I get the question all the time.
What the **** do you vegans and 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?
Or worse, going hungry?
To better answer the question and avoid turning off potential veggie converts, I put together a list of vegan 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. Most 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.
15 Vegan Lunch Ideas
1. Veggie wrap or pita.
Other go-to options: avocado, 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, lettuce, cilantro, and hot sauce
Add avocado, tomatoes, and even raw veggies like peppers if you’d like.
3. Loaded-up salad.
Salad doesn’t have to be just greens, and it certainly doesn’t have to be boring. Some ideas to boost the calorie-count with protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats include:
- Aliced almonds
- Hemp seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Orange slices
- Apple slices
- Fancy nut oils
- Lemon juice
- Dulse flakes
- Garbanzo, white, black, or pinto beans
And about a million other options. There’s really no wrong addition to salad. Just ask Sid Garza-Hillman and his “Big Frickin’ Salad.”
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 jelly.
5. Apple with nut butter.
This one’s a favorite recently in Matt’s house. His wife and kids have been known to eat apples with nut butter like they’re going out of style. (As if eating like a second-grader were ever in style.)
I wouldn’t call this a meal on its own, but add a banana and a few handfuls of raw nuts, and you essentially have the lunch I survived off of during my book tour.
You could make a standard Mexican version by melting some vegan cheese or guacamole between two tortillas and tossing in some mushrooms or roasted peppers and topping it with salsa.
Or you could ditch the Mexican theme entirely and use hummus (black-bean hummus is a nice change) and fresh vegetables. It may not follow the true definition of a quesadilla, but hey, we like to think outside the box around here.
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, avocado, and whatever other toppings 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 vegan meals like pasta, pizza, and rice or noodle bowls, popping up in grocery-store freezers. Amy’s, Kashi, and Sweet Earth are popular brands you can find at most grocery stores, and Trader Joe’s has several vegan frozen meal options.
And then you can’t forget one of Robert Cheeke’s go-tos, Amy’s frozen rice and bean burrito.
9. Vegetables dipped in hummus with toasted pita chips.
This one is about as easy as it gets, and to make it even easier, you can just buy the hummus at the store.
But if you’re like my family, and regularly make your own hummus anyway, here are a few of my favorite recipes:
- Black Bean Hummus
- Buffalo Hummus (from the No Meat Athlete Cookbook)
- Black Eyed Pea Hummus
- The Buddhist Chef’s Hummus
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, vegan cheese if you eat it, and whatever vegetable toppings you can think of.
English muffins or bagels work just as well, as long as they’re vegan.
11. Avocado toast.
Millennials love avocado toast, right? Well so do we at No Meat Athlete.
NMA Radio co-host Doug’s favorite version uses a toasted baguette as the bread, then layers on the following:
- Hint of olive oil
- Lightly mashed avocado
- Thinly sliced tomatoes
12. To-Go vegan sushi.
Ok, I fully admit that having to go buy something doesn’t really fit the rules I defined at the top of the post, but team member Esther shared this idea, and I think it’s a good one.
When in a pinch, hit up a grocery story or other fresh market for some to-go vegan sushi. It’s simple, fresh, and typically pretty healthy.
13. Can of soup.
When Doug worked in a downtown DC office building, he kept a few cans of soup in his desk for when he was in a pinch.
These days you can get a lot of semi-healthy lentil, vegetable, and even no-chicken noodle soups for pretty cheap. The best part?
They last forever, so you can have a few stashed away and not worry about them.
14. Overnight oats.
I know, this is typically considered a breakfast food, but it certainly doesn’t have to be.
Use the oats a base, then add in a ton of nuts, seeds, fruit, and even nut butters, and you have a super easy meal ready for lunch time. It does require a little planning ahead, but ends up being perfect for lunch meetings or super busy days at work.
Here are a few of our team’s favorite recipes:
- Vegan Overnight Oats (This is a great standard recipe)
- Peanut Butter Overnight Oats
- Green Monster Overnight Oats
15. Vegan “Caprese” open faced sandwich.
This idea actually came from a reader, and I love it. The idea and execution is super simple:
- Use a toasted sprouted bread as your base layer.
- Add a thin slice of firm tofu (it can come straight from the package, no cooking needed) as a replacement for the mozzarella.
- Throw on tomatoes and basil.
- Drizzle with a bit of balsamic vinegar.
I have to admit, when I first went vegetarian I wouldn’t have been into the idea of tofu straight from the package, but now I don’t mind it at all. It absorbs whatever flavor you throw on it, and can taste rather refreshing.
There you have it. Now there are 15 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. But in a pinch, they’ll get you through a day when you don’t have leftovers.
Surely I haven’t thought of them all. What are your favorite vegetarian lunches fit for work?
This post was originally published in 2010 as 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. It has now been updated to focus on vegan lunches, with new additions to the list.