Help me with vegan meal prep ideas
October 3, 2016 3:03 PM   Subscribe

My partner and I jointly try to bring lunches from home throughout the week. I used to do this solo with less problems, but the combination of vegan-only and the amount of food required for two people instead of one is bogging us down. Also, many of our go-tos are soups, and it's hot here which discourages that. Halp?

Some things we've had success with:

- Making big batches of soup or stir fry to last for a few days (Oh She Glow's African Peanut Stew)
- Cup of soups (a la Serious Eats)
- Salad + quinoa and protein (could use some new salad dressings: we tend to use a mustard-garlic vinaigrette or nutritional yeast dressing, but getting a bit bored)
- Sandwiches with vegan deli slices and veggies

Some things which have been less successful:

- Lentil/rice bowls: we like them with a lot of veggie components that require different prep methods (steamed broccoli, sauteed greens and mushrooms, julienned carrots, etc.) and end up getting bogged down in all the work for only a day of lunches for the two of us
- Relying on leftovers from dinner (not always great depending on what we make)
- Anything requiring extra firm tofu as a central protein (we live in Honolulu, and I'll be damned if I haven't found any real firm tofu anywhere! It just crumbles! I don't get it.)

Please hope me with some easy vegan recipes that can be replicated throughout the week! I've checked out the recent comfort food and there's lots of good things in there, but specifically for lunches (not necessarily handheld though).
posted by Paper rabies to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I can get a lot of mileage out of home made seitan for cold lunch. It's expensive pre-made but cheap if you make it. I mix in some chia and flax for extra flavor and fiber.
posted by SaltySalticid at 3:14 PM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Is there a reason why it's only a day's worth of lunches when you cook? I often cook a larger amount on Sundays and prep individual boxed lunches for the next few days - the effort level to cook more vegetables for rice bowls over the next few days doesn't go up significantly with more vegetables.
posted by Karaage at 3:15 PM on October 3, 2016 [7 favorites]

For the lentil dishes (I'm thinking dal here), how about a slow cooker? To save time, I've used my food processor to chop and then tossed everything into a slow cooker. I never prepare the veggies separately and it always comes out tasty and with a good texture (though I'd add the tomatoes last).

I've also made a quick vegan lasagna with tofu to sub out the ricotta and it comes out really good. It can be time-consuming to put together, but if one person chops and the other prepares the dish, it can be done in an hour or so.
posted by onecircleaday at 3:18 PM on October 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

We make a lentil bowl out of cold lentils, and raw chopped cucumber and grape tomatoes, and salad dressing. (We use a bottled kind that is Greek dressing with feta and olive bits in it, obviously not vegan, but I'm sure you have a way to make or buy vegan dressing.)

It's very easy and doesn't require going overboard with prep, since the vegetables are raw and are pleasant to eat raw. It's also cold.
posted by stoneandstar at 3:19 PM on October 3, 2016

Oh! About the crumbling tofu - I had that "crumbling" problem for a long time until I read somewhere that you have to put the tofu on a plate sandwiched between 2 tea towels with a heavy pan on top, which absorbs all the fluid in the tofu. Works like a charm. It goes like this:

Pan on top
Upside down plate
Tea Towel
Paper towel
Paper towel
Tea towel
Right-side up plate

Let it sit for about 20 minutes, and voila! No more crumbling tofu.
posted by onecircleaday at 3:21 PM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

What about peanut noodles?

I sometimes mix in a bunch of veggies from a salad bar to cut down on prep time.
posted by vunder at 3:28 PM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Pressing and baking tofu will definitely help with the texture.

I also second the idea of making dinners just for leftovers. Last night I made a stirfry with chickpeas and lots of veg over quinoa with a lemon tahini sauce. It was good and has enough leftover for 4 lunches. We often do something similar with pasta mostly with the intent of leftovers for lunches.

Something else I've been big on recently has been homemade hummus for lunches. My partner makes a batch on the weekend and then I take it for lunches or snacks - usually some pita, some carrots, and cucumbers, and bell peppers.

Another staple I make is a pasta salad - bean, veggies, with a lemon-mustard vinaigrette. It's enough to feed me and my partner every day for lunch for a week. It take about an hour to chop and mix everything, so I usually do it on Sundays.
posted by kendrak at 3:42 PM on October 3, 2016

Leftover mjeddrah stuffed into taco shells or pita bread halves is awesome.
posted by Michele in California at 4:08 PM on October 3, 2016

Shakshuka(I'm not vegan, but I'll make it without the eggs on occasion because I'm lazy) reheats well. If it needs to be a bit more filling adding chickpeas is nice and easy. Quinoa could work too.

