There are countless easy and interesting vegetarian lunch options that can be easily prepared well in advance while still being fresh, creative, and fun. Like most simple meals, they can be broken down into a protein source and accompaniments, but they’re all meatless, not necessarily terrible for you, and offer lots of room for improvisation and experimentation to meet your needs. Here are just a few examples:
1. Stir-fry vegetables, rice, accompaniments
There are a couple of ways to approach this, and a few things that you probably ought to do. For one, keep your components – likely rice, vegetables and proteins, and accompanying sauces – separate until you’re ready to eat. This ensures that you won’t be hauling around a uniform mush and will keep your meal at least a bit fresher. Potential ideas include frying onions, garlic, broccoli, red peppers and tofu, then making a sauce like Thai peanut sauce, Japanese teriyaki sauce, or ginger-scallion sauce (add a dash of hoisin if you’re not averse to it, because that stuff’s delicious), then combining them in a bowl, heating (or not), and enjoying. Rice noodles of most sizes would work just as well as rice if you prefer something with a bit more structural integrity.
Versatile like few mediums, the vegetable soup can be made to accommodate almost any personal taste and any season. Hit up your local market, grab what’s fresh (or what was once fresh that would otherwise be over the hill), and find something that works for you. Hearty vegetable stocks help a whole lot towards creating something dense and flavorful. Try working with root vegetables in the fall, pumpkin in the winter, leeks and mushrooms in the spring, and make a gazpacho (thicken it with yogurt, it’s worth it) when tomatoes come in in the summer. Herbs and spices can help turn this into something uniquely yours very easily.
It’s easy to make a filling, entree-sized salad. Get some greens that are more filling than just the loser lettuces (I invariably pick spinach), some nuts and cheese (or some other vegetables, such as sweet onions or perhaps some fried garlic), and either a dressing you like or a homemade vinaigrette that complements your choices. The opportunities here are endless; just look out for high-fat store-bought dressings and other ingredients that negate the potential benefits of your greens.
Almost anything can be turned into a sandwich (and most things will come out well). You can make veggie burgers, riffs on the Vietnamese banh mí (a combination of baguette bread, rice vinegar mayonnaise, braised tofu, and pickled vegetables), roasted vegetables with bread and cheese, and even burritos (which aren’t that different from sandwiches, really). There’s tons of room for experimentation and convenience here.
5. Polenta, lentils, other grains
Polenta is filling, fast, easy, and can take just about anything and be delicious provided you get the technique down. Sweet corn purees, heavy stocks, dairy, cheese, vegetables, rice vinegars, and all sorts of other additions. Lentils are less variable, but they are cheap, easy, and full of protein (they’re third after soybeans and hemp, offering upwards of 26% of their calories from protein).
These are just a handful of ideas, all of which are waiting for you to put your spin on them, and all of which are meat-free.