Healthy vegetarian & vegan lunch ideas

October 04, 2009

Start your vegetarian meal plan right with delicious vegan lunch ideas

Great vegetarian and vegan lunch ideas can be key to sticking to a budget and maintaining a healthy vegetarian diet plan.

From easiest to hardest

Buying lunch
See our fast food page for what’s available at the chains in the way of veggie burgers, pizza, burritos, falafel, etc. When visiting a sandwich deli shop, you can often just point to what you want in your sandwich. Many grocery stores sell veggie sandwiches, veggie sushi or healthy soups in jars.

Bring leftovers
It is very easy to make extra at dinner to pack for lunch the next day. This works especially well if you have a way of easily reheating it, or if it tastes fine at room temperature. Or you can get a thermos.

“I think the hardest ‘daily’ change was: What’s for LUNCH! I don’t have much time to cook or prepare lunch so I needed something easy, filling and fast.“
– Patty, Houston, AK

Simple sandwiches
Avocado, store-bought hummus, veggie deli meats, veggie burgers, tofu slices, veggie paté, nut butters, etc.

Hearty salads
Greens, beans or lentils, pasta, noodles, corn, taco, fruit, etc.

More involved sandwiches
TLT (Tempeh, lettuce and tomato), burritos, lettuce wraps, sloppy joes, portobello mushroom, panini, chickpea salad.

Lunch recipes
While recipes take time initially, you can make plenty for several meals at a time. Try a nice chili or hearty soup with crusty bread. See recipes below.

From the Veggie Challenge Participants

Best lunches:
Stir-fry vegetables including carrots, celery, onion, red peppers, cubanelle peppers, broccoli and cauliflower. Mushrooms (the best, yummiest substitute for meat, especially porcini). Soy “ham” on whole wheat. Fruit smoothies YUMMY! Sandwich made with cucumber, tomato, alfalfa sprouts and veggie cold cuts (Tofurkey or Yves).

Best lunches eaten out:
Harvey’s veggie burger, Veggie subs, Veggie pizza. Licks Garden Burger. Second Cup’s hummous wrap, Big Carrot for their quinoa salad & mock teriyaki honey tofu; Ritz Caribbean eatery (East York Mall) for their vegetarian roti & coconut water; Pizza Pizza for their Mediterranean Vegetarian slice (very good).

Tips

Avoiding mushy sandwiches
Saucy filling ingredients don’t pack well. Bring the bread and the filling separately and put it together just before eating!

Make fast and easy hummus with an immersionhand blender. Combine canned or cooked chickpeas, tahini, water, lemon juice and garlic.

Egg-free mayonnaise
Try Vegenaise and Nayonaise. Or make your own – Food.com has several egg-free mayonnaise recipes. For an oil-free recipe see below.

For a lighter sandwich use a collard leaf in place of the bread. Collard leaves are especially good for soggy fillings, as they transport well.

Colleen from Compassionate Cooks suggestbringing your own veggie deli slices when visiting sandwich shops. Help make them aware of new alternatives.

Real vegetarian meat?
Try not to see veggie deli meats as mock, fake, faux or imitation. The bulk of them are real food, without artificial additives and flavours. By calling them fake, we imply that we need animal meat.

Simple sandwich suggestions

There is life beyond ham and cheese. Start with your favourite bread or wrap, choose a filling below, and top with any seasonings that you like such as salt and pepper, hot sauce, etc.

Avocado
Sliced avocado makes a nice quick sandwich. Try adding tomatoes, sprouts, and dijon mustard.

Hummus
This Middle Eastern spread made from chickpeas and tahini, is great with lettuce greens and tomato. Black olives are nice with it too.

Veggie deli meats
You can buy vegetarian versions of pepperoni, bacon, turkey slices, ham, salami and more. Good companies to check out include: Yves, Tofurky, and in the US, Field Roast. Colleen from Compassionate Cooks says they are “incredibly delicious.” Egg-free mayonnaise can be a nice addition especially for making a BLT.

Veggie burgers
Prepackaged burgers are already cooked, so it is really simple to throw one into a bun and add mustard and veggies. If time allows you may want to heat them up first for a crispier sandwich.

Tofu slices
resh firm tofu can be sliced and added to sandwiches along with your choice of condiments and veggie fillings. If you can find it, smoked tofu is a gourmet product that is really delicious.

