I bring my own lunch from home to work, every day. I also pack a lunch for Sam. While this may seem like a bit of work, to be honest, it only takes about 5 minutes at night (and packing our own vegan lunch saves us a ton of money–so totally worth it)!
One secret to our vegan lunch success? Doing a little prep on Sunday afternoons to get everything ready. If I prep everything on Sunday it takes roughly a hour. This covers breakfast, lunch and usually a few dinners that we can just reheat and eat.
A few years ago I had a big freezer cooking phase. I spent 3 hours on the weekends prepping food for two or three weeks. Our freezer was full, but often after busy work days we would still end up ordering take out, or eating Gardein strips and fries or a frozen Amy’s pizza. So, I’ve found for us, it’s easier to just make the food we’ll eat for the week rather than working too far ahead. We’re more successful that way.
Many days we take dinner leftovers for lunch the next day. We both have microwave access at work, although some days Sam has a very short lunch period (he has to travel to other schools) so on those days I try to pack something he can eat on the road.
Here are our easy vegan lunch ideas and weekly prep list.
1. Sweet Potatoes
I always make a batch of sweet potatoes and they’re what I eat for lunch most days. You can microwave sweet potatoes but I find the flavor is so much better when they’re oven roasted. All I do is wash them, split them in half and roast them on 400 for half an hour, cut-side down on a sprayed baking sheet. Then I let them cool and store them in a covered container in the fridge. Each morning I grab a half or two (depending on what else I’m taking with me).
You can reheat sweet potatoes, chop them in a salad and top them with all sorts of delicious things like Sour Supreme, nutritional yeast, brown sugar, Earth Balance, maple syrup…but honestly? I usually just eat them with a little salt, skin and all. They’re delicious!
I make a few cups of quinoa each week because it’s a great protein source and it’s a good base for all kinds of meals. I find that quinoa works great as a “grain bowl” with some chopped veggies, Green Goddess dressing and a handful of nuts or seeds. We use naturSource Salad Toppers which are a nice mix of flavored seeds and cranberries.
Sometimes I put leftovers in my quinoa bowl–leftover taco filling, vegetables, tofu or other items that wouldn’t be filling enough on their own. Quinoa is good cold or hot. It’s a versatile, easy grain.
Lentils are another great protein source and I usually cook a cup or two on Sundays. They don’t require any soaking and they’re delicious with herbs. My favorite are beluga lentils with a pat of Earth balance and rosemary. Sometimes I add them to my quinoa bowls, sometimes I top a baked sweet potato with them. Sometimes I just eat them on their own.
Lentils can often be found in the bulk section of the market. They’re very inexpensive and are a great option for taco filling, an addition to pasta or a wonderful soup. I know many people forget about the humble lentil, but if you haven’t eaten them for awhile I highly recommend giving them a try.
Neither Sam nor I are huge fans of traditional green salad. I find that salad often isn’t filling enough for either of us, and frankly unless it has unreasonable amounts of dressing I’ll pass. That said, a spinach salad with chickpeas, ginger dressing and maybe even some fruit? Well, that’s another story. At my previous job all our meals were kosher, which meant that many were vegetarian/vegan friendly (no meat or cheese). They taught me some wonderful salad combinations that were way better than the salad I grew up with.
I also like lettuce-free salads with vegetables like hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, roasted peppers and sundried tomatoes (pasta optional). Corn, tomato, peppers and black beans are another great salad option. Less-traditional salads make great additions to quinoa bowls, toppings for pasta or wrap/tortilla fillings.
5. Cold Pasta
I’m a pasta fan. I don’t mind whole-grain pasta, however and to be honest, I prefer whole grain pasta in pasta salads. I feel like it’s less mushy and holds up better for a few days. My friend Lauren used to make this simple pasta salad with green peas and parmesan. Fortunately, there’s amazing Follow Your Heart Parmesan, which is an absolute foil for the real thing. Add the peas to whole grain macaroni for the final minute or two of cooking. Toss with a few tablespoons of olive oil, salt and black pepper and a huge handful of the Parm. So easy!
I regularly use Italian dressing as a pasta topper and throw in whatever we happen to have in the fridge–broccoli, spinach, sundried tomatoes, zucchini and leftover veggie pepperoni or veggie deli slices. You can even add cubed cheese like Daiya, if you like. This is the world’s easiest and most filling lunch.
At least a couple times a week we opt for sandwiches for lunch. Especially on Sam’s to-go days. Tofurkey or Field Roast deli slices are great sandwich fillers and taste delicious with Just Mayo and vegetables or hummus on a wrap.
When all else fails, there’s always PB&J. If you put peanut butter (or almond butter!) on both sides of the bread, sandwiching the jam in between, you can keep your bread from getting soggy. This is an easy trick to make a few sandwiches ahead for the week.
Both Sam and I love leftovers, so that makes it easy to take last-night’s dinner for today’s lunch. Sometimes I’ll toss leftovers over spinach or with quinoa, if there doesn’t seem like enough to stretch between lunches. Usually, though, I just cook a little extra dinner knowing we’ll enjoy it for lunch as well.
We invested in a few nice glass containers with snap-on lids. I don’t feel good about microwaving plastic (plus, I’m not a plastic fan to begin with), so we always take our lunches in these reusable containers. I also have reusable snack bags and I sewed some sandwich wraps using coated fabric.
8. Frozen Convenience Foods
Due to the waste and just general processed-ness of frozen convenience foods, I really try to steer clear of them as much as possible. However, on the occasion that we do need to grab a quick meal, Amy’s makes some great frozen burritos and other options which aren’t too bad. Much of the packaging is recyclable.
Honestly, though? It’s really easy to make and freeze your own easy convenience snacks. Veggie freezer burritos are a personal favorite. I oven roast veggies, and mix them in with black beans and occasionally Daiya shredded cheddar. The burritos are then wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla, and waxed paper. I store them in the freezer for super simple grab-and-go options. Microwave for a minute and you have a burrito that’s just as good as anything in the freezer section.
Eating a healthy lunch doesn’t need to be difficult. There’s always the option of a PB&J if all else fails. Include some healthy sides–carrot sticks, pepper strips, clementines, apples and almonds. Lunch is important, so give you your lunch a little LOVE!