Transitioning off the turkey sandwich diet
February 22, 2014 9:27 PM   Subscribe

Looking for easy/cheap/healthy vegetarian lunches

Over the past year or so I've become increasingly turned off of eating meat and the industrial way animals are killed, so I've been transitioning more and more to a vegetarian diet. I do pretty well at breakfast and dinner when I'm home and have access to a refrigerator, stove, and so on, but my problem is at work where my basic lunch has been a simple turkey sandwich for years. Its relatively cheap. It's healthy. I can throw it together in a minute or two when I'm tired and rushed in the morning. And I don't have to think too much about it.

What vegetarian options fit the same mold? I want to stay full for the 6-7 hours between lunch and dinner, but everything I've tried leaves me hungry and unsatisfied. Sandwiches without meat don't really fit my tastes. The salads I try leave me starving around 4 o'clock. I want something as easy and satisfying as I've been used to, but without the animal part. What have you found that works?
posted by fishmasta to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
First, let me commend you!

Two choices:


Veg Stir Fry with Rice mixed in.

You can make lentils at night in 20 min. Chuck in a few garlic and some shallot or onion while it cooks.

Salt, pepper, and some olive oil after cooking. Store it in the frig for up to 4 days. Deploy at will.

That's the basic. Best is if you mix it with wilted Kale, Spinach, rehydrated wakame seaweed - even chopped parsley - you get the idea. A squeeze of lemon, even... Very filling!

You can get pre-steamed lentils in the specialty veg section of your supermarket or TJ's ( I think Melissa's is the brand) and add them to salads. Ditto Melissa's pre-cooked beets. This will keep you satisfied.

For Stir Fry, follow a good recipe for Chinese Garlic Sauce Veg. Mix in rice you cook or pick up steamed rice from your local Asian restaurant. Make a big batch, store in the fridge. Deploy at will.

There are make ahead Indian variations on both themes. Update if you have a TJ's near you or not, that changes my ideas, some, concerning easy Indian.

Also, try adding half a can of chickpeas to your regular salads, see if that helps your appetite pangs.

Bon Apetit!
posted by jbenben at 9:49 PM on February 22, 2014

What if you just sub a mashed up a avocado instead of turkey?
posted by samthemander at 9:52 PM on February 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Vegetarian chili / curries with quinoa or brown rice are my go to make at home lunches these days. Takes some evening or weekend prep time, but in the morning I just grab a ziploc-ed portion and chuck it in the bag. Very filling, cheap, and healthy. You'll probably need a microwave at work, though.

I'm not vegetarian, but I share your concerns. One thing that really, really improved my last chili batch was adding a very small amount of beef suet from a local, very ethical butcher. If you're looking to vastly reduce but not entirely eliminate your meat consumption things like that can help. Of course, chili / stews/ soups are still delicious without any animal products at all.

Another recent veggie hit for me at home - chickpea flour dumplings. So good!

I have said to several people, not entirely joking, that chickpeas are my retirement plan.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 9:52 PM on February 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

We make enough dinner to have some for lunch the next day. If you don't want to repeat, just alternate days... eat some of Monday dinner's leftovers for Wednesday lunch etc. You'll get a pattern going.
posted by jrobin276 at 10:32 PM on February 22, 2014

I also came in to suggest vege stir fry with rice. I stir fry while I make dinner, enough to last two days if I can, using an herb mix or a seasoning like Mrs. Dash. I also use a rice cooker to make that part easier, and occasionally I'll use pasta if I need a switch. I keep a bag of mixed veges in the freezer for the days when I don't have time or forget to cook the night before.

You could also pair a salad with something more filling. For example, a casserole made on the weekends (I like the Bisquick impossible pie recipes for this), or a sandwich (hummus or avocado or a good quality cheese), or a bit of pasta and premade sauce. Angel hair pasta cooks in boiling water in about two minutes, and if you stir in some sauce right away before you put it in the refrigerator, it won't stick.

