I recently got a blog comment from a reader who works long hours and has a significant commute. With endless hours on the job and in the car, she was struggling to make a vegan diet work with her strict schedule. She wondered if I had any advice for easy vegan lunches.
The key to fast, no fuss lunches includes a combination of planning, a well-stocked kitchen, and some convenience foods. When time is at a premium, here are the things I do to make easy vegan lunches – painlessly and quickly.
Plan ahead. At dinnertime, make a bit more than you need.
It doesn’t take much extra time to chop 2 carrots instead of one or a whole onion instead of a half. So when I make dinner, I cook for four instead of two. If you have a larger family, try making a couple of extra portions. By padding out our dinners, our lunches are set with leftovers. It’s one of my favorite and easiest lunches to simply reheat and eat. Plus, so often foods are better the second day after flavors have had time to meld.
I also make more rice, barley, or grains than I need and then freeze them for later use. It takes the same amount of time to make 3 cups of rice as it does to make 1, and it’s so handy to have for meals later. It fills out a meal of baked tofu, beans, vegetables, stir-fry, and/or curry.
Keep a well-stocked pantry, refrigerator & freezer
I like to keep some staples and convenience foods on hand for padding out lunches. It’s nice to know there’s something in the freezer or pantry when there’s not a lot of time for cooking.
Some of my favorite staples include:
Fixings for sandwiches
When many people think of lunches, the first thing that comes to mind is a sandwich. Field Roast makes some tasty deli slices for an old school-style sandwich with mustard and pickles. I also like their apple sage sausages, which can be browned at home and reheated later. BLT’s with Upton’s Naturals seitan bacon are a classic and easy option. (Bring along an avocado for the ideal sandwich.)
Appeal to the hippie in you with a sandwich that includes hummus, sprouts, and plenty of sliced vegetables. Chickpea salad sandwiches are the vegan’s answer to tuna salad, and they’re so easy to make. And of course, I’d be remiss not to mention peanut butter and jelly.
Baked tofu is equally easy to make in large batches as it is in small. So I make a big batch, and then pull from it all week. My favorite baked tofu is this lemony tofu that uses just tamari, lemon juice, a bit of oil, and if desired, dried rosemary and pepper. I use it in wraps, bowls, or even straight out of the refrigerator as an easy, high-protein snack.
In a rush? There are also several packaged brands of baked tofu that are quite enjoyable.
Russet potatoes or sweet potatoes
When I’m making baked potatoes or sweet potatoes for dinner, I’ll often throw in an extra one or two. The oven is already hot, and having a baked potato at the ready makes for a simple lunch option on its own, with a salad, or with chili.
In addition to freezing my own homemade rice, I occasionally buy the packaged kind from Trader Joe’s that comes three bags to a pack. Take it out of the freezer before work, and it will be thawed by lunchtime. It also heats straight from frozen in a pan or microwave very quickly. (By the way, it’s great for making fried rice in a hurry too!)
I’ll make a big batch of hummus for snacks or buy prepared hummus and baba ganoush. Hummus is a full-service spread that I use on sandwiches or toasted tortillas, as a dip with pita or crudités, or in a bowl with rice and vegetables.
Bagged spring mix and spinach
A bag of spinach is an easy side when sautéed with a bit of garlic in a pan. It’s great for adding by the handful into a wrap or sandwich, or of course, as a base for salad.
Bagged chopped vegetables are also handy for simplifying the lunch prep process.
My kitchen would be incomplete without tortillas. Whether I’m making tacos, burritos, wraps, or quesadillas, I reach for them several times a week. I stuff them with:
- Bagged spinach, sliced peppers, and a slathering of hummus
- Baked tofu with peanut sauce
- Refried beans
- Curried tofu salad
- Spicy chickpeas or black beans, rice, and lettuce
Shelf-stable & frozen pasta and jarred sauce
Frozen vegan ravioli, gnocchi, or bagged pasta are good quick options. After boiling for about 10 minutes, I pour on a few dollops of jarred pasta sauce or pesto from the freezer. (Rising Moon Organics in the frozen section makes a vegan butternut squash ravioli and gnocchi.) If I have more time, I’ll add sautéed mushrooms, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, or seitan sausage.
For a lunch that doesn’t have to be reheated, I like the ease of pasta salad.
When I make soup for dinner, I usually make enough for 6-8 servings. We can eat the soup later as leftovers, and then many soups can be frozen for future use. Split pea soup, curried lentil soup, and chili are particularly good at freezing, thawing, and reheating.
Don’t have time to cook? There are plenty of packaged soups out there that are vegan. You’ll just need to read the ingredients. Keep a can at the office for an emergency lunch.
Kale salad is my go-to for making ahead of time, because it is a sturdy green that doesn’t wilt like its lighter brethren. I can make a big salad at the beginning of the week, and then just pull a portion from it day after day. I notice I eat a lot more salad this way too, because if that’s the easiest thing to eat and already prepared, I’m more apt to just have that instead of making something new.
To keep it interesting, I’ll add different toppings such as peanuts, Marcona almonds, stuffed grape leaves, sauerkraut, baked tofu, coconut bacon, turnip pickles, pepperoncinis, black beans, and/or roasted chickpeas.
Keep a stash of snacks at work and in the car
When I had extra long commutes, I’d often bring a little cooler and pack it with packaged hummus, fruit, baked tofu, and nuts. David has a mini fridge at work. He keeps several containers of coconut milk yogurt in it as an easy and filling snack, along with a jar of trail mix on his desk.