Over the past two years, I’ve gradually omitted meat from my diet to the point that, while I don’t claim to be a strict vegan, I rarely eat meat, and have steadily decreased dairy and sugar while increasing my fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans. In my experience, slow is the way to go in transitioning one’s diet, especially major changes like becoming vegetarian or vegan. And it helps to have several quick and easy meals to rely on.
When lunchtime rolls around, I’m usually immersed in my writing, alerted to the fact that I’m hungry only by a hard-to-ignore stomach growl. By the time I’m ready to break for lunch, I want to eat immediately. No time for cooking. And these are the quick lunches I rely on every single day. I work from home, so I have access to my kitchen, but with a little preparation time, these quick and easy vegetarian lunches could work for lunch at the office, too.
A baked potato can be a vegetarian’s best go-to meal, but the toppings can sometimes add too many calories, and if, like me, you prefer to avoid the microwave, baking a potato can take up to an hour. Instead, I take advantage of all the varieties of potatoes available at the grocery store these days. I cut up a couple red or yellow potatoes, boil them for 7-10 minutes, then mash them in a bowl with some Earth Balance butter, sea salt, and pepper. Reminds me of Sunday dinner at my Grandmother’s house.
Hummus and veggies
I always keep store-bought hummus in the fridge. So many flavors and varieties are available in stores now. I love Spinach & Artichoke flavor. Even if I don’t have any veggies cut up, it takes less than five minutes to prepare a couple celery sticks, a carrot, broccoli or cauliflower florets, and some cherry tomatoes.
I learned this method for oatmeal from Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet, and I love it so much, that I eat more oatmeal now than I ever have in my life, and I don’t have to use the sugary instant kind. I eat oatmeal for lunch all the time, especially if I get caught up in work and skip breakfast. Measure ½ cup whole oats in a bowl. Mix in cinnamon to taste (about 1/8 to ¼ tsp.). Add half an apple, diced (eat the other half, or like me, share it with your dog). Stir in a few Tb of maple syrup. Bring water to a boil in a tea kettle (or small pot), and pour boiling water over the oats, just enough to cover them. Cover the bowl with a plate and let set for about ten minutes. Stir and enjoy.
Cracked Pepper and Olive Oil Triscuits, Swiss Cheese, with a sliced apple
I have gone for several weeks eating this lunch every single day. It is just so quick, easy, and filling. It’s not a vegan option, but I give in and let myself have cheese once in a while because I love it so much. I take eight of the Triscuits and lay them out on a plate. (I love the Cracked Pepper and Olive Oil flavor, but any flavor can be used.) Tear two slices of Swiss cheese into quarters and top each cracker with one. Then slice an apple and place on the plate next to the crackers.
Fruit fills you up, it’s good for you, and it’s so delicious. A fruit salad doesn’t have to be fancy and takes only a few minutes, even if you have to chop the fruit. I use whatever I have on hand, but the quickest method is to slice a banana, add a few sliced strawberries, some blueberries, and some pineapple if I happen to have it cut up (or use canned in a pinch). My eight-year-old daughter can even make this one, and she loves it.
Mixed Veggie Salad
Salads are the ultimate quick lunch. I start with a big bowl in which I make the dressing first by adding a couple Tb red wine vinegar (or lemon or lime juice), and a couple Tb of olive oil, then whisk them together with a fork. Then I add the salad. I always have washed and chopped lettuce or spinach in the fridge. If not, use bagged salad. Add whatever veggies you have on hand: sliced cucumber, broccoli or cauliflower florets, onion, carrot, celery, green pepper, cherry tomatoes, and any leftover herbs. Stir to coat the salad with the dressing. Sometimes I add a little feta cheese.
Black bean salad
I like to prepare dry beans (soaking and cooking them), then rinse and have them on hand in the fridge. If I don’t, I always keep a can or two of black beans in the pantry just in case. Rinsed and drained, they’re fine. To about a cup of black beans, I add ½ tsp cumin, chopped red pepper, chopped red onion, handful of frozen corn, lime juice (about ½ lime, squeezed), pinch of salt and pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil. Stir, cover and let corn defrost, then enjoy.
If I make a big batch of black bean salad and have some leftover, I use it to make taco bowl. If not, I just start with 1 cup plain black beans and add chili powder and cumin (about ½ tsp each). I crush a handful of taco chips in the bottom of a bowl, add the beans, and top with chopped lettuce, tomatoes, lime juice, cheddar cheese and sour cream (last two ingredients optional, if you’re going vegan).
Apples and Peanut Butter
I eat an apple every day, not just because it keeps the doctor away, but because apples are the quickest, easiest, most affordable addition to most meals. They can even be a meal themselves! On busy days, many times for lunch I just slice an apple, put a big dollop of organic peanut butter on a plate, and then dip the apple slices in the peanut butter and munch away while I keep working.
I rarely eat sandwiches anymore, but pita bread just seems different than a regular old sandwich. I mean, you can put anything in a pita pocket and have an instant quick and easy lunch on the go. My favorite is to squirt a little bit of ranch dressing into a pita, then fill it with the usual salad ingredients-red leaf lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, whatever. A pita full of bean sprouts, tomato, and avocado with a little Italian dressing is also delicious.
Switching to these quick and easy vegetarian lunches not only saves time and improves your health, but it can also save the environment! As reported on Nightly News, PETA claims that one person can save 2.5 lbs of carbon dioxide emission by substituting a plant-based lunch for a meat-based lunch, a difference they compare to switching to a hybrid car. Use PETA’s Carbon Calculator Widget to find out how much carbon emission you can reduce by going vegetarian.
“Smooth Move: Veggie PETA-butter” NBC Nightly News http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/39160149#39160149