Veggie pâté
Available in natural food stores, paté goes great with dijon mustard and lettuce.

Nut Butters
Peanut butter goes well with raisins, dates or banana slices. Nut butters are also nice with less sweet fillings such as sprouts, grated carrots, diced celery, or sauerkraut. Try almond butter with peach for an exotic treat. Cashew butter, tahini and sunflower butter are other options.

Other simple ideas: Baba Ghanouj, falafel balls, soy or rice cheeses, roasted red peppers, cucumber and tomato, white beans with lemon and garlic, black bean dip, olive paste, marinated seitan from a package.
Pasta salad with lettuce, cucumbers, yellow bell peppers, carrots, spring onions, tomatoes, sunflower and pecan nutmeat, and fresh basil and cilantro.

Salads

Many of the following are easy to throw together. To make a salad a stand alone meal, add hearty ingredients such as beans, lentils, tofu cubes, nut and seeds, etc.

Greens
Your favourite fresh greens and dressing – add things like croutons, avocado slices, tofu, or veggie burger slices to make it more of a meal.

Beans or lentils
Use a combination of different colours and sizes for interest. Add fresh herbs, lemon juice and any chopped veggies you want. Avocado or salsa can be nice additions. Use canned beans or cook them from scratch in advance (after soaking first).

Pasta
Many kinds are available with different shapes and colours. You can also find gluten-free pasta made from rice or quinoa. Adding chopped tomatoes, basil, olives, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil makes a great salad. You can also use pesto, vegan mayonnaise or dilute hummus as a pasta salad dressing.

Noodles
Make an Asian inspired salad with long thin noodles, such as soba made from buckwheat. Add diced green onions and bell peppers, carrots cut into match sticks, tamari soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, chili oil if you like it hot, and top with toasted sesame seeds.

Corn
Fresh, frozen or canned corn with chopped bell peppers, tomatoes, other veggies, brown rice (if you have some leftover) and dressing.

Taco
Nachos, corn chips or tortillas with chopped tomatoes, guacamole, salsa, and pinto beans.

Fruit
Combine your favourite fruits with lemon or lime juice or fresh mint. Not your typical lunch but you can make it more hearty with the addition of nuts or a spoonful of nut butter or tahini.

Other salads: Rice, smoked tofu, marinated tofu, tabouli (bulgar and parsley olive oil and lemon), potato, couscous, kasha, etc.

More involved sandwiches

TLT
Tempeh, lettuce and tomato. Slice tempeh, then fry it until golden brown. If you want a more of a bacon experience, drizzle on some tamari soy sauce, liquid smoke and maple syrup.

Burritos
Roll up a tortilla with pinto beans, black beans or refried beans. Add avocado or guacamole, salsa, shredded lettuce, and non-dairy sour cream.

Lettuce wraps
Colleen from Compassionate Cooks suggest using Boston lettuce leaves as they form little cups that can be stuffed with a filling. A refreshing Asian-inspired version would be tofu sauteed with ginger, mushroom and bell peppers. Top with peanuts crumbs and diced green onions. These need to be assembled just before eating, so bring everything separately in containers.

Sloppy Joe
Use tofu, tempeh or beans cooked in a tomato sauce with any spices you like. This filling must be kept separate from the bread and dished out on site. Avocado slices are nice with this. Also see recipe for Sloppy Janes below.

Portobello mushroom
These make a nice sandwich filling once marinated and cooked. Marinate for about half an hour in tamari soy sauce and your choice of herbs (sage, tarragon, basil, etc), then saute in olive oil until tender – about five minutes. Use a nice sandwich bun or bread. Add any veggies you like. Hummus, avocado or egg-free mayonnaise also go nicely with this.

Panini
If you have a panini maker or countertop electric grill, you can make pressed toasted sandwiches. Yum!

Eggless egg salad
Mash firm tofu with small amounts of mayonnaise, prepared mustard, vinegar, turmeric, salt and black pepper. Add diced celery and green onions. Also see recipes below for a version without mayonnaise.

Chickpea salad
Mash drained canned chickpeas coarsely, and mix with mayonnaise, and chopped green onions, walnuts and celery. Season to taste.

Sandwich recipes

Vegan Mayonnaise
Instead of buying Vegenaise or Nayonaise, you can make your own. Try this recipe from Sarah Kramer’s La Dolce Vegan!

