Healthy Vegan Lunch

Being a healthy vegan is all about making choices. You’ve already made one great choice by taking part in Veganuary, so you’re well on your way. If you’re after a healthy lifestyle, one of the main things to think about when preparing your own food or eating out is what your meal is actually made from – which is no different from being healthy before you became vegan! Too much sugar, salt, processed and refined ingredients have been shown to have a negative impact on our bodies and long-term health. But being a healthy vegan doesn’t mean eating bland and boring food, or denying yourself anything you love; cakes, burgers, pizzas, and roast dinners are still on the menu – it’s how you prepare them that makes the difference.

In these posts I’m going to guide you through some of these options; to help you make informed choices at the dinner table, desk, or on the go and eating out. You’ll love the food and you’ll feel better for it – believe me, I started out as a junk food vegan, but my life is so much more enjoyable now that I’ve found a balance.

Lunch isn’t just about sandwiches, tinned soup, and pasta salad! All you need to get a variety of ingredients, flavors, and textures into your midday meal is a tiny bit of imagination and experimentation. So let’s get started and come up with some new lunch ideas and make this a meal to look forward to!

I want to begin by addressing the misconception that you can’t buy a vegan lunch. I know – from my own experience – that lunch on the go can induce worry, particularly for those following a healthy diet. But fear not! Lots of restaurants now offer clearly-labeled vegan options, which are happily now also more in line with the ‘eating whole’ movement. For example, with its simple ingredients, Chipotle is an easy-to-spot and great on-the-go option because you can painlessly veganize your salads, burritos, tacos, and bowls with rice, beans, Sofritas (seasoned tofu), fajita veggies, vegan-friendly salsas, and guacamole. In a similar vein, restaurants like Bolay, Just Salad, Cava, and Sweetgreen offer fantastic veggie options with a wide variety of flavors. Panera Bread has vegan-friendly bowls, salads, sandwiches, bakery items, and smoothies). And although pizza isn’t usually the first thing you think of when eating healthy, both MOD Pizza and Blaze Pizza offer a variety of clearly labeled doughs (regular and cauliflower!) and vegan sauces along with vegan cheese, spicy vegan chorizo, plant-based Italian sausage, and plenty of vegetable toppings.

As I mentioned in my previous piece on healthy breakfasts, being healthy isn’t just about being low in fat. If eating out, it’s always good to consider the sugar and salt content of what you’re ordering (particularly in soup and bread), and to take the approach of ‘What am I gaining from something?’, rather than ‘What can’t I have?’. So the message here is to pile up the fresh vegetables and whole food ingredients and add lovely splashes of flavor with spices, homemade dressings, and pickles.

With this in mind, here are a few suggestions of how to make your lunch delicious every day (especially if you’re eating it at your desk), whether you have the time to spare in the evenings to prepare, or need to put something together as you run out the door.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup, by Demuths Cookery School

Soup: I absolutely adore soup! It’s a simple and super healthy way to ensure you have a whole week’s worth of healthy lunches ready to go in advance. To keep it as healthy as possible, only use a tiny drop of oil (or none at all) and pack as many fresh vegetables as possible into the pot. Simmer for 20 minutes, leave to cool, and freeze in separate containers until you’re ready for lunch. Once you’ve made a few different batches you’ll have a variety of flavors to choose from during the week, so you won’t get bored. To add extra flavor, use a few drops of good soy sauce in place of table salt, and include fresh herbs and chilies. If you want something even simpler, packets of organic miso soup are a great healthy alternative – just pour on hot water!

Sandwiches: Aside from the pitfalls of most pre-made sandwiches coming laden with mayonnaise, the ‘unhealthy’ factor is often lurking in the bread used, so making your own is going to win every time! How about a wholemeal pita with hummus, spinach, smoked tofu, and pickles? Or a slice of toasted rye with avocado, chili, and lemon? You can even mash up chickpeas with different spices to resemble a tuna mayo sandwich. Try to avoid any processed white bread, as these have the lowest nutritional value and are often full of chemicals, sugar, and preservatives. If you’re pushing the boat out a little, why not give sprouted bread a try?

Portobello Mushrooms and Tofu Scramble Ciabatta Sandwich, by The Flexitarian

Salad: Many supermarket salads can leave you feeling cheated, that you’ve paid for a healthy lunch but have ended up with something that isn’t that tasty (or healthy). Making your own means you can include what you like, down to inventing your own delicious dressings and toppings. How about making a kale Caesar salad with cashew sauce and a handful of seeds or grilled tofu? Or a chopped salad with lots of different colors and flavors – think carrot, apple, lime, and walnut for something with a real power boost for the afternoon. If you have the time in advance, roast up some chickpeas with rosemary and spices until they’re crispy, to sprinkle onto your salad as healthy croutons – these make a delicious partner to spring greens!

