Whether you’re new to veganism or have eaten plant-based for years, lunch can be tricky.
It can be difficult to find options that fill you up without weighing you down. If you’ve experimented with being vegan, you might have found yourself eating piles of plants, but never truly satisfied.
Vegan diets embrace whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. While these foods are powerhouses for nourishing gut health and providing anti-inflammatory antioxidants, they can also cause bloating when eaten in larger amounts. These foods also tend to be naturally lower in protein and fat, the two macronutrients that provide long-lasting energy.
Building a better vegan lunch is possible! By leveraging a few key nutritional strategies, you can maximize satisfaction and minimize bloating. Get inspiration below for vegan lunches that go beyond the basic salads and Buddha bowls.
How to Make a Healthy Vegan Lunch
How can you feel full yet not bloated after your midday meal? The downfall of many vegan lunches can be solved by focusing on protein and fat.
It’s well-known that vegans need to be intentional with protein, since Western diets typically rely on meat and dairy for this macronutrient. Protein supplies the building-block material for synthesizing muscles, hormones, and enzymes. Plus, protein provides a sense of satiety (fullness) to help fuel you until your next meal. Legumes (like soy, lentils, and beans), nuts, seeds, and certain grains are all vegan protein sources.
Protein gets its fair share of attention, but fat is often underappreciated. Fat has a critical role to play in all eating patterns, not just the keto diet. Fat is a potent source of energy as well as a necessary component of cell membranes, nerve cells, and certain hormones.
Like protein, fat also helps you feel satisfied. When the small intestines’ cells sense digested fat, they trigger the release of gut peptides that signal fullness to your brain. In a vegan diet, nuts, seeds, cocoa, coconut, and plant oils supply fat.
Polyunsaturated fats - often known as “healthy fats” because of their purported heart health benefits - may be particularly helpful for regulating appetite. Several studies have shown that participants who ate polyunsaturated fats had greater satiety than those who ate saturated or monounsaturated fats. Good news: most plant-based fats are polyunsaturated!
Keep in mind that focusing on fat and protein does not mean excluding carbs. Carbohydrates are a crucial lunch component because they provide fast energy that provides immediate relief from hunger. Carbs also help fuel your fitness goals, whether that’s cycling, lifting, rowing, or more. Having all three macronutrients on board is the sweet spot for feeling energized right after you eat, as well as hours later.
Vegan Lunch Ideas
1. Protein-Rich Smoothie
The key to a lunch smoothie is that it needs to have staying power. Just drinking fruit and liquid won’t cut it! For a smoothie that truly serves as a meal, make sure you’ve got both protein and fat in the mix. In this recipe, pea powder provides protein, while avocado offers polyunsaturated fat.
Blend these together for a refreshing, filling smoothie (one serving):
- 1 kiwi (peeled)
- ½ banana (frozen)
- ¼ avocado (fresh or frozen)
- ¼ cup Naked Pea protein
- 1 cup baby spinach
- 1 cup water or coconut water
- 4 ice cubes
Our pea protein powder is versatile, minimally processed, and packs a whopping 27 g of protein per serving. This pea protein is also high in iron, a crucial nutrient some vegans lack.
2. Edamame & Greens Salad
Here’s a smart vegan hack: embrace edamame. It can be so much more than just an appetizer at a sushi restaurant!
Like other beans, edamame is a great source of the protein we’re seeking at lunch. One cup of these young, green soybeans offers 17 grams of protein. But unlike other beans, edamame also offers healthy fats. While most beans contain a negligible amount of fat, edamame offers about 5-7 grams of fat per ½ cup.
This recipe also relies on chickpeas for satisfying protein and fat. After soybeans (who have 45% of total calories from fat), chickpeas are the legume with the second-highest fat content (15% total calories from fat). For reference, most other beans have about 5% of their calories from fat.
This Edamame & Greens Salad (four servings) can be meal-prepped for Monday then enjoyed throughout the week.
Prepare your dressing by mixing together:
- 4 Tbsp lemon juice (or 1 lemon, juiced)
- 2 tbsp olive
- 2 tsp Dijon or another flavorful mustard
- 2 Tbsp maple syrup
Divide evenly among 4 containers or bowls:
- ¼ cup fresh dill (chopped)
- 8 cups baby spinach
- 3 cup chickpeas (~2 cans)
- 2 cup shelled edamame (cooked)
For meal prepping this recipe, store dressing on the side and add it to your salad when you’re ready to eat.
3. Plant-Based Pesto Pasta
Vegan pasta with pesto is a super satisfying yet convenient dish. It can be meal-prepped ahead of time, then eaten warm or cold. While pesto is traditionally made with cheese, the vegan version is also tasty. You can buy premade vegan pesto at stores like Trader Joe’s.
To make sure this pasta recipe energizes you rather than puts you to sleep, it’s balanced in macronutrients. The pesto contributes filling fats while the legume-based pasta contributes protein. A sprinkle of hemp seeds and nutritional yeast at the end adds extra cheesy flavor and even more nutrients.
To make Plant-Based Pesto (four servings) at home, pulse the following in a food processor until well-combined:
- 1/2 cup pine nuts, pepitas, or walnuts
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 small garlic clove
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups basil leaves
- 1/4 cup olive oil (gradually poured in as you continue to pulse)
- Mix your pesto with freshly cooked chickpea or quinoa pasta
- Divide into 4 containers (if meal-prepping)
- Top with a hefty sprinkle of hemp seeds and nutritional yeast
4. Amped Up Avocado Toast
Standard avocado toast is delicious, but this recipe takes it to the next level. By mashing white beans into your avocado spread, you have elevated this toast to meal-worthy status.
Protein from the beans plus fat from the avocado help balances out the carbs from the bread. Add a side of trail mix to make this meal complete.
To make one serving, mash together:
- ½ avocado
- ½ cup white beans (cannellini, white navy, etc.)
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- Sprinkle of salt
Spread your avocado mix on top of 2 slices of toasted bread. Optional: top it off with…
- 1 Tbsp sunflower seeds
- 1 Tbsp hemp seeds
- A sprinkle of red pepper flakes