If I had to sum myself up using only food, it would probably read along the lines of “loves coffee, enjoys kale, pretty much an accidental weekday vegan”. 
Credit: Photo: Jennifer Causey

Somehow, without any effort, I became an accidental vegan. Specifically, a work lunch vegan.

Growing up in the Midwest, vegan was a rare and mystical term, typically relegated to tofu and the back corners of food co-ops. In a section of the country where cheese is sprinkled on everything (cue ‘say when’ Dad jokes of restaurant lore), being vegan was never even a consideration, let alone a preference for me. Now, to be clear, I’m not a vegan, nor will I probably ever fully enter vegan territory, but I’ve frequently been mistaken for one by my peers. My diet and mindset has greatly evolved as I’ve moved away from home and especially since entering the health-driven world of Cooking Light.

When trying to balance out my eating plans, I center my largest meal to the middle of the day, when I need it most. This is my one shot to try and pack in that mountain of leafy greens and as many of the 5-7 servings of vegetables I’ve read we’re supposed to consume. When planning out my lunch, which I almost always prepare in the morning before I head to work, I channel Michael Pollan (who’s one of my favorite authors and go-to picks for educational Netflix binging), “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” But above all, and I’ll be fully honest, probably the biggest reason my meals turn out vegan is because of cost, balance, and ease. Cost because of my single-living lifestyle, balance so I can eat guilt-free-ish on weekends and splurge a bit at night, and ease because—let’s face it—meat can be a time consuming meal-maker.

Here’s a list of my favorite go-to’s for workweek vegan lunches:

Credit: Photo: Greg Dupree; Styling: Lindsey Lower

1. Sweet Potato Medallions with Almond Sauce and Chickpea SaladThe almond sauce is what takes this from seemingly sad fridge scraps to glowy salad-heaven. 

Credit: Photo: Jennifer Causey

2. Sesame Soba NoodlesSo goes the wise words of Tim Cebula, (who took on a vegan challenge himself), “UMAMI IS YOUR FRIEND.” The buckwheat in soba noodles is always super satiating, and goes great with any leftover stir-fries from earlier in the week. 

Credit: Photo: Jennifer Causey

3. Sesame-Ginger-Chickpea-Stuffed Sweet PotatoesTwelve grams of vegan protein power never looked so posh. Sneak a couple extra ginger-garlic chickpeas for a mid-day snack. 

Credit: Photo: Brian Woodcock; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas

4. A Perfect Pot of LentilsThe dreamboat of batch cooking, lentils work in a multitude of ways and I never tire of them. Take a shot next week and plan out your lunches based on my suggestions above. Smart planning and an eye toward protein means you won't be hungry midafternoon. Try it out and let me know if you want to join the accidental vegan club.