A lunchbox makeover – easy vegan meals for the work week!

Every Sunday afternoon around 2 PM, I begin to panic. This end of the weekend scare usually stems from 2 things: 1- forgetting there’s a new episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians that night, and 2- wondering what food I can prepare for stress-free mornings and lunch hours that week. I used to think these worries only applied to me (that may actually be the case for #1), but after a year of post-grad life, I’ve come to realize that many young professionals and students struggle to keep up with food prep for the work week.

The main reason for this? TIME. Why spend extra time making lunch when you can grab a burrito at the Chipotle across from your building? You’re in, you’re out, you can even get extra guac on the side, and 20 minutes later, you’re full and happy. But for many 20-somethings out there, these quick lunch runs add up in more ways than one. If you buy lunch 3 or 4 times a week, you’re probably spending close to $2000 per year solely on work day lunch runs. Not to mention, most of the choices at popular lunch spots are often loaded with sodium and lacking in quality nutrition.

This info is nothing new. More often than not, people understand the pros and cons of eating out vs. preparing food at home. Yet we still find ourselves in a cycle of poor workday eating and wasted money, an unintentional result of our lack of time. This cycle seems to especially affect those on limited budgets and plant-based diets, as our options at restaurants and fast food chains, although steadily improving, are either unappetizing or nonexistent.

Lucky for all of us, food blogs and recipe sites have paid increasing attention to lunches and snacks for work and school. With such a variety of easy and nutritious recipes now archived on the internet, there’s no time like the present to makeover your lunchbox! Most of them take less than 20 minutes to make and are easily stored. Here’s a few of my favorites…

What’s in my lunchbox? 

In its entirety, a quality stash of plant-based goodies usually consists of a quinoa and/or bean mixture, a fresh salad loaded with veggies, falafel or veggie burgers, fruit salad, and some type of vegan snack. This can take about 2 hours to prepare over the weekend, but can last anywhere from 7-10 days! With easy meals like these, you can grab a pre-prepared nutritious meal instead of throwing together a boring salad in a hurry or settling to buy lunch.

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Mediterranean Quinoa Salad (vegan, gluten-free)

This is my FAVORITE recipe to make. I know that’s a bold statement, but if you taste it, you’ll understand… I adapted this recipe from a post I saw on the Free People blog a couple years ago, but I haven’t been able to find it again!

Prep time: 10 minutes
Makes 6 servings
Ingredients:
2 cups cooked quinoa
1 1/2 cups tabbouleh (buy it prepared or make your own!)
1 1/2 cups red grapes, sliced in half
1 cup chickpeas
Juice of 1 lemon
Sea salt and crushed black pepper to taste
Directions:
In a large mixing bowl, combine quinoa, tabbouleh, grapes and chickpeas. Add in lemon juice, salt and pepper and mix. This will keep in the refrigerator for 5 days.

Price Breakdown (based on my grocery receipt):
2 cups (1 cup, or 8 oz, uncooked) cooked organic quinoa (@ $0.67/oz) = $5.36
1 1/2 cups tabbouleh (@ $4.99/2 cups) = $3.75
1 1/2 cups organic red grapes (@ $10.13/6 cups) = $2.53
1 cup Whole Foods 365 organic chickpeas = $1.29
1 organic lemon = $1.00
Total price = $13.93
Per serving =  $2.32 

Zucchini, Black Bean, and Quinoa Veggie Burgers (vegan, gluten-free)

An It’s a Veg World After All original recipe. Nix the bun and have them with avocado and tomato or crush one up for a delectable salad topping…

Prep time: 10 minutes (plus 25 minutes to bake)
Makes 8 patties
Ingredients:
1 cup black beans
1 cup zucchini, finely chopped
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1/2 – 1 teaspoon cumin
Splash of apple cider vinegar
Directions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large mixing bowl, combine the black beans, zucchini, and onion. Add the quinoa and mash until mixture sticks together. Add the garlic, parsley, salt, pepper, lime juice, cumin, and a splash of apple cider vinegar. Mix with your hands (or a potato masher) and form into 8 patties. Place patties on a lightly sprayed baking sheet. Back for 25-30 minutes, turning the burgers halfway through. These can last in the refrigerator for 5 days and in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.

Price Breakdown:
1 cup Whole Foods 365 organic black beans = $1.29
1/2 organic zucchini (equivalent to 1 cup chopped) = $0.78
1/2 organic onion (equivalent to 1/2 cup chopped) = $0.56
1 1/2 cups (0.75 cup, or 6 oz, uncooked) cooked organic quinoa (@ $0.67/oz) = $4.02
3 cloves garlic (from a bulb @ $1.00 with 10 cloves) = $0.30
1/2 organic lime (@ $0.80/lime) = $0.40
Seasonings breakdown ~ $1.00 total
Total price = $8.35
Price per patty = $1.04

Carnival Cookies

This is a recipe from one of my favorite cook books, Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson.They are so filling, you only need 2 to get you through the whole afternoon. I rarely need to snack when I prepare these for work.

Prep time: 15 minutes (but 15 minutes of baking)
Makes 24 cookies
Ingredients:
3 large, ripe bananas, well mashed (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup coconut oil, barely warm – so it isn’t solid
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup almond meal (you can make your own almond meal by finely chopping almonds in a food processor)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2/3 cup peanuts, shelled
1 cup dark chocolate chips
2 cups popcorn
Directions: 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, combine bananas, vanilla, and coconut oil. In a separate bowl, mix together oats, almond meal, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder. Combine wet and dry ingredients. Add in peanuts, then chocolate chips, and finally the popcorn. Shape into balls and place on 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake for 14-17 minutes.

Price Breakdown:
3 bananas, or 1.2 lb (@ $0.49/lb) = $0.59
1 teaspoon, or 0.17 oz, organic vanilla extract (@ $4.98/5 oz) = $0.17
1/4 cup, or 2 oz, organic coconut oil (@ $16.00/32 oz) = $1.00
1 1/2 cup organic rolled oats (@ $2.79/32 oz) = $1.05
1/2 cup almond meal (@ $10.59/32 oz) = $1.32
2/3 cup peanuts (@ $2.50/3 cups) = $0.55
1 cup organic and vegan dark chocolate chips (@ $3.99/4 cups) = $1.00
2 cups Boom Chicka Pop popcorn (@ $3.99/8 cups) = $1.00
Total price = $6.68
Price per cookie = $0.28

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Other It’s a Veg World After All recipes that make great lunches and snacks include..

I’d love to hear what recipes all of you love to make for work. And if you don’t usually make your lunch, try out one of the recipes above and let me know what you think!

Have a healthy and happy week…

Lizzie

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