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Plant-Based Eating on The Night Shift

Plant-based eating on the night shift? Yes, you can! Here's how.

Eating a plant-based diet doesn’t have to be complicated—even when working the night shift. Before we get into it, let me just put the disclaimer out there that personal diets are just that—personal! I’ve been following a plant-based diet for the last year for health reasons, and it’s been great for me—but I’m not here to push a vegan lifestyle on you. My goal is simply to share some helpful tips and tricks to make eating plant-based on the night shift easier.

Finding time to make nutritious food can be a challenge for anyone, not to mention night shift workers dealing with an already-packed schedule. Throw in a specific way of eating—like, say, a gluten-free or vegan diet—and things can start to feel overwhelming pretty quickly. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here are some ideas and meal inspo to incorporate more plants into your night shift routine.

Keep it simple

Since switching to a plant-based diet, I’ve had a few friends hit me with, “I’d love to have you over, but I don’t know how to cook vegan food.” This is to be expected, as the common idea is that plant-based cooking is limiting and complicated.

But oftentimes that’s not the case—if anything, vegan cooking can be simpler because fewer elements are involved since you don’t have to handle dairy and meat products. To simplify your cooking approach, focus on naturally plant-based foods and easy swaps.

Cook dishes that are naturally plant-based

One of my favourite things about eating plant-based is how it helps you go back to basics in terms of what ingredients you’re using. In my experience, it’s when you try to recreate a plant-based version of an omnivore meal from scratch that things can get complicated.

Trying to “vegan-ify” a recipe that includes lots of meat and cheese will typically require you to use a fake meat or cheese alternative (which aren’t my personal favourite), or have you spending hours trying to magically turn lentils, flour, and beetroot powder into a faux prime rib. For me, this normally leads to frustration—it takes twice as much time to make, and in the end, it never tastes like prime rib anyway.

Instead, I like to look for recipes that are naturally plant-based—and don’t require me to spend hours trying to make a cheese sauce out of cashews. Not only does this save time, but also prevents disappointment—I enjoy my meals a lot more when I’m not thinking of them as knock-off versions of the real thing. Some of my go-to dishes that are naturally plant-based include pasta, chilli, nourish bowls, veggie stir fry with rice or rice noodles, and burrito bowls. But more on my specific food recommendations later!

At the end of the day, all types of cooking range from general to advanced—it just depends on what you decide to cook. So when cooking for the night shift, focus on simple, naturally plant-based recipes that are delicious and easy to cook. This approach will take the headache and frustration out of your cooking, and avoids relying on fake meat and cheese alternatives.

Find protein source swaps

One thing that’s helped me a lot is letting go of the idea that I need to find a plant-based food that looks and tastes exactly like real meat. Instead, I’ve found it helpful to keep my pantry stocked with easy protein sources I can swap for meat, like lentils, chickpeas, beans, or tofu.

My sister is great at this—she always has chickpeas on hand to use in place of chicken. Instead of making an entirely different dish for me when she cooks for my family, she just makes an extra dish on the side with all of the same ingredients but swaps the chicken for chickpeas. I get to eat virtually the same thing as everyone else, and she doesn’t have to worry about making a completely separate meal for me.

What about dairy? 

While I find it easy to swap out meat for different protein sources, trying to replace dairy components can get a bit more complicated. Here’s my personal approach:

Butter: I love using olive oil, hummus, and tahini in place of butter and other spreads.

Milk: I love a good almond or oat milk for cappuccinos or matcha lattes. 

Cheese: I’m honestly not the biggest fan of vegan cheese, although there is a plant-based Boursin that I love. Otherwise, I tend to skip vegan cheese altogether. 

Ice cream: While I’m normally not a huge fan of dairy alternatives, I make an exception for this ice cream. Salted caramel cluster is the best flavour and I will die on this hill.

Be prepared

When juggling a busy night shift schedule, you might not always have a lot of time to spend cooking throughout your week. This is where your secret weapons come in: meal prep, a good stockpile, and knowing your options. Here are a few simple ways to set yourself up for success.

Meal prep it out

I know it’s a cliché, but preparation is key when eating plant-based on the night shift. As far as meals go, it’s always a good idea to bring some meal-prepped food from home to make sure there will be something you can eat during your shift.

Break your meals down into basic key elements to take the stress out of plant-based meal prep. I usually like to prepare two or three vegetables, some grains, a few protein sources, and a delicious sauce or two. Once you have these main components ready, you can mix and match them throughout the week to create delicious meals with minimal effort.

If preparing whole meals instead of mix-and-match components is more your style though, I’ve got you covered—here are four of my go-to meals that are delicious and easy to make.

