Have you been struggling with meal planning as a vegan after bariatric surgery? It is already challenging to plan meals after bariatric surgery but as a vegan it can add another layer of complexity. In this article I am going to give you everything you need to know to plan nutritious, satisfying meals as a vegan after bariatric surgery.
How to Put Together a Balanced Meal
To figure out how to put meals together for your bariatric meal plan, I encourage you to think about building a balanced vegan bariatric plate. For a balanced plate, include:
- A protein food, such as tofu, tempeh, seitan, legumes, lentils
- A vegetable, such as leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, or green beans
- A starchy and/or carb food, such as quinoa, farro, brown rice, whole grain pasta, whole grain bread, or fruit
- A source of healthy fat, such as olive oil, nuts/seeds, avocado
You can also check out my article: ‘What is a Vegan Bariatric Diet?’
Top 5 Pieces of Equipment Needed for Bariatric Meal Planning
When you’re meal planning after bariatric surgery, having the right equipment can make all the difference in how successful you are. I am going to give you my top 5 picks for making meals as a vegan after bariatric surgery.
Meal Prep Containers
You need a place to put your meals. I recommend glass containers for several reasons.
1) They last longer.
2) They do not discolor.
3) They are safe for both the microwave and oven for reheating.
Depending on how far out from surgery you are and which types of foods you are prepping there are different sizes of containers that you may use.
Measuring Cups & Spoons
You will need measuring cups and spoons to follow recipes, especially if you are a beginner at cooking. After some practice you may start to feel comfortable with estimating amounts of some ingredients or improvising changes to recipes to suit your individual needs and tastes. I recommend at least measuring the fat sources in recipes, such as oil, as these foods are easy to over-use.
If you’ve never used a food scale before you may be wondering why you would need it if you have measuring cups and spoons. In the United States it is definitely more common to use measuring cups and spoons instead of a food scale. I have found that many people are confused about the difference in measuring between measuring cups and spoons and a food scale.
The benefit of a food scale is that you don’t have to get the measuring cups and spoons dirty. You can just put the food you are measuring right into the bowl or plate on the scale. The one downside to measuring with a food scale is that many recipes are written with volume measures instead of weight measures. A Google search can help you to convert a recipe from volume measurements to weight measurements. For example, you can search for ‘weight of 1 tablespoon of peanut butter.’
When you’re thinking about knives to use in the kitchen you may think you need a whole set, but as a beginner and especially as a vegan I encourage you to reconsider this notion. A chef’s knife is the most versatile knife in the block and a perfect one to start with.
If you want to get a couple other knives I would suggest a small paring knife and a bread knife. In my opinion though as a vegan you don’t really need any other knives than that.
A metal sheet pan is an incredibly versatile, useful kitchen tool for meal planning. One of my favorite methods for a quick meal is a sheet pan meal. They can also be used to bake potatoes, make mini pizzas, bake tofu and tempeh, and roast vegetables.
How Long Should Your Bariatric Meal Plan Be?
Most people meal plan for at least a week at a time, to go along with weekly grocery shopping. Some people plan for even longer, maybe a month at a time. Some reasons why you would want to have a longer meal plan include personal preference, lack of access to the grocery store, and saving money.
If the grocery store is far away from where you live it may be helpful to go there less often. Meal planning for a month at a time can allow you to do that.
Meal planning once a month can help you to save money as you can buy some things in bulk sizes, which are often cheaper.
If you are making a meal plan for a longer period of time than a week or two you will have to consider which foods are more perishable and plan to have recipes that use them up first. Then as you get to the later weeks in the month you can use the foods that last longer, like canned beans, frozen vegetables, and more sturdy fruits like apples.
Top 11 Ways to Make Bariatric Meal Planning Easier
Maybe you’ve tried meal planning before, but the habit didn’t last long. Meal planning is not an easy habit for most people to adapt to. Here are some ways that you can make meal planning easier on yourself.
This is not cheating. You do not have to make everything from scratch. Use the easier options to get meals on the table. It does not have to be perfect!
Use a prepared sauce to take baked tofu and roasted vegetables to the next level. You can layer them in a bowl with a whole grain and drizzle with sauce. Easy, delicious dinner.
Pre-chopped Vegetables & Fruits
Most grocery stores have a section stocked with pre-chopped vegetables and fruits. They are more expensive this way but sometimes your time is worth it. Some can also be found in the frozen food section, such as onions. The frozen ones may be more affordable.
If you still want to save time but the pre-chopped options are too pricey for you, try doing it yourself. Find a day when you have some extra time available and bulk chop some vegetables to freeze. Options that freeze well include onions, bell peppers, and green onions.
Making dried beans from scratch can take a lot of time that a lot of people don’t have. Canned beans are very affordable and ready to use right from the can. You can choose no-salt-added options or give them a rinse before you use them to reduce their sodium content.
