I get the question all the time.
What the **** do you vegetarians eat for lunch?
My answer, “leftovers,” has always felt unsatisfying. To the person asking, usually an intrigued, maybe-one-day vegetarian, this makes it seem hard. What if you didn’t cook the night before? Are you stuck with salad?
To better answer the question and avoid turning off potential veggie converts, I put together a list of vegetarian lunch ideas fit for the office. The only assumptions: You have access to a microwave, a toaster, and a way to keep food cold. And no leftovers allowed.
Here’s what I came up with. Many of them are meals in their own right; others are more like snacks that could be combined or supplemented with some fruit, nuts, or an energy bar to fill you up.
10 Vegetarian Lunch Ideas
1. Veggie wrap or pita.
Put hummus, cucumbers, lettuce, sprouts, olives, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a whole-wheat or sprouted wrap or pita. Other options: avocado, feta cheese, shredded carrots, beans, any other vegetable you like.
2. Bean burrito.
Heat black or pinto beans, pile onto a whole-wheat (lard-free) tortilla with salsa, cheese, lettuce, cilantro, and hot sauce.
3. Loaded-up salad.
Salad doesn’t have to be just greens. Some ideas to boost the calorie-count with protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats include walnuts, sliced almonds, hemp seeds, soy nuts, sunflower seeds, orange slices, apple slices, avocado, fancy nut oils, lemon juice, tempeh, olives, dulse flakes, nori, and white, black, or pinto beans. And about a million other options. Try a slice of toasted bread on the side.
4. Peanut/almond/sunflower seed butter on a bagel.
A good, whole-wheat or sprouted bagel has more protein than you might think. And nut butters generally provide healthy fats along with some more protein. Some fun add-ons: sliced banana or vegetarian jelly.
5. Apple with nut butter.
This one’s a favorite recently in my house. My wife and sister eat apples with sunflower seed butter like they’re going out of style. (As if eating like a second-grader were ever in style.) It’s not a meal on its own, but add some crackers, vegetables, or an energy bar, and it’s close.
You could make a standard Mexican version by melting some cheese between two tortillas and tossing in some mushrooms or roasted peppers and topping it with salsa. Replace the cheese with some guacamole for a vegan version. Or do away with the Mexican theme entirely and use hummus (black-bean hummus is a nice change) and fresh vegetables.
7. Veggie burger.
They’re best when they’re homemade, since you know exactly what you put in them. Just make extra and freeze some for later. If you’re gonna get picky and call that “leftovers,” then buy some premade ones at the store. Hint: Veggie burgers get a lot better when you dress them up with buffalo sauce, mustard, or whatever else you like.
8. A frozen, store-bought meal.
Michael Pollan has taught us that prepared meals you buy in a store are not real foods. And this is a good rule of thumb. But while I certainly wouldn’t eat them every day, there are some decent frozen vegetarian meals like pasta, pizza, and rice or noodle bowls, popping up in grocery-store freezers. Amy’s and Kashi are two popular brands, but check out your health food store for more options. Just scour the ingredient list before you buy.
9. Vegetables dipped in hummus with toasted pita chips.
You can make your own hummus or buy it in the store. If you buy it, try Tribe chipotle- or horseradish-flavored hummus. They will knock your socks off.
10. Flatbread pizza.
Refer to Christine’s vegan flatbread recipe if you want to make it yourself. Then add tomato sauce or vegetarian barbecue sauce, cheese if you eat it, and whatever vegetable toppings you can think of. English muffins or bagels work just as well, as long as you get vegetarian or vegan versions.
There you have it. Now there are 10 fewer excuses to keep eating meat.
But it’s important to note: These are supposed to be quick and convenient lunches. Many of them aren’t exactly nutritional powerhouses, with protein being especially tough to come by in such simple-to-prepare meals. But in a pinch, they’ll get you through a day when you don’t have leftovers.
If you have trouble finding any of these ingredients locally, I suggest that you order them from iherb.com. They’re cheap and sell quality stuff, and I have an affiliate deal with them where, as a No Meat Athlete reader, you’ll save $5 on your first order if you use the code RAZ652 at checkout.
Surely I haven’t thought of them all. What are your favorite vegetarian lunches fit for work?
This post is part of a series on how to start eating a vegetarian diet, for new vegetarians or endurance athletes looking to take their performance to the next level.