And don't forget peanut butter sandwiches. You can mix it up by adding fruit (either on the sandwich or on the side), or switching between honey or jams or marmalade. Also, the type of bread changes up the flavor, too.
posted by rakaidan at 10:43 PM on February 22, 2014

Sandwiches without meat are very tasty. I usually try to base a sandwich around avocado and/or cheese. Since I've stopped eating meat, I've realized it was everything else on the sandwich that made it tasty, not the meat.

The most filling and probably nutritious homemade lunch I've had is chili. I basically threw red kidney beans, diced onion, tomato paste, chopped tomatoes and peppers with a seasoning packet in a pot and cooked it. It was pretty low calorie, but had a lot of protein and fiber. I ate it with crackers at work everyday for like a year.

Another homemade lunch is I'd make a bean burrito and wrap it in foil to heat and eat at work. You could bring cold ingredients like pico de gallo and lettuce on the side. But it was just black beans cooked in some onion/seasoning and basmati rice cooked with cilantro and lime and some cheese.

When I'm not doing a homemade lunch and trying to spend less than going out, I find Amy's frozen meals are very easy to microwave at work and all of them are vegetarian. (Many stores sell them in the regular frozen section, but some put them in a special organic/natural foods freezer.)
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:46 PM on February 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Bean-based chili, vegetable curry, stir fried vegetables, frittata, hummus and crudites, a hearty soup, felafels — these are all things you can make ahead of time and throw into your lunch box each morning.

Depending on your budget and access to kitchen facilities, there are also some pretty decent frozen meals these days. I like some of the Asian and Mexican frozen offerings at Trader Joe's, and some of the Amy's range (I like the Indian stuff, the pastas, and some of the basic vegetable and rice bowls, but not so much the Mexican-ish dishes). I will often make a fresh salad alongside a smaller frozen meal.

Without knowing the details of your day, could you also just try... not going without food for 7 hours? It really is a very long time. Have a banana. A yogurt. Some boiled eggs. Trail mix. A granola bar. Personally, I drink a protein shake around 4pm, and it really helps keep me going until dinner.
posted by retrograde at 11:02 PM on February 22, 2014

The lunch I eat almost daily is a simple black bean soup - I make ~6 portions once a week. I soak 1lb black beans (& don't drain them), add some vegetarian Better Than Bouillon, and heat up. Then I add a tomato, a red onion, a garlic clove or two, and a red bell pepper, all straight from the food processor. Cook for ~15mins, adding in cumin (as much as you want; I use at least a tablespoon) and lemon juice, then top with sour cream to taste. Super healthy and filling.

Whatever you do go with, I'd recommend adding a hard-boiled egg - the protein will keep you fuller, and eggs are incredibly good for you.
posted by littlegreen at 11:05 PM on February 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also trying to reduce meat consumption. Variation on above for super rushed days: grab a can or box (if fancy) of soup (I like minestrone) + a can of legumes (my preferences are lentils and black beans). Drain/rinse the beans, put everything in a biggish bowl and nuke it. Takes 3-4 minutes total. Requires a can opener, strainer and microwave, though. I do this at home some days. (I'll occasionally add bits of smoked pork from a trusted butcher, because I find I need a certain amount of protein to really feel full -- am sure there are good veggie supplements, I just haven't looked into them. Would you be willing to spend a bit for ethical meat and eat less of that?)

I also like chili and lasagne from the hot counter of a local grocery store (but I have one of those nearby).

Nthing bean burritos (I like mine with cheese).
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:09 PM on February 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

cotton dress sock, the beans and lentils are the veggie supplement for protein. All legumes are packed with protein. They may not have quite as much as meat, but they have a lot. If you are adding a whole can of beans to your lunch, it's very doubtful you need more protein than that unless you are a bodybuilder.