My go to dressing is a decent olive oil and fresh lemon juice, salt/pepper to taste. I'll also do sesame oil, dash of soy sauce, dash of rice vinegar (I'll put this on slaw too). I'll add endamame too sometimes.

For pasta salad, I'll beef it up by adding parboiled broccoli and cauliflower + the standard veggies with a vinaigrette and eat it all week. I'll sometimes add a bit more oil if it dries out a bit (or just add some more dressing).
posted by ghost phoneme at 5:30 PM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Re: tofu crumbling, you can also test out freezing the tofu first, then cooking with it. It takes on a bit of a spongy texture that sometimes holds together better than the fresh stuff.

I echo the other commenter encouraging you to batch more than just a single day's meal when doing bulk prep. It can really take a tremendous amount of effort off your hands (I say that as the main food prepper in our vegan household of two adults and three teens).

Do you like cold, crunchy salads? I imagine you have a lot of green papaya available, in which case this recipe holds up for days. It's possibly my favorite thing to eat on hot days.

Vegetable fried rice is a classic, simple, great-cold-or-hot dish.

I'm a big fan of making a giant lasagna on Sunday, then freezing pre-cut portions wrapped in wax paper. They thaw before lunch (if you like cold lasagna, which I do) but reheat nicely in a microwave.

I'm also a big fan of spending part of Sunday cutting up vegetables and fruits to refrigerate and then pull out as needed for snacks, lunch bags, etc. Sometimes I squeeze a bit of lemon juice in with the cut fruit/veg to keep things from browning, but not always (e.g. when I get a bunch of grapes from the market, I just spend twenty minutes plucking and de-stemming them, give them a rinse, then put them in a bowl in the fridge). There are lots of little timesavers like this that don't revolve around complicated meal prep and also encourage you to eat more of the things we know we should eat more often.

And check out YouTube! Some of the best meal prep in advance stuff comes from videos people post videos of their routines (like this).
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 5:32 PM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

As for the veggie prep, try roasting a couple of trays of veggies all at once: sweet potatoes, broccoli, califlower, green beans, peppers, fennel, white potatoes, cherry/grape tomatoes can all be thrown on a sheet pan and tossed with salt, pepper an olive oil and roasted for 1/2 hour to an hour, depending on your choice of crispiness/burnt edges - you can roast them all together or roast them separately, if you are finicky. The veggies can be combined with rice, lentils, pasta, etc.

You could also blend up any/all of those with stock for a quick soup. Roasted veggies also keep for a few days in the fridge.
posted by sarajane at 5:42 PM on October 3, 2016

Thanks for all the input so far! Some awesome suggestions and recipes which I'm appreciating a lot.

To answer the question of "why are you only prepping one day's worth of leftovers", I guess this just requires an adjustment on my part: I'm used to the amount of food required by only one small woman for the week. Adding one more person to the mix feels like I'm chopping/cooking vegetables forever, and only ending up with enough components for a day or so of lentil bowls (note: partner is co-involved in chopping/prep/cooking and doesn't seem to find this adjustment so taxing). Also, our bowls tend to have veggies prepped/cooked in different ways which generates a ton of dishes. I think the following hacks are the kind of things I need:

- food processor for chopping
- bulking out with salad bar veggies
- putting everything in a crock pot (I totally forgot about my crock pot! Amazing!)

And re: the tofu, I just started pressing it a few weeks ago and it certainly helps, but I still think the tofu here isn't the traditional super-firm stuff I'm used to. Just another adjustment!

/end threadsit
posted by Paper rabies at 5:47 PM on October 3, 2016

I'm trying and failing to see why you'd need several different veggie prep methods for a bowl of lentils. I'd just sautée or blanch them all together, maybe leave some raw, but perhaps I'm some kind of philistine.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:39 PM on October 3, 2016

Re: Veggies: the frozen steamer veggies are an easy add and usually fairly economical. I'll either steam first and then toss in at the end, or tossing in still frozen if I want them to cook with everything else(like in a stew).
posted by ghost phoneme at 6:49 PM on October 3, 2016

It's such a cliche to recommend one of Isa Chandra Moskowitz's books, but Appetite for Reduction is really good at helping with this. It's a low-fat/lower calorie cookbook, but feel free to add in more fat if that works for you. It's not particularly tofu-heavy (if I'm remembering it correctly) and I made a lot of it in a blender before I had a food processor and it's super grocery-store friendly. There are good ideas for constructing "bowls" (grains, proteins, veggies & a dressing) and most stuff is pretty quick to make. (And I was generally only cooking for myself, but her 4-6 serving was almost always at least 6, if not 8, for me.)