12 oz soft or silken tofu,
1 tsp dry mustard,
1/2 tsp onion powder,
1/2 tsp salt,
1 Tbsp sugar,
2 Tbsp lemon juice or apple cider vinegar,
1 Tbsp cashews

Place ingredients in a blender or food processor and combine until smooth.

Eggless Egg Salad Sandwich
Makes 4 to 6 sandwiches

1 (450 g/16 oz) pkg medium firm tofu
2 Tbsp prepared mustard
1-1/2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1-1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper (or to taste)
1 tsp sweetener of your choice (agave, brown rice syrup, organic sugar, etc.)
1 stalk/rib of celery, finely diced
2 spring onions or 1 small onion, finely diced
3 Tbsp finely diced English cucumber
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Open and drain tofu in a strainer to remove excess water while making dressing.

In a small bowl, whisk together mustard, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper and sweetener to make dressing. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, mash tofu with a fork, potato masher or pastry blender.

Combine dressing with diced celery, onions and cucumber – mix well. Mix veggie mixture into mashed tofu to coat evenly. Add parsley if using. If time allows, refrigerate for an hour or more before serving to allow flavors to mix. (This keeps well in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. It will separate a bit – you can either drain off the water that results, or mix it back in before making a sandwich with it.)

Serve in whole wheat pita or other whole grain bread with lettuce and/or other toppings of choice.

Sloppy Janes
Serves 4

This is a veggie version of Sloppy Joes. To make this even easier, you can use pre-seasoned TVP in a package such as Yves Ground Round – Italian or Mexican flavour. But preparing the TVP yourself is a much less expensive option. Serve with toasted whole wheat buns or crusty bread.

1 cup TVP (textured vegetable protein), available at bulk stores
2 cups boiling water
1 Tbsp oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 stalk of celery, finely diced
1-1/2 cups thick tomato or spaghetti sauce (or substitute 3 Tbsp of tomato paste thinned down with 1/3 cup of water + 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar)
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp oregano

In a large bowl, pour water over TVP and set aside for 10 minutes.
While TVP is soaking, make the tomato sauce mix. Heat oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat, add onions and celery. When onions and celery have softened, add tomato sauce and herbs. Turn down heat to low.

Drain TVP through a colander and press with back of wooden spoon to remove excess water. Add TVP to tomato sauce mixture and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Mix well to combine and serve over whole wheat buns. (Remember to take a salad or some fresh cut veggies with this lunch to keep it balanced.)

Shredded Carrot/Tahini Sandwich
Serves 2

3 carrots, shredded
½ lemon, juiced
3 Tbsp tahini
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ tsp salt
Black pepper to taste
Additional toppings to taste – sliced cucumber, avocado, tomato, red onion, sprouts, etc.

Shred carrots. Mix tahini with lemon juice, salt, garlic and black pepper. If it seems too thick, add a bit of water (1 tsp at a time) until it’s a thick, spreadable paste like consistency. Pour over shredded carrots and mix well to combine.

This is great stuffed in a whole wheat pita – add a generous amount to your pita, add additional toppings suggested above, and enjoy! (If taking to work, pack filling and bread separately to avoid a mess at lunchtime).

Tofu or Tempeh Sandwiches

1 pkg tempeh or extra firm tofu
¼ cup tamari or soy sauce
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 cloves crushed garlic
1 tsp fresh grated ginger (optional)
Whole grain bread or wraps
Additional sandwich fillings of choice (lettuce, tomato, baby spinach, shredded napa cabbage, cucumber, etc.)

Cut tofu or tempeh into ¼” thick slices. Place in a shallow covered dish. Mix marinade ingredients together and pour over the slices. Let marinate at least an hour, or overnight.

You can use the slices as sandwich filling straight from the marinade, or cook them. Note: it is best to cook tempeh unless it is very fresh.

If cooking, heat one tablespoon of oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Place tofu or tempeh slices in the pan until browned (about 4 to 5 minutes). Flip over and brown other side if you have time.

Serve in whole grain bread or wraps with other fillings of choice.

Salad recipes

Mixed Bean Salad
Serves 4

3 (15oz/425g) cans of any variety of beans (kidney, navy, chickpeas, black, etc), drained and rinsed
¼ cup red wine or balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp prepared mustard
½ red onion, diced
1–2 cloves crushed garlic
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp olive oil (optional)

Mix beans in a large bowl. Whisk the rest of the ingredients and pour over beans. Let sit for a few hours or overnight to allow flavours to meld. This will keep in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.

