Whether you work from home, bring lunch to the office, or carry your lunch in a backpack all morning, these vegan meal prep lunch ideas will help you to stay fueled throughout the day. I’m sharing some of my favorite, convenient midday meals, plus tips for transportation and storage.
At the height of the pandemic, one of the things that I heard most often from my nutrition clients was that lunch had become a challenge.
For some reason, the midday meal was proving to be trickier than any other.
This is probably because everyone’s daytime routine had been profoundly upended. Many folks were well accustomed to dinner and breakfast at home, but eating lunch at home each day was new.
In addition, many were struggling to feed children who were home from school, creating an even greater midday meal prep burden.
In theory, lockdown lunches should have been easy for me, since I already had an established WFH routine. Yet I found myself getting awfully repetitive with lunch. When I tried to think of new options, I would draw a blank.
Even now, with the world more open, lunch is probably my most uninspired meal. The reason that I’m able to keep it interesting is my meal prep routine.
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Thanks to meal prep, I’m able to consistently incorporate variety into lunchtime. I alternate between leftovers and an array of simple, convenient meal prep lunch ideas that deliver on taste and nutrition.
When I do have a good lunch, I’m consistently more energized (and in a better mood) through the afternoon.
I think a lot of people feel the same. A subpar or inadequate lunch is a recipe for late afternoon energy crashes. A good one restores us and refuels us.
Before I share my favorite vegan meal prep lunch ideas, I’ll say a little bit about how I construct my lunches.
My nutrition formula for a satisfying vegan lunch will come as a shock to no one who reads this blog regularly. And it’s simple:
This is the meal planning principle that I wrote about in my cookbook, Power Plates.
We need all three of these macronutrients. Each one of them contributes positively to our energy and our satiety after meals.
Healthful fats play a role in vitamin absorption, in maintaining body temperature, and in hormone regulation.
Protein is associated with immune function and maintenance of muscle mass.
Carbs provide us with energy, and they fuel our brains for the cognitive challenges of work, school, and every day life.
Here are the sources of these macronutrients that I most often rely on:
When I pack up a lunch, I try to see to it that a source of each macronutrient is included.
Am I always consistent about this? Of course not!
Sometimes I have a carby lunch that’s not very heavy on protein, or a salad with plenty of healthful fats but not a lot of complex carbs. Getting all macronutrients is a guiding principle, not a rule.
I focus on macronutrients first and foremost, but I also try to get vegetables and fruits into my vegan meal prep lunches (and lunch boxes).
When I’m very busy, this can look as simple as baby carrots and cucumber slices, bell pepper strips or a cut apple.
When I have more time and bandwidth, it could be a side salad. It might also be leftover steamed broccoli from dinner the night before.
But I try to include a serving or two of fruits or vegetables, so that my lunch delivers on phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals, as well as macronutrients.
Portability and convenience were huge factors for me when I packed up meal prep lunches during my clinical internship.
Much as I love big, abundant vegan lunch bowls, they weren’t the easiest option in terms of transportation. And I typically had long commutes to think of.
Sandwiches, wraps, leftovers, and soups with accompaniments were often easier options. I did prep salads and bowls sometimes, but when I did, I tried to make them compact and simple.
Now, working from home, it’s a little easier to enjoy meal prep bowls. I’ve included some favorite options below.
I also needed containers that were light enough to fit in a backpack with books, notepads, and—on many days—a meal prep breakfast and snacks, too.
Here are some of the containers that I often used—and still use—for my vegan meal prep lunches.
When I say “still use,” it’s because I still find it incredibly helpful to meal prep my lunches.
There are so many reasons for this, but the main one is that meal prep spares me having to rummage through the fridge in the middle of a busy work day, figuring out what to eat.
Meal prep lunches encourage me to intentionally focus on the variety of my meals. They help me to be more creative than I would be if I had to make decisions on the fly. And they save me a lot of time.
With all of that said, here are some of the ideas and templates that I rely on most often.
Pasta salad is a midday meal favorite of mine. It’s great in summertime, but really, it hits the spot at any time of year.
The above was a spontaneous pasta salad creation: frozen veggies, cooked pasta, and the goji curry dressing from Power Plates. (I had a lot of it leftover.)
Really, any combination of pasta + veggies + sauce (with a protein, or use a legume-based pasta for protein) can turn into pasta salad.
But if you’re looking for a recipe, some options:
Leftovers, of course!
If you have them, enjoy them. There’s nothing better than when yesterday’s dinner can become today’s nourishing, delicious meal.
Most of my favorite main dishes—casseroles, pasta dishes, shepherd’s pie, grain and bean skillets, soups, enchiladas—make wonderful leftovers.
I go crazy for a sandwich.
Sandwiches are the lunches that I eat more than any other. There are so many sandwich options to choose from, from the classics (hello, PB&J!) to more creative combos. Here are my favorites:
Almost always, I pack up a sandwich with some veggies and/or fruit, along with a little something sweet: energy balls, a cookie, etc..
Grain salads often keep more sturdily than do salads that are mostly leafy greens. They’re full of fiber, super satisfying, and they lend themselves to so much creativity.
Here are a few of the grain salads that have long been lunchtime companions of mine:
What’s the exact distinction between a salad and a bowl? I’m not sure, except that I think bowls have more of the grain (or another starch) and less of the greens.