And this is something I've let myself come around to recently: buy the pre-shredded veggies if that's what you need to do. Frozen veggies are fine! (Great, even!) and it's a matter of buying already shredded carrots or just not having carrots, buy the pre-shredded.
posted by darksong at 6:59 PM on October 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

Back when I ate higher carb foods, I used to make burritos once a week, assembly line style. I'd lay out tortillas for however many burritos I wanted to make, then I'd put greens on them (spinach, lettuce, arugula, whatever). Then I'd layer on whatever protein I had -- leftovers on some, meat on others (but you would use veggie protein), fresh cooked whatever on others, then I'd grate a mess of veggies (literally whatever I had -- carrots, broccoli, anything that's kinda hard), maybe some chopped veggies (snap peas, cukes, whole tomatoes), then I'd add seasonings -- vegan mayo or sauce, pepper, hot peppers, italian seasoning, whatever, then finally, we'd add what we called goodies to some of them (grapes, sliced almonds, sunflower seeds, etc.). The point was the order -- greens, protein, seasoning, goodies so that the seasoning/dressing was in the middle and wouldn't wilt the greens.

THEN, I would roll-up each tortilla, the right way, and wrap them in plastic wrap. They will stay fresh for days in the fridge. I used to make 10 of these on Sunday night, and then hubby and I would eat them for lunch all week. The only reason we stopped was because we switched out diet to ultra low carb -- we can't eat tortillas any more and our protein is all animal protein.

The thing that was really great about this is that it not only solved the lunch problem, but it gave me a fantastic way to use leftovers. Leftover lasagna? No problem, stuff it in a burrito. Lefover taco filling? Stuff it in. Leftover tofu or chicken or steak or beans? Stuff it in.
posted by OrangeDisk at 7:58 PM on October 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

I go to casseroles for this, even though it's hot (I like a hot lunch anyway), and you can get away with crumbly tofu.

My favorite base casserole right now is sautéed onion + 1 big can tomatoes + 1 can tomato paste + garlic and seasonings, simmered until they come together - you can crumble tofu into this, or Beyond Beef or similar. If you want to put in frozen veg, let them warm through in this. If you want fresh vegetables, you'll need to roast/pan-fry/steam/etc ahead or they get too wet.

You can either mix all together or layer sauce and vegetables with 1/2-1 package pasta soaked in hot water 20m. Bake at 350 15-20m until it all kind of comes together.

Obviously, there's room for tweaking there. Mix in some cashew cream or coconut yogurt to make more of a cream/vodka sauce, ground nuts in lieu of ground meat, kale it up, rice instead of pasta (or use GF pasta if you prefer). There's no reason you couldn't eat this cold or room temp, and have a little salad on the side.

The other thing that comes to mind, if you can live with a hot meal, is curry. Easily scalable to enormous quantities, fill it full of chickpeas and cauliflower and carrots and nuts.

Two of us can get through most of the week on one casserole and one big stew/curry plus rice or cauliflower rice or flatbread/lavash/pita/naan.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:30 PM on October 3, 2016

Perhaps this is something so obvious you've thought about it, but here's what I do.

On Sunday night, I prep the following and put it in containers:
--two carrots, grated
--two small heads of butter lettuce, spun in salad spinner and chopped up and spun again, and packed in a ziplock bag with two paper towels (keeps the moisture at bay, which lets you store it longer)
--two ears of corn, boiled for 6 minutes then cut off the cob
--English peas, shucked and boiled for 4 minutes (I put the water on first, and use the same water for corn and peas - in that order so you can lift out the cobs without straining and pour in the peas to already-boiling water. Saves time/water!)

Then I take in an avocado, a bag of hazelnuts, and an apple. I use those for 2-3 days, and when I finish one of something, I take in another. I use two avocados a week, 2-3 apples, and probably 3 oz of hazelnuts.

I like blue cheese dressing, but that's obviously not vegan. So here's a french vinaigrette I really like too.

