Sometimes you just don’t have the energy to cook anything that involves cracking a knife and cutting board, and that’s okay. Lots of factors can interfere with what you cook and what you eat, from a busy schedule to chronic pain to mental health and everything in between. Sure, takeaway and fast food are an option for most people, depending on where you live, but perhaps neither of them align with your health goals or your bank account. Another problem may arise when you’re looking for easy, healthy, budget-friendly vegetarian meals.
It often happens this way: you come across a simple purportedly vegan recipe on a blog, but then the first step asks you to chop onions or chop vegetables into cubes mirapoix. Play the sound of the recording scratching in your head. As far as we’re concerned, having to cut out any ingredient is where a “simple” recipe stops being “simple” and becomes irrelevant. Fortunately, you’re out of luck if you want vegetarian meals that don’t involve any chopping.
How to prepare healthy, affordable vegetarian meals for low-energy days
Just because a recipe is a little effortless doesn’t mean it needs to be bland. So, we asked Ryan Geiger, who is RDN and owner Vegetarian Dietitian PhoenixFor simple, healthy and delicious vegetarian meal ideas that are also budget friendly. Her most important advice? “Pasta dishes are my go-to for easy, affordable vegetarian recipes. There’s nothing wrong with pasta. And a loaf of bread can go a long way,” she says.
Plant-based foods may be notorious for being pricey, but many plant-based ingredients are among the cheapest options available. Jaeger recommends stocking your pantry with staples like frozen fruits and vegetables, brown rice, peanut butter, and of course, whole-grain pasta and whole-grain bread.
Looking for inspiration? Here are five easy and delicious vegetarian recipes that you can make when you don’t have the time or energy to cook.
1 Whole grain pasta with vegetables and frozen beans
Pasta often comes to the rescue on those busy days when the appetite is predatory and the desire to cook is low.
For an easy pasta dish filled with veggies, combine a serving of your favorite whole-grain noodles with frozen spinach, shredded edamame, and extra virgin olive oil. This combination of complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats is an excellent way to get all your macrobiotics in one plate.
“Ideally, half of your daily grains should be whole grains,” says Jaeger. Whole-grain pasta tends to have more B vitamins, fiber, and protein.
“Adding a handful of spinach will boost the nutritional value and should make up about half of your plate or bowl,” she adds. As a finishing touch, top it with frozen edamame to balance your meal with some protein.
For easily added flavor, mix a pasta dish with garlic powder, red pepper flakes, black pepper, and nutritional yeast. For a recipe to style your meal next, try this pasta with spinach and white beans. Simply replace the chopped onion and garlic with 1 tablespoon of onion powder and 1 teaspoon of garlic powder.
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2 Whole grain toast with peanut butter and banana
When you need a quick meal, you can’t go wrong with toast. It takes just minutes to make, it’s filling, and there are so many options to choose from for the toppings. Spread some peanut butter on top and add sliced bananas for a quick and affordable meal or snack.
“Toast shouldn’t just be an option for breakfast,” Jaeger explains. “When you eat toast as a meal, you can choose two slices and as a snack, depending on your hunger and activity, you can have one slice.”
This meal includes both complex carbohydrates from wholemeal toast, as well as simple carbohydrates from bananas, both of which provide energy to help you get through your day.
“Peanut butter not only contains plant-based protein, but also fats that help you feel fuller for longer, which can be important if your meals are spaced out,” says Jaeger.
3 Low sodium canned lentil soup
As convenient as they are, canned vegetable soups can sometimes leave the stomach needy, in terms of calories. But, for a quick meal, you can and should Add your own toppings, such as frozen veggies, brown rice, or whole-grain toast on the side.
“Choosing a soup that contains protein like lentils can help keep you feeling full as well as preserve your muscle mass,” says Jaeger. “Choose frozen vegetables like broccoli and peppers instead of just corn and peas.”
Make sure to choose a low-sodium soup, as regularly eating foods rich in sodium can lead to high blood pressure over time. “If you can’t find a low-sodium soup, it’s okay to eat the regular kind once in a while — just not all the time,” Jaeger adds.
4 Oatmeal with frozen fruit and peanut butter
Oats are a good source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, protein and an array of important vitamins and minerals, including manganese, copper, and vitamin B1. They’re also incredibly versatile, easy to prepare, and affordable.
“Oats can be eaten cold or warm, which makes it easy to add to your day,” says Jaeger. “It’s an excellent whole grain and can be bought in bulk boxes so you can get just the amount you need. Frozen fruit like strawberries and blueberries can be added on top and microwaved with the oats.”
according to ResearchFrozen fruit is often healthier — if not more nutritious — than fresh fruit, and it’s usually cheaper, too. They also last longer since you likely won’t have to throw them away because they are spoiled before you can eat them. But if you see fresh fruit on sale, buy it and freeze it at home.
“Sprinkle the top of the oats with peanut butter to add a source of protein and healthy fats,” says Jaeger.
5 Fried vegetables with rice
You can prepare a nutritious vegetable frying pan without having to chop the vegetables, let alone the onions.
“Quick frying is one of the best ways to easily add an excess of vegetables to your diet,” Jaeger explains. “Quick stir-fry vegetables can be the perfect meal for days when you have ingredients in your fridge that you need to consume before they spoil.”
If you want to use all frozen produce, look for packaged mixed vegetables that contain products full of flavor, such as onions and peppers. “It’s a very customizable recipe, so feel free to use whatever vegetables you have on hand,” Jaeger adds.
As for rice, using brown rice that can be cooked in the microwave will reduce preparation time while providing healthy carbohydrates. But if you have the time and energy for it, cooking a batch of rice that you can use during the week is also a good option. “Adding the avocado to the top is optional but it adds flavor and ‘keeps me satiated’ with fat,” says Jaeger.
Whether you need to save energy or just time, these easy vegetarian meal ideas are worth your regular dinner rotation. You can make stir-frying veggies easier with seasoned baked tofu and skip the chopped veggies to use the bagged mix.
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