OP should generally look for ways to integrate beans and/or nuts into his/her diet. Between their high protein content and their high fiber content, they go along way to making you feel full. (Meat can't compete with the fiber you'll get from beans and nuts! Hello, regularity!) Soups are a really good way to do that, and soups make you feel full because of the volume of them (the broth and all that). That's a good option, especially because you can throw whatever veggies you want into it too.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:17 PM on February 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

The kind of supplement I was thinking of was something like Quorn, which I don't think is available in North America [edit, hey, it is, in the US!]. I add meat for my own sense of satiety, not to meet absolute nutritional needs. (Also, sorry, it's more like 1/2 a can each, with the other 1/2s saved for later.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:20 PM on February 22, 2014

Are you still eating eggs? I buy organic free-range eggs from a reputable source. Egg salad sandwiches are delicious and hard boiled eggs will keep for the week in the fridge if you leave them in their shells.

If you are ok with fish (not clear from your question), tuna salad sandwiches are also great (my favourite is tuna salad, mixed with blanched broccoli and semi-sundried tomatoes).

If you are not ok with fish, but would like a similar sandwich, try a 'Chickpea of the sea" recipe (e.g. chickpeas made into something like tuna fish salad); this is one recipe, but there are plenty around.
posted by AnnaRat at 2:00 AM on February 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I say this literally anyone has a lunch question, but my standard lunch is filling, easily customizable, and takes about a minute and a half to put together.

Into a tupperware, put 1/4c couscous, 1/3c water or broth, 1/3 to 1/2 a tin of rinsed and drained chickpeas, a handful of spinach (fresh or frozen), a bit of olive oil, and a splash of lemon juice. By lunchtime, the couscous will be rehydrated--you don't have to cook it. This is good cold, room temp, or heated, and is easy to mix up. Add lemon pepper one day, or preserved lemon, or use salad dressing instead of olive oil. Instead of or in addition to the spinach, try leftover veggies from supper, and if you eat cheese, love of my life, you should definitely add cheese--parm and feta both work really well for me. You can adjust up the amount of couscous and beans, depending on how hungry you get. I eat this constantly, and pretty much never get bored of it.

Bonus: super cheap. Even using tinned chickpeas, it's only a buck or buck fifty a serving.
posted by MeghanC at 3:10 AM on February 23, 2014 [33 favorites]

Do you have a microwave at work? Leftovers are probably the answer. Or Morningstar Grillers (cold if there's no microwave!).

Lightlife also has a line of veggie lunch meats you might like.
posted by mibo at 5:21 AM on February 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Get these Tofurkey deli slices (hickory smoke flavor) and put them in your sandwich. So good.

I also recommend their sausages, they are Very filling.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:35 AM on February 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just want to say: not eating meat for lunch may just not work for you. I was mostly-veggie for *years* and I was only able to stay full when I started eating meat with most meals. You're still awesome for keeping breakfast and dinner vegetarian, whether or not you are able to give up meat at lunch.
posted by chaiminda at 7:26 AM on February 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Meatless sandwiches that I like:
--Sharp cheddar, thin tart apple slices, good brown mustard and maybe a leafy sprout on any hearty white bread
--Firm goat or sheep's cheese (like a Castigliano), avocado slices, sprouts, tomato on a sunflower rye
--Hummus, with thinly sliced cucumber, radishes and carrots. Also needs a nice sturdy multi-grain bread. You can just do hummus with tomato and lettuce, too.
--Egg salad. Or deconstructed deviled egg sandwich: bread, tart yellow mustard, sliced boiled egg, sprinkle of paprika (smoked or not), chives (if you want them), mayo (if you want it), maybe crisp lettuce. Usually less messy than egg salad.
--This mushroom pate veggie banh mi is good, but you have to use the tofu option to for bringing it to work.