Sometimes, I've boiled potatoes, or lentils, or quinoa or rice (wild or red works best in salads, at least for me) and added those in. But the avocado and hazelnuts give me enough fat to stay full until dinner. Sometimes I have fruit on the side (a peach and pluot right now), and sometimes I have rice cakes.

That list covers five full days of salad for one person plus a little, usually. It takes about an hour if I'm not rushing; I could do it in 30 minutes if pressed.

I'm also a big fan of cooked white rice+dhal (this recipe is close to what I do).
posted by guster4lovers at 9:08 PM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think you might also want to consider changing how you make your bowls - if it's a pain in the butt to cook six different vegetables six ways, then either cut back on the variety of vegetables or the ways to cook them. Most greens and vegetables can be cooked in pretty much the same way, whether you stir fry or steam or roast - you just need to adjust the size of the chop or cooking time for each veg.

You could also make larger quantities with one method and make something else the next day with another method and mix the two for lunch on day 3.

I'm a meat eater, but what immediately came to my mind was one of my go-to meals: Vegan Bibimbap

There aren't multiple cooking methods needed here for your vegetables (everything quickly stir fried in a pan, and you can reuse the same pan), and it's not that that hard to prep massive amounts of carrots and cucumber quickly if you have a box grater or a mandolin. Bean sprouts and spinach just require a rinse, no chopping.

It's really about 30 minutes' worth of work, and some time for assembly, which you can do all ahead of time. We do make fresh rice in a rice cooker every other day to ensure we have tasty rice to mix.
posted by Karaage at 10:52 PM on October 3, 2016

I love this lentil salad
I add kale for extra greens. Kale holds up for me well throughout the week and the rest of the flavors seem to meld over the week. I normally pack it with some fruit and it works well for just me, so it should last you and your partner a few days.
posted by ceramicblue at 6:13 AM on October 4, 2016

It's such a cliche to recommend one of Isa Chandra Moskowitz's books, but Appetite for Reduction is really good at helping with this.

Yes yes yes. This is the cookbook in our house. The recipes are so easy to follow that it's what I traditionally get for young uns going to college and having to learn to cook for themselves. The green goddess salad dressing recipe in this book is the ur-dressing! We put it on everything and make it by the liter.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:08 AM on October 4, 2016

I like blue cheese dressing, but that's obviously not vegan.

It exists and it is wonderful. Follow your Heart Bleu Cheese
posted by ainsley at 10:22 AM on October 4, 2016

I have a lot of trouble getting enough protein in my diet and homemade veggie burgers are helpful (I'm vegetarian so I eat eggs, but a lot of recipes are vegan. My favorite is chickpea and sweet potato burgers, to which I usually add nuts/quinoa/peas/etc. Sometimes I make them in the form of small falafel sized balls and throw them in a salad (it's super filling) or in a burrito or in a sandwich. Very versatile. I make them over the weekend and either freeze them or pop them in the fridge and they keep for about a week.

Cold asian (soba or rice noodles) noodle salads are also great. Just keep noodles handy and a variety of chopped vegetables and protein sources in the fridge. You can mix it together in tupperware in the morning before work. Vegetables that are great for this: cucumber, carrot, herbs (thai basil/mint), bell peppers, lettuce, etc. Then I throw in some peanuts, some roasted chunks of sweet potato, some tofu. Sometimes shredded mango and peas. Toss together with a sauce.

Also, if you can get it, roasted brown rice powder is a great thing to add to asian noodle dishes -- it tastes a bit grainy bu thas this nutty flavor and adds a nice texture. I make this dish of sauteed onions, thinly (like toothpick sized) sliced tofu, thinly sliced sweet potato (roasted until crisp), fried tofu (also sliced thin), all cooked with enough vegetable broth to make it moist (shoudn't be wet). I toss it with a teeny bit of soy sauce and roast rice powder. The result is a mix that I throw into noodle salads to help them be more filling.
posted by mmmleaf at 1:00 PM on October 4, 2016

This salad from "The Veganomicon" is a huge hit: Quinoa Salad with Black Beans.

There are some good salad and bowl recipes in "Isa Does it". The dragon noodle salad, is amazing. I usually make two or three times the peanut sauce, and use it for other meals. The Greek diner salad dressing is awesome too. Her soup recipes are also great.

I make a big batch of Broccoli & Cashew Quinoa Burritos and freeze them. They freeze well, and taste great. I usually do 1.5x the amount of cheese sauce per 1 batch of burritos.
posted by backwards guitar at 1:17 PM on October 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

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