style? Well, that’s what I’m here for today! When you’re planning out your plant-based meals for the day, or even for the week, here are a few tips that will help you make cooking easier, healthier, and more delicious. And remember, try not to view cooking as a hassle, or get frustrated when your dishes don’t turn out as planned. It’s OK, because cooking is supposed to be a fun, enjoyable journey that you share with your friends and family. Check out these 10 Essential Plant-Based Cooking Tips that will prepare you for achieving plant-based success in your kitchen.

10 Essential Plant-Based Cooking Tips

Easy Cauliflower Chickpea Tacos

1. Rehearse Your Plant-Based Meals. If you are slowly transitioning to a plant-based diet, try to include at least three completely plant-based (vegan) meals a week so you can feel more confident in your newfound eating style. You can have fun with this by engaging your friends and family in “Meatless Mondays,” “Vegan Taco Tuesdays,” or “Plant-Based Stir-Fry Saturdays.” This will make it easier and more enjoyable for you to incorporate plant-powered foods into your meals. It will also help you to be more comfortable cooking plant-based meals in the kitchen.

2. Prep Your Pantry. Organization is the key for success in the kitchen. It is important that you have all your ingredients ready on deck. Luckily, there is an abundance of plant-based, shelf-stable foods that will last you a very long time; this is a bonus because you can stock up your pantry without having to worry about perishable items going bad. These include items such as whole grains, dried and canned beans, nuts and seeds, nuts and seed butters, herbs, and spices. Check out my free Plant-Based Pantry Toolkit here.

3. Grab Your Handy Dandy Kitchen Tools. There are a countless number of kitchen utensils and tools that can help set you up for success in the kitchen. Many of the basic items you can use for just about every recipe include: measuring cups, pots, pans, rice cookers, blender, whisks, cutting boards, food processor, electric mixer, strainers, storage containers, and a can opener. Once you’ve collected this basic kitchen tool assortment, move on to the advanced collection, including a mandolin, citrus zester, mortar and pestle, spice grinder, garlic press, and juicer. 

4. Keep those Foods Fresh. If you purchase items that need to be refrigerated, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, plant-based proteins, and non-dairy milks, just keep in mind that those products are perishable. So, be sure to keep track of these ingredients to use them before they are spoiled, and re-stock them on your weekly supermarket runs. Try dedicating one day out of the week to be your “grocery shopping day” so that you can purchase fresh, wholesome foods. One great tip for fruits and vegetables is that if you notice they are starting to lose their freshness, you can always stick them in the freezer for preservation. Frozen fruits and vegetables have JUST as much nutritional value as fresh produce.

Stir-Fried Thai Tofu Sorghum Bowl

5. Plan Meals Wisely. For your first week, you might find it especially helpful to jot down your meals, using my Go Vegan Toolkit, specifically the Vegan Meal Planner Journal, with the Vegan 7-Day Menu as your guide. On your busy nights, try simple meals, such as tofu stir-fry with brown rice or black bean tacos. But choose a couple of nights when you have a bit more time to try a new recipe from my blog, such as my Zucchini Tempeh Pastry Cups or Green Bean Mushroom Pot Pies with Mashed Potatoes. This will inspire you to get creative and enjoy the delicious flavors of plant-based foods.

Blood Orange Hazelnut Kale Salad

6. Keep it Simple. Plant-based cooking is actually quite simple; in fact, I personally believe that it is easier to cook with plant-powered ingredients. You don’t have to make crazy, fancy recipes that you may have seen on social media; instead, you can make a quick, easy meal with just a few ingredients. Many of my favorite go-to recipes that I can whip up in just a few minutes include steel cut oats with seasonal fruit, walnuts and soy milk for breakfast; kale salad with baked tofu, sun-dried tomatoes, and pine nuts for lunch; and veggie tacos for dinner with corn tortillas, black beans, plant-based cheese, cabbage, avocados, and salsa.

Farmers Market Vegetable Sushi

7. Nutritionally Balance Your Plate by Going Whole. A plant-based diet should be full of a variety of plant-powered foods that provide a rainbow of colors on your plate. Many of the plant-based foods that I love to eat include whole grains, like oats and farro, pulses, including beans and lentils, tofu, vegetables, like carrots, spinach, and cauliflower, fruits, such as peaches, pomegranates, and berries, nuts and seeds, like almonds, pistachios, and pumpkin seeds. These are just a few of the many food items that contain the vitamins and minerals you need to live a heart-healthy lifestyle and fight diseases. Sodas, potato chips, ice cream, chocolate, and cookies can all be plant-based, but just keep in mind that it’s a good to eat those in moderation and focus on a colorful, balanced plate that contains whole foods.

8. This for That. You can switch out many animal-based proteins for plant-based proteins: ½-cup serving of cooked beans, lentils, and dried peas; ½-cup of tofu, or 1 ounce of nuts or seeds (like peanuts, pistachios, almonds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, and chia seeds) provides about the same amount of protein as 2 ounces of meat. There are many types of faux burgers, “chicken”, and “cheese” at the market, which are okay to eat here and there, but for the most part try to stick with the whole-food proteins that contain more health benefits. You can also switch out regular dairy milk for non-dairy milk — these may include soy, hemp, flax, coconut, almond, cashew, and more. Just remember to read the nutrition labels to find plant-based milk that contains good sources of protein, calcium, and vitamin D.

Chipotle Tomato Rice Power Bowl

9. Put it All Together. Once you have all your ingredients, it’s time to put it altogether with a balanced plant-based meal, based on the formula: plant protein + whole grain + vegetables + healthy fat + fruit = healthy, delicious perfection. Just balance your plate with a serving of plant proteins, such as beans or tofu, a serving of whole grains, such as brown rice or quinoa, a couple servings of vegetables, such as zucchini and mushrooms, some healthy fat, such as avocado or sesame seeds, and fruit, such as grapes or cherries, and you have a healthy plant-based meal.

10. Make it Taste Superb! In addition to the delicious whole foods that are included in your nutritionally balanced plate, some other key ingredients that help to enhance the flavor of your meal is the incorporation of your favorite herbs, spices, sauces, and dressings (which can be home-made as well). Cooking plant-based meals is more than just purchasing ready-to-eat frozen vegan meals and boring salads, it can be mouth-watering dishes such as an earthy curried lentil skillet simmering with Indian spices and served with crunchy brown rice. These will make you and your tastebuds happy!

Written by Savanna Malki, Dietetic Intern, with Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN

Photos by Sharon Palmer

For more information on plant-based cooking tips, check out my free download of the “Go Vegan Tool Kit” as well as the numerous recipes found on my page.

Check out my favorite how-to plant-based cooking tips and guides here: 

How to Make Homemade Seitan
How to Make Vegetable Broth
How to Make Cauliflower Rice
How to Grill Vegetables in a Grill Basket

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