On the topic of mushroom pate, I find that veggie pates, tapenades or caponata or baba ganoush and other veggie condiments make good pita or crusty roll fillings. You can do a vegetarian muffaletta that's pretty good, too.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:55 AM on February 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

You can also do a lot with spreadable cheeses or nut butters. For spreadable cheeses, I usually go with milder flavors: cream cheese or boursin cheese with sliced veggies or mascarpone cheese with fruit and nuts or ricotta with sundried tomatoes. If you'd rather go with stronger flavors, you can do a pub cheese with sliced pickles (I prefer cornichon or bread and butter to dill here) or cream cheese with something spicy like pepper jelly, mango pickle or a mix of peppers. Sliced beets (best if you roast and slice them yourself, but you can buy them in a can) are completely delicious in a sandwich with a mild spreadable cheese (you can add marinated onion slices or pine nuts or leafy greens).

Nut butters lend themselves to classic PB&J combinations, as well as some fruits but you can also use nut butters with Thai chili paste or with mashed chickpeas. People really love sriracha with peanut butter; some people love jalepenos with peanut butter. The point is: a little bit of nut butter added to your sandwich adds fat, flavor & protein which supposedly help you feel full.

Here's a mashed chickpea sandwich that uses a little bit of peanut butter, but you can go much more simple: spread some nut butter (peanut butter or tahini) in a pita, sprinkle salt & pepper over it. Lightly mash some chickpeas with a tiny bit of olive oil and some seasoning (garlic, ginger), then spoon some into the pita.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:33 AM on February 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've been a vegetarian for about 17 years at this point. I have never found anything to eat for lunch that kept me from feeling hungry until dinner. I suspect this may be due to my activity level.

My solution is an afternoon snack. It might be worth considering a snack around 4 p.m. if none of the suggestions here work for you, especially if you have a high activity level or if you exercise a lot. Exercise builds muscle, and muscle burns calories even just sitting around.

My favorite portable snacks are apple+cheese, cheese+crackers, nuts/seeds+dried fruit (sometimes +chocolate :), nut/seed butter+crackers, Clif bars, bagels+cheese or nut/seed butter.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 9:42 AM on February 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

Hummus + vegetable of your choice (sandwich). The bread is optional in my mind.

I have been known to stock up on smallish tubs of hummus and bags of suitable vegetables and grabbed one of each to take into work for lunch. You may have to rinse the veg but it's basically good to go and does not need to be refrigerated until you eat it. Kept me full for a long time.

Commercial hummus often has a lot of oil in it. If you have a food processor hummus is very easy to make at home. You can add spices of your choice and limit the oil. I'd add some oil because fat helps fill you up. But it can be a lot less than in the commercial stuff. It will keep in the fridge for a few days.

Salads can be very filling as long as you don't try to fill yourself up with lettuce alone. Add pulses like beans and chick peas, add starchy veg like beetroot or a small amount of potatoes or some roasted vegetables. If you eat eggs and dairy add eggs or cheese. Quinoa is a grain but high in protein and can be eaten both hot and cold. So you can use it in salads and it is extremely versatile.

Prepare your salad when you cook dinner so you can just grab it in the morning. It will keep nicely until the next day. Don't add spices/dressing until you're ready to eat. You can keep both spices/small bottle of olive oil/balsamic vinegar/lemon juice in your desk drawer if you like.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:49 AM on February 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Try Beyond Meat, a vegan meat alternative created in part by one of the founders of Twitter. It's great.

Also, if you are going to eat meat for lunch, stay away from deli meat; it's just nasty.
posted by reddot at 10:14 AM on February 23, 2014

The best solution for me requires weekend prep. I’ll cook one or two dishes that I can then take for the rest of the week. Lunch-packing requires nothing more than putting a portion into a container.

Some favorites:

Black bean bowl: Quinoa + black beans (either canned or made from scratch – I use a pressure cooker to do them in under 30 minutes) + roasted sweet potato chunks + toasted pumpkin seeds tossed with chile and lime + a dollop of greek yogurt and some grated cheese if I’m feeling cheesey

Stuffed peppers: Bell pepper stuffed with some sort of grain (brown rice, quinoa, barley, bulgur, couscous) + a legume (chickpeas or lentils, usually) + something that will make it ethnic (chopped poblanos or chipotles for Mexican; almonds and golden raisins for middle eastern; feta and sun-dried tomato for Mediterranean) + appropriate seasoning. Top with a tomato sauce seasoned with the spice you used and bake for ~30 minutes, or until the peppers are done.

