Here’s what you need to know about how to eat a whole food plant based (WFPB) diet, including recipes for every meal of the day!
Looking to eat more whole food plant based (WFPB) recipes? You’ve come to the right place. Alex and I started this website as a resource of whole food plant based recipes when we made the transition to eating this way. (We also wrote a cookbook full of them.) Turns out, a plant based diet includes some of the most delicious, satisfying and fun recipes out there! Here’s a bit more on what a WFPB diet is, how to transition, and some of our favorite recipes for getting started.
What is a whole food plant based (WFPB) diet?
What’s the WFPB diet? It’s a term for eating whole food plant based foods. There’s a bit of contention around exactly what this means, so let’s look at each piece of the term:
- Whole food: Whole foods are minimally processed foods like vegetables and whole grains. Refined flours, sugars, and processed foods are not whole foods.
- Plant based: Plant based is eating foods that are mainly derived from plants and not animal products.
So, a whole food plant based diet is a diet that focuses on fresh, minimally processed foods that are mainly made of plants. It’s more of a healthy lifestyle than a strict diet. According to various sources including Harvard Medical School, a plant based diet has the flexibility to include some animal products. The focus is that it’s mainly plants, and not that it’s strictly vegan and avoiding all animal products. (See more in our Plant Based Diet for Beginners.)
What do you eat in a whole food plant based diet?
What’s important with the WFPB diet is the good foods you’re leaning towards, not the bad foods you’re trying to avoid. Here’s what kind of healthy foods you’ll lean towards:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds (vs. processed foods)
- Whole grains (vs. pastas and breads — though they are fine in moderation!)
- Plant based proteins (vs. processed meats and plant-based meats)
- Healthy fats (like olive oil)
- Minimal sugar
How to transition to a whole food plant based diet
If you’re not eating this way yet, never fear! It’s actually one of the most delicious, satisfying ways to eat. How to start a healthy whole food plant based diet? Here are our top tips:
- Decide what’s right for you! First, decide on how you’d like to eat. Alex and I eat about 90% vegetarian and vegan, and then eat sustainable seafood or meat on occasion. We also eat about 90 to 95% whole foods, and leave room for processed treats every now and then. This keeps our overall diet sustainable.
- Start small. Refer to a few of the recipes below, and pick just a few! Make one or two, see if you like them. If not, move onto new ones!
- Stay on the path! It’s all about small steps toward the end goal. Don’t feel like you have to make a major change over night. And if you don’t find recipes you like at first, don’t sweat it! This will be a process. Stay the course.
- Find a buddy. Once of our best tips for making a diet change is to find a buddy to hold you accountable! Alex and I transitioned to a mostly whole food plant based diet over a few months by doing it together. If you don’t have a spouse or life partner who is interested, find a friend who you can share recipes with and mutually encourage each other.
15+ Whole Food Plant Based Recipes!
Let’s get to the recipes! Here are some recipes we recommend for starting out with a WFPB diet, from main courses to whole food plant based breakfast and snacks.
First up in our whole food plant based recipes: chickpea curry! This one is designed for weeknights and comes together in just 20 minutes. It's seriously flavorful, filled with ginger, garlic, cumin and curry powder, with a little coconut milk swirled in to make it creamy. Serve with basmati rice (or Instant Pot rice).
This BEST ever plant based wild rice soup is impossibly creamy! This one is a beloved fan favorite recipe, featuring wild rice, white beans and mushrooms in a creamy broth. The secret? Cashews are blended with some of the soup to make a rich and creamy body. It's super filling, full of plant based protein. (Got an Instant Pot? Make our Instant Pot Wild Rice Soup Recipe.)
One of our favorite meals in a whole food plant based diet? Tacos! Use corn tortillas to gobble up these vegan tacos: green lentils are spiced with taco seasoning and topped with salsa verde and cilantro sauce. A few other plant based tacos we love: Best Jackfruit Tacos and Cauliflower Tacos with Yum Yum Sauce.
Chili is such a crowd pleaser, it's perfect when cooking for a whole food plant based diet! This healthy chili features three types of beans and is loaded with spices. Top it with roasted salted pepitas, the perfect crunchy topping full of plant based protein. (Got an Instant Pot? Try our Instant Pot Vegetarian Chili.)
Loaded Mexican sweet potatoes is a fun way to eat whole food plant based without realizing it! Here you'll halve and roast the sweet potatoes, the top them with black bean salsa, corn and cilantro sauce. The cilantro sauce is plant based by way of blended cashews: it's tangy and you'll want to drizzle it on just about everything.
Here's a crowd pleasing plant based recipe made with the humblest of whole foods: carrot, celery, onion and split peas. It transforms into the tastiest cozy stew that's full of plant based protein. Serve with Almond Cashew Homemade Crackers instead of bread to stay totally whole food-centric.
This black bean burger is a tasty whole food plant based main made with sweet potatoes and black beans. Top it with spicy mayo (use vegan mayo, if desired!) and savory shiitake mushrooms. Serve it on a whole grain bun, or to remove any refined flours serve it over greens with a tahini drizzle. (See below!)
These Buddha bowls are full of big flavor! The plant based protein comes from the raw falafel. They're a spin on the traditional Mediterranean fried chickpea patties, but here they use the standard spices with sunflower seeds and herbs. Serve it in a bowl of vibrant veggies and top with our Lemon Tahini Sauce: it's bursting with whole food flavor.
These Cuban black beans may seem humble, but they taste like 1 million bucks. This one's a quick version of the Cuban staple, with onion, green pepper, jalapeño and garlic in sauteed butter (or vegan butter) to mimic some of the richness of the traditional ham hock. It cooks down into a silky smooth, luxurious sauce that tastes infinitely better than the sum of its parts.
If you're in the mood for something crunchy and salty but want to stick to a WFPB lifestyle, try these crispy chickpeas! They're roasted in a hot oven until perfectly crispy, and seasoned with cumin and garlic powder. When we make them, we can't stop eating them. And they're full of plant based protein!
Let's move on to whole food plant based breakfast, shall we? Here's a breakfast I eat every day and it's supremely satisfying. It's the best oatmeal, topped with filling all natural PB&J! Serve with no sugar added peanut butter for a huge hit of plant based protein to start your day. If you'd like a little flair, add our Strawberry Jam: it's homemade, vegan and naturally sweetened with maple syrup.
Here's a tasty way to start the day, WFPB style: an acai bowl! This frosty purple smoothie is made with acai berries, a Brazilian berry that's become popular in the US and is easily accessible in the frozen aisle. Top with fresh berries, almond butter and pumpkin seeds, and it's a filling breakfast.
Muesli is homemade breakfast cereal: it’s similar to granola but with no oil and very little sweetener. This whole food plant based breakfast is a fan favorite, cinnamon-scented with toasted coconut, pecans, and dried cherries. Top with your favorite almond milk or oat milk, and enjoy!
Last up in our whole food plant based recipes: a chocolate blueberry smoothie! Except this one isn't made with chocolate: it's sweetened with a little maple syrup, blueberries and banana, which combine with cocoa powder to form a sweet healthy drink that reminds you of chocolate...except it's all whole foods!
About the Authors
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.