Falafel bowls

I made these for the first time this summer and they quickly became a repeat offender on my recipe list. First, bake a batch of falafel—I really love this recipe from Love and Lemons. Then use them to make pita wraps or Mediterranean bowls with rice or quinoa, lettuce, cucumber, tomato, olives, and hummus or tahini. So many delicious flavours in one dish!


I know it’s predictable, but I love a good salad. They’re easy to prep, help you get some greens in, and are endlessly customizable. Look at different recipes for some extra inspiration and creativity. (Most of my favourite recipes come from this cookbook written by two sisters who own my favourite salad restaurants in Montreal.)

Rice noodle stir-fry

This is a favourite budget meal of mine. Simply fry up a few veggies (I usually use a frozen veggie medley to simplify things) with some cubed tofu. Whip up a peanut sauce—this five-ingredient one is delicious—while making some rice noodles in the meantime. Pour the sauce over your veggies and tofu, and add the noodles once they’re cooked. Give everything a good stir, and you’re ready to enjoy. If you’re meal-prepping this to eat later, just keep the sauce separate until you’re ready to eat. If rice noodles aren’t your thing, this is also delicious over rice. It’s warm, comforting, delicious, and best of all incredibly easy.

Tofu scramble

This is one of my favourite make-ahead breakfasts. In a pan, fry up some peppers, onion, and any other veggies you have lying around. Crumble tofu into the pan and sprinkle some paprika, turmeric, and any other spices you feel like adding to taste—this will add flavour and make the tofu look like scrambled eggs (seriously, my mom was shocked at how much it looks like real egg the first time I made it). Add some spinach or kale at the last minute, then eat as is with some hot sauce on top, or use as filling for breakfast burritos topped with avocado. This is a great way to start your day with a meal full of veggies, and you can even freeze these for breakfast burritos on the go!

Keep your pantry stocked

If you want to master the meal-prep game, you need to have some key items stocked and ready to go. Having simple ingredients on hand that can easily be whipped up into something delicious can take a lot of stress out of cooking for the night shift.

Here are some pantry staples to keep on hand:

  • Quinoa
  • Your fav type of rice
  • Lentils
  • Oats
  • Chickpeas
  • Beans (pinto, black, kidney)
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Vegetable broth
  • Frozen fruit & vegetables
  • Pasta noodles
  • Rice noodles
  • Peanut butter
  • Maple syrup
  • Soy sauce
  • Tahini
  • Coconut milk
  • Salsa
  • Oils (olive, sesame, coconut)

Keep backup options in your locker

Plant-based options can be limited when you’re out and about. To avoid feeling like you’re missing out on all the fun, try to keep plant-based tasty treats on hand in your locker or night shift bag. It could be a homemade baked good or even just some candy or vegan chocolate. If you have something on hand when everyone’s eating donuts in the middle of your shift, you’ll have something fun to enjoy and avoid the pitying looks from the non-vegans.

Here are some of my favourite plant-based snacks and sweet treats:

Trail mix

You can never go wrong with a good trail mix—bonus points if you make your own. Keep a bag in your car, in your locker, around your house, and anywhere else you might get snacky.

Oatmeal breakfast cookies

I have made this recipe so. many. times. Just swap out the egg for two ripe mashed bananas, and you’ve got delicious plant-based cookies ready to enjoy. I typically make these as breakfast cookies, but they taste amazing any time of day.

Veggies, pretzels, and hummus

This is just the ultimate trifecta if you ask me, even if it is incredibly basic. I find this combo is the perfect mix of textures and flavours, and is a great option to pack in your night shift lunch bag.

Find some takeout options

For those nights when you didn’t have a chance to bring something from home, takeout can be a lifesaver—you just need to figure out what places offer plant-based options. You might be surprised at how many restaurants and takeout places offer vegan menu items.

Granted, your choices may be limited in the middle of the night. But try to do a little Google searching to see if there are any options available in your area for those last-minute takeout orders. It could be that your local pizza place offers a vegan pizza, or maybe there’s a Mexican restaurant that delivers burrito bowls. Many Indian and Thai dishes are naturally vegan, and of course, there are always avocado rolls if you’re ordering sushi. The point is to look for some options to keep in mind when the time comes, because they’re out there!

Following a plant-based or vegan diet while working the night shift can present some unique challenges, but it doesn’t have to mean surviving off of kale and plain tofu.

Remembering to keep it simple will go a long way, and ensure that you can eat lots of delicious food while staying on top of your shifty schedule.

Last updated: 2024-01-08

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Sierra Jensen

I'm a freelance writer who's passionate about matcha lattes and meaningful content. You'll find my work in regional magazines, healthcare websites, and lifestyle blogs.

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