Black Bean/Corn Salad
Serves 4

2 (15oz/425g) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup corn niblets (fresh, frozen or from a can)
1 stalk/rib celery, finely diced
½ red onion, finely diced
½ red pepper, finely diced
½ green pepper, finely diced
1 lime, juiced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional – omit if you don’t like heat)
1 Tbsp fresh chopped cilantro

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Let sit for a few hours or overnight before serving to allow flavours to mix. This will keep in the fridge for 2 to 3 days.

Serve with whole grain bread or baked tortilla chips. With this recipe, you’ll be full until dinner.

Lentil/Rice Salad
Serves 4

1 cup cooked green lentils (start with ½ cup dry)
1 cup cooked brown rice (start with ½ cup dry)
2 ripe, but firm, tomatoes, diced
½ red onion, finely diced (or 2 to 3 green onions, sliced)
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 lemon, juiced
1 tsp salt (or more to taste)
1 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp olive oil (optional)
2 Tbsp fresh chopped cilantro or parsley

Mix cooked rice and lentils together in a large bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until evenly combined. This can be served warm or cold. It’s very filling and nutritious.

Noodle Salad With Peanut Sauce
Serves 4

1 head broccoli, washed and cut into florets (peel and cut stalks too)
1 ( 8.8 oz/250 g) package noodles (whole wheat or soba/buckwheat)
1 red pepper, cubed

Steam broccoli until bright green. Save broccoli water for cooking noodles. Rinse broccoli with cold water or submerge in ice water to retain bright green colour.

Boil noodles according to package directions. Rinse with cold water and set aside. Chop up the red pepper.

Peanut Sauce

½ cup peanut butter
¾ cup hot water (not boiling)
2 Tbsp tamari or soy sauce
1 lime, juiced
1–2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp chili sauce or hot chili pepper flakes (optional)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Mix peanut butter and water until smooth (use a blender to make your life easier). Add the rest of the ingredients except cilantro and blend to combine. Add cilantro and stir through.

To assemble, pour peanut sauce over noodles to coat evenly. Add steamed broccoli and red pepper and mix through noodles. Eat warm or cold. Will keep for several days in the fridge.

Greek Pasta Salad
Serves 4

Marinated tofu

2 blocks extra firm tofu (450 g/16 oz), cubed
¼ cup red wine vinegar
2 cloves fresh garlic, crushed
1 tsp salt
1 lemon, juiced
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp olive oil (optional)

Marinate tofu well in advance to get that “feta” like experience. Whisk dressing ingredients together in a small bowl. In a shallow covered dish, try to arrange tofu cubes in only one layer. Pour dressing over the tofu and let marinate at least overnight or longer. Stir occasionally to make sure all cubes marinate evenly (I often let this marinate for 2 days).

<Pasta

1-1/2 cups dry whole wheat fusili (corkscrew) pasta
¼ cup sliced black or kalamata olives
1 medium tomato, cut into chunks
½ cucumber, cut into chunks (English cucumber is best)
½ red onion, sliced
½ red pepper, cubed
½ green pepper, cubed

Boil pasta according to package directions. In a large bowl, combine pasta, olives and veggies. Add the marinated tofu along with the marinade. Mix well to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. If you like strong flavours, you may need additional dressing.

Acknowledgements

A major influence for this article was Colleen Patrick-Goudreau of Compassionate Cooks. She has an excellent 48-minute podcast on this topic titled: Food for the Road: Packed Lunches and Picnics.
All of her podcasts are excellent.

Except for Vegan Mayonnaise, all of the above recipes are by Nimisha Raja. Nimisha teaches healthy cooking classes, and is a Heart Health Speaker for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. She is also an Education Alliance member of The Cancer Project’s “Food for Life” cooking series. Her website is evolvingappetites.com

Links

Vegan Lunch Box – This blog is dedicated to creative packed lunches – often in bento boxes.

57 Vegan Sandwich Ideas
This is a very creative list from the UK. For example: 49. Bounty Hunter – creamed coconut, toasted nori seaweed, beansprouts, fresh coriander and lime.

Lunch recipes