Easy Plant-Based Dinners for Busy Lives
Dinner is a huge source of stress for many people. Simply figuring out what to eat for dinner—let alone preparing a full, healthy meal for multiple people—can trigger stress and frustration. If only you had a trove of easy plant-based dinners at your fingertips…
And now, you do!
In this guide, I’ll provide a formula for crafting the perfect, easy plant-based dinner—something healthy, tasty, and quick to prepare–and provide some sample recipes to get you started.
Guiding Principles: What Goes Into a Healthy Meal?
A well-rounded, healthy diet should include a balance of macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates), and lots of fruits and veggies (for their unique phytonutrients). The easiest way to meet these general criteria are to apply them to each meal; in other words, to eat meals that each have protein, fats, carbs, and a hefty portion of produce. And so that’s what I’ll focus on in this guide—well-balanced dinners.
Just keep in mind that you can stray from these guidelines and tailor them to fit your needs and preferences — if you prefer getting your protein and veggies in other meals, reserving dinner for carbs and fats, that’s totally cool.
Note: The focus here is on whole food, plant-based meals. While a whole foods, plant-based diet doesn’t require the exclusion of all animal products, the recipes here do not include them. If you need a bit of animal protein to feel your best, then please incorporate some into your meals!
The Formula for Easy Plant-Based Dinners
Step 1: Pick 1 (or more!) veggie(s), and a preparation method
There are so many veggies out there, but here are a few common ones to get you started:
- Dark, leafy greens: spinach, swiss chard, collard greens, kale, romaine
- Cruciferous veggies: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy
- “Veggies” that are technically fruits: avocado, tomato, bell peppers
- Other: asparagus, carrots, mushrooms
Tip: Try to keep your veggie profile diverse, incorporating veggies of different colors and from each of the above categories, to ensure you’re consuming a broad range of nutrients (and to keep things interesting!):
- Baked / roasted
Tip: A simple Google search will tell you how to prepare a given vegetable via your desired method.
Step 2: Pick a Carb / Protein
Choose one or more of the following. The goal is to get healthy doses of both carbohydrates and proteins, but make this work for you — different people function best on different amounts of these macronutrients.
[C]: Carbohydrate-rich; [P]: Protein-rich; [CP]: Carbohydrate- and protein-rich
- [CP] Grains:
- Whole (in-tact) grains: quinoa, brown rice, farro, wild rice, wheat berries, kamut, spelt, millet, corn
- Other: whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat couscous, corn tortillas, whole grain bread, whole wheat pita, buckwheat soba
- [CP] Legumes:
- Chickpeas (garbanzo beans), black beans, pinto beans, cannellini beans, kidney beans, lentils (red, green, brown), peas, edamame
- [P] Soy:
- Tofu, tempeh (edamame included under Legumes)
- [C] Sweet potatoes or regular potatoes
- [P] Animal products (if you eat them)
- Dairy: milk, yogurt, cheese
- Poultry and meat
Step 3: Spice It Up!
Pick one or multiple. The items under “sauces / spreads / condiments” are the easiest to start with. If you cook for multiple people, encourage your eaters to customize their own dishes.
SAUCES / SPREADS / CONDIMENTS:
Note: For store-bought varieties, be sure to check the ingredient labels, and opt for varieties made from whole ingredients.
Per usual, there are tons of sauces out there, but here are a few common ones across popular cuisines:
- Italian: tomato sauce, lemon sauce, pesto, bruschetta
- Asian: curry sauce (Thai and Indian), masala sauce, peanut sauce, soy sauce
- Mediterranean: hummus, tahini sauce
- Mexican: salsa, guacamole
Check out my Easy Plant-Based Sauces post for super simple, make-at-home recipes, including ones for Thai peanut sauce, cashew lemon sauce, pumpkin pasta sauce, Indian tomato sauce, and more.
- Ground nuts / seeds
- Nut / seed butters (e.g., almond butter, tahini)
- Nutritional yeast
VINEGARS AND OILS:
- Vinegars: balsamic, apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, red wine vinegar
- Oils: olive oil, sesame oil, coconut oil
- Curry (great for Indian-inspired dishes)
- Cumin (great for Mexican-inspired dishes)
- Basil and oregano (perfect toppings to pasta and pizza dishes)
- Lemon pepper (great on almost anything)
- Garlic and onion powder (super easy alternatives to chopping / sauteeing garlic and onions; add great flavor)
- Cayenne and chili powder (if you like things spicy)
- Good ol’ salt and pepper
- Lemon, lime juice / zest
- Take advantage of canned and frozen things!
