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Sixteen hours away from your home, a fridge or a microwave. Whether you're a student, work shifts, or just have a horrible commute, it's clear that a busy schedule is a huge deterrent for people thinking about going vegan.
But for me, the best part of the Vegan Challenge has been learning how simple it can be to incorporate meals free from animal products into a busy life. Veganism is painted with a very high-maintenance brush, but this challenge has shown me it's not a fair representation of the lifestyle. Below I share a meal idea that you can literally throw together using a box of rice and two canned goods.
I'm going to share a couple of the easy meals and snacks I've been living on this week (disclaimer: they're definitely nothing gourmet!). While I've loved making the leap from eats-sorta-vegan-most-days to full-time vegan, I would never claim the process is easy.
Having access to good-quality food like fresh produce and healthy pantry staples is a privilege in itself, and one not everyone is able to enjoy. In the same vein, being able to afford weekly grocery trips or afford the time it takes to cook at home isn't always a reality. There's nothing easy about it.
That being said, my goal with this post is to share some easy recipes (I hesitate to call these ideas recipes) you can incorporate into your life whether you're a carnivore hoping to go meatless once a week, a busy student frustrated by non-vegan options at the food court, or using food bank staples to feed a growing family.
I've got to start with my recent obsession: the rice bowl. I call it "the rice bowl" because I think it sounds catchy (please let me pretend), but really I mean a bowl with a grain and some sort of protein. Pre-vegan challenge, this was often rice and scrambled eggs, or couscous with sauted chicken and onion.
But luckily for me, the lease on my apartment is almost up, and I don't want to move any heavy and bulky items from my pantry. So for the past month, I've been mixing up my versatile rice bowl recipe. Throughout my final hectic weeks of the school term, I lived on a combination of chickpeas, quinoa, diced pepper, grated carrot, salsa and grated sharp cheddar. It's awesome. Here's the ultra-complicated "recipe" for a Megan-style rice bowl:
- 1 serving cooked grains or starch component (rice, couscous, quinoa, millet, orzo, etc.)
- 1 serving protein (chickpeas, lentils, black or kidney beans are all favourites)
- veggies (whatever you have on hand -- I love frozen peas, kale, diced tomato)
- "extras" like diced artichoke, avocado, olives (these are my fancy-to-me ingredients that take the bowl from pantry meal to bowl-licking experience)
- sauce (could be a homemade salad dressing, dash of sesame oil, pesto, salsa)
These bowls are super easy, really healthy, and filling. My favourite combo during the Vegan Challenge (and since running out of quinoa) is orzo, chickpeas, frozen peas, tomato, avocado, kalamata olives (my splurge this week) and topped with a Dijon mustard/olive oil salad dressing concoction.
And let's be real -- the orzo costs about 10 cents per serving, and almost everything else could come from a can. Nix the olives and avocado and you can eat on this all week for just a few bucks.
Breakfast is usually pretty easy to tweak. Toast with peanut butter is still great pre-run fuel, and smoothies with frozen fruit and greens just need a quick soy milk substitute. If you're used to cereal, try oatmeal. And if you're struggling with variety in your breakfasts, try heating up last night's dinner leftovers. Nothing like some leftover rice bowl in the morning! (Now I'll stop talking about rice bowls.)
I love to bake, and muffins have long been a favourite for quick snacks and breakfasts. I noticed that vegan muffins weren't too much of a challenge, since I usually poke around allrecipes.com and merge a couple of recipes whenever I make muffins. I usually bake with chia or flax eggs to save money and add nutrients (this is a great tip if you haven't already heard of it: 1 tbsp ground flax or chia seeds + 3 tbsp water will form a gel-like substance that binds similar to egg after you let it sit for a few minutes). It's also easy to use oil instead of butter or margarine. These banana muffins survived my vegan makeover quite well!
Big batches of popcorn and veggies with hummus are my other healthy snacks -- wasabi peas and dark chocolate are my treats. And yes, I have managed to find food on the go this week. What can I say, the snooze button is my friend (but not a big help to my lunchbag). Thankfully, veggie soup and bagels are usually both vegan and cheap. And on my campus, plentiful!
Dinners have been simple. A delicious Thai red curry served over rice, and one night a PB+J with carrots. I made my favourite quinoa salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, red onion and lemon juice, subbing out the usual diced feta. I'm planning on homemade pizza this Friday night -- can anyone weigh in on whether I should bother buying Daiya?? If you're used to cooking at home, I bet you'll be surprised how much of your regular rotation is naturally vegan or easily adjusted.
I think it's also important to dispel some of these myths about the incredible challenge of eating enough protein as a vegan. All of the above ideas include a high-quality source of protein. Between beans, legumes, peas, edamame, nut butters, soy yogurt/milk, tofu, tempeh, it's relatively simple to eat a healthy, protein-rich diet without needing to buy expensive powders or shakes.
My hope is to show vegan eating in a new light -- one that doesn't take hours of meal prep or a re-work of your social life. Lots of vegan recipes are things that can be made on a variety of budgets and in a number of ways to avoid boredom or chickpea burnout. The truth is, if I can do it, you can definitely do it. I had to break up with cheese this week, and I have been itching for a few Mini Eggs, but in the end, it's been a mainly painless switch that made me more aware of my food choices and the broader food systems I support with my dollars. Oh, and if I'm honest, the challenge probably helped me clean up my diet too (darn Mini Eggs).
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