Bean stew: Some sort of bean (often chickpeas or white beans) + veggies of choice (often potatoes or sweet potatoes) simmered in a broth + some sort of grain added to soak up the liquid (often barley or quinoa). I like using an Indian-type spice for this, or just going with plain old thyme. Preserved lemon or lemon zest is a bonus.

Baked pasta: Either manicotti (which is more work) or some al dente pasta tossed with sauce and cheese and veggies, baked until bubbly.

Bean patties: Chickpeas or white beans mashed up with onion and garlic and chopped nuts, mixed with egg and breadcrumbs (or chickpea flour, for a gluten-free version), formed into patties and baked or pan-fried. Serve with sauce: Tomato-based, yogurt-based, or lemon+tahini.

If I don’t manage to get any of those together, I’ll do sandwiches. Egg salad is a favorite. I’m also a fan of a good veggie cheese’steak’-type thing: Saute some onions, peppers and mushrooms until soft. Serve on good crusty break with cheese melted on top. I need acid too, in the form of cherry peppers or something similar.

I often need a snack around 3:00 because I tend towards hypoglycemia. An apple and a piece of cheese work well for me.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:39 AM on February 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Buy a thermos so you can bring vegetable stews and soups to work. Stews and soups with legumes in them, and then a piece of bread on the side and a banana for desert - simple and filling. It can be leftovers, or you can make and freeze the food in the weekend. Maybe there is even an organic food store near you where they sell frozen portions (there is here, but I only use them in a panic). Like others above said: if your change of diet is mainly for ethical reasons, try buying very small amounts of ethically farmed/fished meat and fish. You don't need a lot of protein, and a little can go a long way. This was how most people lived before ww2, (and most still do, globally) and there is a lot to learn from it..
I can't get free range turkey here, but I can get chicken which have roamed freely in a forest for a very fair price. They taste great, too.
posted by mumimor at 11:49 AM on February 23, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for all the ideas everyone! Lots of options here!
posted by fishmasta at 12:52 PM on February 23, 2014

I don't have a favorite meal so much as a recommendation. As some others here have said, I will generally either cook all day one weekend day, or make twice as much food for dinner as I'll eat. Then I have enough matching containers that I can portion out lunch for each day.

YMMV, especially if you can't hang with two of the same meal over two days.

For me, low carb protein is what kills the hungries. I'll hard boil eggs a dozen at a time and bring a couple to work with me.

I also found those Quorn Naked cutlets to be awesome. I make "chicken salad" or cube them into salads.
posted by nevercalm at 1:11 PM on February 23, 2014

As far as sandwiches go, I recommend giving Smokey Miso Tofu a try (you can skip the liquid smoke/yeast, the important element is the miso/lemon IMO).

I find a batch of this cooked up at the start of the week provides me with a week's worth of fake lunch 'meat'. The flavourings just makes the tofu not blech. great with a bit of mayo and greens.
posted by chiquitita at 4:12 PM on February 23, 2014

chiquitita: "As far as sandwiches go, I recommend giving Smokey Miso Tofu a try (you can skip the liquid smoke/yeast, the important element is the miso/lemon IMO). "

FWIW, my virus-scanner blocked that link for me. Here's the Wayback Machine's cached version, which it didn't flag.

posted by Lexica at 4:49 PM on February 23, 2014

Another recommending midafternoon snack.

Any reason you can't have a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts around 3?
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:43 AM on February 24, 2014

I cook up a cup of rice, add a can of beans and a handful of sharp cheddar, mix it all up and wrap it in flour tortillas (usually makes about 5). Wrap in foil and stick them in the freezer and then whenever I need a quick lunch I just grab one, throw some salsa and extra cheese in small containers, and nuke them at work. And keep granola bars around for afternoon snacks.
posted by jabes at 2:55 PM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

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