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Tempeh Bacon Bowl, by Laura Hemmington

Bowls: By creating your own ‘bowl’ for lunch, you’re essentially giving yourself license to create whatever healthy and hearty concoction of your favorite ingredients you feel like that day (just think of a bowl as a supercharged salad)! Some of my favorite combinations are falafel (homemade or shop-bought – just keep an eye out for options that aren’t high in sugar or lots of preservatives) with heirloom tomatoes, pickled baby cucumbers, hummus (or a spoonful of tahini) and steamed greens like broccoli or snap peas: refreshing greens in cold water after cooking means they taste just as lovely and fresh the next day. Bowls are also a handy way to enjoy your favorite wrap or pasta dish, without the heavy bread or starch.

Baked potatoes: Everyone loves a baked potato! Not the lightest of lunches, but cooked with care this can be a great option for a wholesome and filling lunch. Sweet potatoes are the best option in terms of nutrition, however all varieties have a health value. The best thing about baking potatoes is that you don’t need any oil (the same goes for wedges, but we’ll talk more about that when we come to dinner). For healthy toppings; hummus, beans, tofu scramble, and salad are all good – just remember to check the sugar levels if you’re dousing your jacket in shop-bought baked beans.

Pasta salad: A lunchtime classic – but often not the most nutritious option. Most pre-packaged pasta salads are created from white pasta and are covered in sauce with a high saturated fat content, so making your own is a great alternative. Opt for wholemeal or gluten-free pasta, or try out an alternative such as lentils, quinoa, orzo, or even raw cauliflower (whiz it up in a food processor until it resembles rice!); then think about making some healthy changes to the sauce or dressing. Have you tried liquid aminos yet? A little spritz of these is a great alternative to soy sauce to bring an Asian flavor to your dish. One of my favorite summer lunches is zoodles with avocado sauce, tomatoes, and olives – it’s all raw, super healthy, fresh and so simple to make!

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Guacamole and Tomato Salsa, by David and Charlotte Bailey

Dips: If you’re less of a ‘full meal’ for lunch fan, how about making a big batch of healthy guacamole, tapenade, or hummus at the start of the week? Enjoy it with your favorite raw veggies, toasted wholemeal pita, or sugar-free oatcakes. Simple and delicious!

Leftover dinner: If you make a healthy dinner, why not turn it into a healthy lunch? Leftovers need not be boring or repetitive – they can be transformed into something else entirely! Last night’s lentil bolognese can quite happily become today’s burrito by encasing it in romaine leaves with some spring onions, avocado, and fresh tomatoes. Even if I only have a few leftover vegetables from dinner I still combine them with a miso soup for a quick and healthy lunch.

Snacks: Chips are almost a lunchtime institution, aren’t they? A long-standing favorite as something crunchy to go with our sandwiches, but also an addition to our diets that can make an otherwise wholesome lunch into something not so good for us. Why not make your own kale chips when you next have the oven on low (sprinkle on some nutritional yeast for cheesy chips), or choose a healthier brand for your bag of chips. Enjoy Life Lentil Chips are packed with protein and have 40% less fat than the leading potato chips. Hippeas Chickpea Puffs are another fantastic high-protein option for anyone craving that “cheesy” flavor. Siete Foods has an impressive array of vegan snacks including lime, sea salt, nacho, chipotle barbecue, and even churro-flavored chips and Terra Chips uses real vegetables like sweet potato, parsnip, beet, blue potato, batata, and taro to create crispy, flavorful, and healthy veggie chips. If none of these entice your taste buds, don’t forget that unroasted nuts and seeds are a fantastic source of nutrients and protein and go with pretty much everything.

Sweet treats: Fresh fruit will always top the charts for a healthy sweet snack at lunchtime (especially when all those lovely antioxidant-rich berries come into season!), but there are lots of other easy to make options that are perfect for a midday treat – I always have a little container of homemade bliss balls in my bag to see me through the afternoon. All you need to make these healthy, nutritious, and tasty snacks are a few ingredients including nuts, dates, dried fruit, and raw cacao (or cocoa powder) for some instant chocolate truffles! Why not experiment with your favorite flavors?

You can find recipes for some of my healthy and delicious lunch suggestions over on The Whole Ingredient, and of course, don’t forget to check out the Veganuary Recipes for some great-tasting inspiration!


Thinking of trying vegan?

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