Extra Firm Tofu
I recommend extra firm tofu as a quick option as it is easy to use, even without pressing, right out of the package. Of course, you don’t have to press any tofu, but I know many people like to do so before eating it. If you would like to be able to skip that step, but like a firm-textured tofu I recommend buying extra firm tofu.
Buying tempeh that is already flavored is a big time saver. All you have to do is saute or bake it and serve with a whole grain and vegetable and you have a meal. Lightlife makes a delicious bacon-flavored one that is perfect in a breakfast sandwich.
Pre-cooked Whole Grains
Pre-cooked whole grains can be found in the frozen food section or in microwavable pouches by the uncooked grains. One barrier to eating whole grains is the cook time. 45 minutes for brown rice…yikes! You can eliminate that problem by buying pre-cooked.
Sometimes when you think of a meal plan or eating healthy, you think you have to make 20 new recipes a week and no repeats.
This is definitely not true! I recommend making larger batches and then eating it for several meals instead to save time. If you start to get bored with a meal, many things can be frozen and then you could eat it again in a couple weeks when it sounds appetizing again.
Keep Some Meals the Same
Many people eat the same thing for breakfast every day or rotate through just a few items.
There is nothing wrong with this and I encourage you to do it as well. It doesn’t have to be breakfast, it could be any meal you want.
Plan at Least 1 Meal Per Week Away From Home
You will likely have at least one meal during the week that you will eat away from home or at the very least that doesn’t go as scheduled. It is helpful to plan for this rather than think that you are going to stick to the plan exactly. Planning to be flexible helps you to stick to the plan!
Don’t Use All New Recipes
A meal plan does not have to be all new recipes. You can make a meal plan of recipes and meals that you already know and love. If something is working for you, don’t feel like you have to change it.
Keep Your Pantry Stocked
Another thing you can do to make meal planning easier is to keep your pantry stocked with basics. If you’re not able to get to the grocery store on your usual day you can use the pantry staples to make meals until you can get to the store instead of relying on fast food or takeout.
Grocery List for Bariatric Meal Planning
There are certain things that you can do with your grocery list to make it easier for you to grocery shop. I recommend writing down everything you need for the week or however long you’re meal planning for first. Then go through your pantry and cross off what you already have.
After you have a list of what you need I would encourage you to separate the foods into the different grocery store departments so that it is easier to shop. There’s nothing more annoying that realizing that you forgot the broccoli when you’re in the bread aisle already!
How to Buy Groceries
You can make meal planning easier or more difficult by how you are grocery shopping. I recommend starting with grocery shopping once per week. For most people grocery shopping more frequently than this takes up too much time. Once you get more skilled at meal planning you can experiment with stretching out grocery shopping trips if you would like.
It has now become more common for people to order their groceries instead of going into the grocery store and shopping in the traditional fashion. If you’ve never tried ordering groceries before I would encourage you to try it. You may find that it helps to save you a lot of time in your meal planning and prepping.
Depending on which grocery store you choose to shop at, the options to receive your groceries may vary. Most grocery stores offer both pick up and delivery. I think the biggest benefit though is the ordering platforms. You can save a shopping list so the things that you typically order will be saved and you don’t have to re-add them to the list.
It is also helpful since you make the list while you are at home so you have access to your pantry and double check whether or not you have ingredients at home already.
Different Ways of Bariatric Meal Planning and Prepping
When you think about meal prepping your mind probably goes to making meals ahead to reheat later. But what if you don’t like leftovers? Not to worry-you can still meal prep!
There are other things that you can do to make meal preparation and following your bariatric meal planning easier.
Try just washing and chopping vegetables and fruits ahead of time. You may have more than one recipe that uses one ingredient, such as onions. Try cutting them both up at once to save time.
Another thing that you can do to make meal preparation easier is to make sauces, marinades, and salad dressings ahead of time. These parts of your meals can be stored in the refrigerator or some of them could even be frozen for later use.
The way that you organize your recipes and ingredients can also help or hinder your ability to prepare meals in a timely manner. Keep all your recipes for the week together.
If you prefer to make a new recipe most nights instead of making a larger batch and reheating leftovers you can make it easier on yourself by setting the ingredients out the night before or morning of. Then when it’s time to cook everything is easily accessible.
How Long Do Leftovers Last?
According to the USDA you can keep leftovers safely in the refrigerator for 3-4 days and in the freezer for 3-4 months. If you are planning to cook on Sunday and eat those leftovers all week I would recommend storing some portions in the freezer for later in the week.
In conclusion, learning how to meal plan goes a long way in helping you to stay healthy on a vegan diet after bariatric surgery. Bariatric meal planning ensures that you’re regularly having meals that are filling, satisfying, and nutritious. You won’t have to wonder if you’re meeting your nutrition needs as a vegan after bariatric surgery when you’re in the habit of planning balanced meals.
Ashley Krautkramer, RD, CSOWM, CD, CDCES is a vegan and bariatric nutrition expert with more than six years of experience. She is a board certified specialist in obesity and weight management.