A healthy, balanced vegetarian lunch has three components: complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats. It is easy to include each of these food groups in a meatless meal with a little bit of planning and variety. Look for sources of complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and fruits, protein from dairy or beans, and healthy fats from avocados or olive oil. Vegetarian meals are generally lower in cholesterol, saturated fat and calories than meals containing meat, and they are higher in fiber and potassium, which may help prevent heart disease and lower blood pressure.
The easiest main dish to pack in a lunch is a sandwich. Start with a whole-grain bread, English muffin or bun. Try nut butter sandwiches with fresh fruit, like almond butter and peach slices, cashew butter and banana or peanut butter and strawberries. Using fresh fruit instead of jellies or jams will decrease your sugar intake. For a more savory sandwich, toast your bread to keep it from getting soggy and add tomato slices, mushroom, onion, lettuce and cucumber. Use avocado as a spread instead of mayonnaise. You can also add flavorful cheeses like goat cheese, pepper jack or sharp cheddar.
Wrap It Up
If you need a break from sandwiches, try a whole-grain wrap as your complex carbohydrate. You can make Mediterranean wraps with chickpeas, feta cheese, tomatoes and olives; Mexican black bean wraps with black beans, salsa, shredded cheese and a variety of peppers; or hummus wraps with cucumber, shredded carrots and spinach.
Soup Up Your Meal
Chili made with beans, minestrone and vegetable soups, lentil soup and potato-based soups all make great lunches for vegetarians. You can use soups as a main dish or a side to go with a sandwich. Steer clear of canned and boxed soups, which can be high in sodium. You can also try pureed soups such as pumpkin, butternut squash or roasted red pepper soup. Make a large batch at the beginning of the week and portion it into smaller containers ready for packing.
Pastas, Rice and Other Grain Dishes
As with soups and stews, it is a good idea to make a large amount of a whole-grain-based food such as brown rice at the beginning of the week and use it to make a variety of different lunches every day. Add black beans and diced tomatoes or salsa to brown rice one day, then add edamame, diced cucumber and gorgonzola cheese the next. To switch it up, use a different whole grain such as quinoa or whole-grain couscous. Or start with whole grain pasta and add your favorite veggies, like mushrooms or zucchini, to store-bought marinara sauce to give it an extra boost.
Salads are an obvious option for a vegetarian meal, but they don't have to be boring. Liven up your salads by adding fun and unusual ingredients, like a warm salad of millet and roasted brussels sprouts with cranberries and walnuts or a kale salad with pomegranate and maple pecans. Make sure to include lots of produce in your salads, and measure out your dressing before you pour it on.