- Most grocery stores these days have frozen rice and quinoa, BPA-free canned beans, and a large variety of frozen veggies.
- Just be sure to check the ingredient label to ensure you’re not getting a bunch of icky ingredients (i.e., looks for varieties whose ingredient lists contain the main food (e.g., black beans), maybe salt, and nothing else).
- Take advantage of pre-made things.
- Similarly, many grocery stories have reasonably healthy, pre-made sauces and condiments–salsas, tomato sauces, curries–that can make week-day dinners a breeze.
- Again, just be sure to check out the ingredient list, and opt for varieties made from whole foods, free from artificial ingredients, and low in added sugar/salt/oil.
- Leverage the microwave.
- Potatoes, for example, can be cooked very easily in the microwave, turning a 1-hour affair into a 5-minute one.
- Use tools.
- Hate chopping veggies? Invest in a food processor, and let it do the work for you.
- Make things in batches, and repurpose.
- Cooking rice for tonight’s dinner? Make more than you need, and use the leftovers for another dinner later in the week. You can also freeze certain foods and use them up a few weeks out.
Easy Plant-Based Dinner Recipes that Take Less than 10 Minutes
Unless noted otherwise, all recipes serve 1 person, and portions are on the small side. Adjust as needed.
Pasta with Beans and Tomato Sauce
- 1/2c whole-grain pasta
- 1/4c cannellini beans
- 1c leafy greens (e.g. spinach)
- 1/4c tomato sauce
- Cook pasta per package instructions.
- While pasta is cooking, sauté greens in a pan with a bit of oil (or water/broth for oil-free), until wilted.
- Add greens and beans to pasta and top with tomato sauce.
- 1 whole-grain pita
- 2-4T tomato sauce
- 1/2c broccoli
- Cheese of choice (dairy-free, if needed — I like ground cashews and nutritional yeast)
- Place pita on a baking sheet, spread with tomato sauce, and add toppings.
- Bake at 420 degrees F for about 8 minutes, or until pita is crisp.
- 2c shredded lettuce
- 1/2c canned black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 small sweet potato
- 1/4c salsa
- 1 avocado, diced
- Microwave sweet potato for 5-8 minutes, flipping half-way through, until easily pierced all the way through.
- Add lettuce to a bowl and top with beans, potatoes, salsa, and avocado.
Soba with Broccoli Slaw and Thai Peanut Sauce
- 2 oz buckwheat soba
- 1c broccoli slaw
- Peanut sauce
- Prepare soba per package directions.
- Add broccoli slaw to soba, and add peanut sauce on top.
- 1-2 whole grain pitas
- 1/4c hummus
- 1 tomato, sliced
- 1c fresh spinach
- 1 avocado, sliced
- Open pitas and spread hummus on the inside.
- Stuff with tomato, spinach, and avocado.
Spanish Cauliflower Rice
- 1c riced cauliflower
- 1/4-1/2c salsa
- 1/4-1/2c black beans
- 2 corn tortillas (optional)
- Sauté cauliflower in pan with 1/4c salsa for several minutes, until cauliflower softens and salsa thickens up.
- Add black beans, and more salsa, if desired, and stir until warmed through.
- Serve alone or incorn tortillas.
- Coconut red curry sauce
- 2c sweet potatoes (~1-inch cubes)
- 2c broccoli
- Bring sauce to a boil, add potatoes, and boil for about 10 minutes.
- Add broccoli, and boil for an additional 2-4 minutes, or until veggies are tender.
Maple Lentils with Spinach
So this guy takes a bit more than 10 minutes from start to finish, but active prep time is minimal!
- 1/2c green or brown lentils
- 1c veggie broth
- 1T maple syrup
- 1T coconut aminos
- 1t olive oil
- 1 large handful spinach
- Add all ingredients, except spinach, to a covered baking dish, and bake at 350 for 1.5 hours.
- Remove from oven, and add spinach. Let sit, stirring occasionally, until spinach has wilted.
. . .
What are your go-to, easy plant-based dinners? Please share in the comments!
P.S. Want to learn more about plant-based eating? Check out my guide to starting a plant-based diet, and sign up for my newsletter in the sidebar for exclusive tips and tricks.