Anyway, they’re close. And any grain bowl can be a lovely, hearty, wholesome vegan meal prep lunch.
I love packing up the following colorful vegan bowls:
This 15-minute tempeh salad can be served on toast, and that’s what I usually do.
But I can attest to the fact that it’s a great recipe to meal prep not only because it’s quick, but also because it’s versatile.
The salad is very good with cooked rice or farro and a heap of a meal-prepped kale salad. A favorite bento-box lunchbox in my home is a portion of the tempeh salad plus a portion of my carrot raisin kale salad.
They work so nicely, side by side!
Hooray for frozen vegan options.
I can’t tell you how often I nudge clients to keep more frozen vegan meals stocked at home.
Yes, we all love the idea of making our meals from scratch, but the reality is that we can’t do that all the time. When life is really busy, and vegan meal prep is not a possibility, nutritious frozen options can be a major boon.
I love frozen vegan foods. They’ve come to my rescue through so many hectic times. Here are some of the ones I love most:
Some of these options beg for an accompaniment. I always have the frozen pizza or burrito with a little salad or something else.
If I make a burger, I’ll have it on a bun with some sort of veggie.
Just as I love a sandwich, I sure do love a wrap.
Wrap one up at night, then take it to work (with whatever else you like) tomorrow. Wraps are versatile, fun, and portable. Some of my favorites:
There’s nothing like a hearty soup or stew as the weather gets colder. Where I am, this is precisely the point of year that we’ve arrived at.
I love reheating soup for lunch. And I always have it with something for dunking or crunching alongside: could be a slice of bread, any type, or some crackers.
For lunch, I gravitate toward heartier soups and stews that have plenty of protein—usually from lentils, beans, or split peas—and fiber. But sometimes a simple vegetable purée is nice, too.
Here are some favorites:
Tired of sandwiches? Got a bunch of beans or roasted veggies or strips of seitan or pieces of tofu in the fridge?
Stuff them into a pita pocket, pack it up, and make it a meal prep lunch.
Stuffed pita pockets are tasty and easy to make. They’re so versatile, too, because they can be a vehicle for pretty much anything. Some fillings are too cumbersome for sandwiches, but they’ll fit very nicely into a pita pocket.
Hearty, meals-sized salads make make really good packed lunches.
I think the leafy green that stands up best to storage and meal prep is kale. Fortunately, I love kale salad, so I don’t lack for options.
However, baby kale, baby spinach, arugula, and chopped romaine can all hold their own in the fridge for a few days, even if they’re dressed.
The key to a salad with enough staying power for lunch is, of course, protein, carbs, and fats.
Here are some of the salads that I consider to be power plates—and good contenders for vegan meal prep lunches:
I recently made a black bean quinoa chili that I posted a few years ago for the first time in a while.
I’d forgotten how easy, hearty, and flavorful it is.
And I’d also forgotten what a great lunch some chili is: as easy to pack up as soup, but with a little more stick-to-your-ribs factor.
Some of my favorite chili recipes:
In my mind, chili isn’t complete without a slice of vegan cornbread.
Or rather, it’s very nice to eat along with rice or another grain, even a toasted burger bun, but cornbread is a little cozier.
So, I like to meal prep cornbread along with chili if I make it for my weekly lunches. I love a simple, whole grain vegan cornbread or a batch of pumpkin cornbread (which is also gluten-free).
Smashed chickpeas are a favorite of mine for sandwiches or tartines. But they can also be a great meal prep option.
I like to make a simplified version of the deli salad from Power Plates and pack it up with some salad and pita wedges.
You can also pack smashed chickpea salad with crackers, pita chips, bread, or a whole grain.
Other than that deli salad, I love my smashed kimchi chickpea salad and curried chickpea tahini salad.
Chickpeas aren’t the only beans that I like to smash, either. My garlic tahini smashed white bean salad is an old, yet constant, go-to in my home.
Speaking of beans, you can instantly turn a can of beans into a meal prep component if you simmer it with some barbecue sauce.
Once you do that—thereby creating almonst-instant BBQ beans—you can pack it up with burger buns or bread and some veggies for an easy lunch.
I also like to pack BBQ chickpeas, white beans, or pinto beans with cooked rice, veggies, and then top it with a generous drizzle of my cashew queso sauce.
When I was writing The Vegan Week, I realized the value of simple proteins that can be added to bowls, salads, bready things, and more.
Just as I’ve always said that a killer sauce can turn any humble plate of ingredients into a great meal, I’m now convinced that one hardworking plant protein is possibly the most efficient meal prep component there is.
If you don’t have time to do anything else for your vegan meal prep lunches, consider a protein that you can use in many ways as the week goes by.
Some of my favorites:
Once you’ve prepared your meal prep lunches, you’ll need to pack them and store them.
I find the following fridge storage times to be generally true for my favorite vegan lunch components. There are always exceptions, of course:
Soups, cooked beans, and cooked whole grains call all be frozen for 6-8 weeks.
Forced WFH life may be over, but solving the dilemma of a nutrient-dense, tasty, non-laborious midday meal isn’t.
I hope that these vegan meal prep lunch ideas will breathe some new life into your routine!
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