Recently transitioned to a vegan or plant-based diet and feel like you’re hungry all.the.time?? Or maybe you’ve been vegan for awhile and you feel like 30 minutes after eating a meal, you’re hungry again. Or maybe you eat a meal and even though you’re full, you’re just not totally satisfied.

I totally get it. When I transitioned from vegetarian to vegan 10 years ago, there was a considerable learning curve in how I had to eat. I felt constantly hungry without the animal products and it took some learning plus trial and error to learn what kept me full and satisfied. Now when I work with clients, we work on similar components of meal building to ensure that you are nourished and satisfied while following a lifestyle that’s important to you. I should also mention that while this post is targeted towards plant-based eaters, it can be applied to any lifestyle. I just find that vegans, vegetarians, and individuals with a diet mentality seem to struggle the most with finding satisfaction.

What makes a vegan meal satisfying?

Satisfying meal 101 right here!
  1. The overall experience.
    • Where are you eating your meal? Meals consumed in a relaxing space (quiet table, park bench, table with friends) are more enjoyable.
      • What flavor profiles are in your foods? Do you love garlic but hate vinegar? We all have preferences and it is important to honor your preferences regardless of your eating style. For example, I hate raw kale (even massaged) but enjoy it sauteed with garlic or swirled into soups.
        • What textures are on your plate? If you’re eating soft, mushy foods for 3 meals straight (oatmeal, soup, casserole type of situation), there’s a good chance you’ll want some texture to increase the satisfaction factor. I like to think of having something soft or creamy (beans, tofu, mashed potatoes, etc) with something leafy and robust (roasted brussel sprouts, broccoli, sauteed kale) and/or something with more crunch (salad with nuts, pan fried extra firm tofu, grilled tempeh, etc). Obviously each meal is different and the texture may vary meal to meal and day to day but variety is important. It’s also important to consider how textures feel. For example, you may feel like juicy watermelon on a hot summer’s day while you may prefer creamy cozy mashed potatoes on a cold rainy day. Honor these preferences and shifts.
        • What produce are you using? If you want to eat kale everyday because that is what’s “healthy” but it looks awful in the store, don’t buy it. Can you use arugula, spinach, or collards instead? Use your intuition and judgement to choose something that looks better, more in season, or local. This will not only increase satisfaction (and limit burn out with the same foods over and over) but can making eating more exciting and enjoyable.
        • What cooking method are you using? If you’re eating a meal that’s includes steamed or boiled everything, good luck feeling satisfied with that. Change up how you prepare foods to not only provide varying degrees of texture and taste and improve satisfaction. It’s ok to microwave a frozen bag of brown rice, frozen spinach, and open up a can of kidney beans and call the meal good but over time, you’ll likely want to play around with grilling, roasting, sauteing, blending, dehydrating, and steaming. Let’s just remind ourselves that when it comes to vegetables, because they have such a high water content, dry cooking methods (roasting, grilling, broiling, baking, sauteing) result in a deeper more delicious flavor.
Vegan pizza can be nourishing, comforting, filling, and satisfying with a variety of textures and flavors (earthy mushrooms, creamy cashew sauce, and fresh pops of parsley)
  1. The nutrition.
    • Carbohydrates/Starch. You will need starch to feel satisfied on a plant-based diet. In fact, you may need more starch than you realize for a few different reasons. The first reason is that starches are digested faster than fats and complex animal proteins so without the later in your diet, you may need more starchy vegetables to feel full and satisfied. The second reason is that you may have been relying on animal based foods that are more calorically dense to provide your body with calories and the energy it needed. Without those in your diet, your body may be like, “hey, I need some more sustenance over here!” Great carbohydrate choices are also options that will provide fiber. Talk to any dietitian and we will shout fiber from the rooftops. Two thirds of Americans are not getting the fiber they need. Fiber is your friend that helps stabilize glucose levels, promote a healthy gut microbiome (that prevents all sorts of things), and prevent certain types of cancer. It has also been shown that individuals who consume a high fiber diet are more likely to be at a healthy weight. Regardless, carbohydrates with fiber can help improve satisfaction at meals. Some of my favorite options include: brown rice, quinoa, potatoes (white and sweet), oats, peas, corn, and whole grain pastas, cereals, bread.
    • Fat is your friend. Because many plant-based proteins are lower in fat than animal-based proteins, I usually find vegans and vegetarians have to be conscious about including fat in their meals to not only feel full but to help meet nutrition needs. Without fat at your meal, there’s a higher likelihood you’ll fee hungry in an hour or feel the need to constantly graze throughout the day. The other thing about fat is that it provides a particular mouthfeel. Imagine taking a spoonful of a fat-free ice cream vs full fat – can you feel the difference? The fat is providing that rich luxurious quality that feels comforting and nourishing. So my general recommendation is to eat the full fat versions (coconut milk, plant-based milk alternatives, etc). My favorite plant-based fat options include: avocado on tacos or toast, nuts and seeds sprinkled on wraps or bowls, nut butters blended into oatmeal or homemade salad dressings, coconut milk swirled into curry or soup, and dairy free alternatives to cheeses can provide fat that increases satiety and satisfaction.
    • Protein. Ahhh yes, the great protein debate. While the United States seems to be hyper focused on protein, it’s safe to say you don’t need near as much protein per day as what some diets promote but you do need protein at your meal to feel the most satisfied. Some meals may include more protein than others (just like some may include more carbohydrate or fat) and that’s ok. It’s more important to focus on a source of protein rather than how much as if you are eating a diverse diet with adequate energy, you are likely consuming adequate protein. Some of my favorite plant based proteins include beans and legumes, tofu, tempeh, nuts/seeds, and nut butters. I also think it’s important to have convenience proteins on hand for those days when you want some protein but don’t have time/anything on hand/need something quick.
This is not the prettiest meal, but it was ultra satisfying with Dave’s Killer whole grain bread, high protein tempeh, spinach for more fiber, and avocado for healthy fat.
  1. Schedule.
    • No time? You may have to have smaller mini-meals to avoid becoming overly hungry to the point where “nothing sounds good I’m so hungry.” You may also have to rely more on convenience foods in that season of life. That’s ok. Prioritizing satisfaction with gentle nutrition during times of stress or busy seasons in life can be one of the most compassionate things you can do for yourself.
    • Vacation. As the old adage goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. If you’re in Italy, eat all the carbs if you want to and don’t feel bad about it. You will not become nutrient deficient from one meal, one snack, or one week. Part of travel includes experiencing food and cultures other than your own. Embrace that fully and guaranteed you’ll feel more joy with your experience and satisfaction with your food choices.
Traveling brings new challenges with eating, but with flexibility in your food choices, you will experience greater satisfaction and joy.

The key to satisfaction at meals is that a little thinking ahead can go a long way. The more often you consider these factors, which will become natural and habitual over time, the more satisfaction you’ll feel. This will free up so much mental space to allow yourself to spend time on things that matter with a nourished body and clear mind.

What are some of your most satisfying meals?

Comment below and let’s find the satisfaction factor at meal time!

Need help finding satisfying meals? Let me know and I’d love to try and help.

What Makes a Vegan Meal Satisfying?

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