Sometimes, you don’t have the energy to cook anything that involves breaking out your knife and cutting board, and that’s okay. A lot of factors can interfere with what you cook and eat, from a busy schedule to chronic pain to mental health and everything in between. Sure, ready-made meals and fast food are an option for most people, depending on where you live, but maybe neither of those aligns with your health goals or your bank account. And, another problem might arise when you search for easy, healthy, budget-friendly vegan meals.
It often goes like this: you come across a purportedly simple vegan recipe on a blog, but then the first step asks you to chop an onion or dice up vegetables for mirepoix. Cue the record scratch sound in your head. As far as we’re concerned, having to cut any ingredient is where a “simple” recipe stops being “simple” and becomes inconvenient. Thankfully, you’re not out of luck if you want vegan meals that don’t involve any chopping.
How to make healthy, affordable vegan meals for low-energy days
Just because a recipe is low-effort doesn’t mean that it needs to be bland. So, we asked Rhyan Geiger, an RDN and owner of Phoenix Vegan Dietitian, for simple, healthy, delicious vegan meal ideas that also happen to be budget-friendly. Her top tips? “Pasta dishes are a go-to for affordable and easy vegan recipes. There’s nothing wrong with pasta. And, a loaf of bread can go a long way,” she says.
Vegan food may have a reputation for being expensive, but many plant-based ingredients are among the cheapest options available. Geiger recommends stocking your pantry with staples like frozen fruit and vegetables, brown rice, peanut butter, and of course, whole grain pasta, and whole grain bread.
Looking for inspiration? Here are five easy, delicious vegan recipes you can make when you don’t have the time or energy to cook.
1 Whole grain pasta with frozen greens and beans
Pasta often comes to the rescue on those busy days where appetites are ravenous and the willingness to cook is low.
For an easy pasta dish packed with greens, combine a serving of your favorite whole grain noodles with frozen spinach, shelled edamame, and extra virgin olive oil. This combination of complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fat is an excellent way to get all of your macrobiotics on one plate.
“Half your daily grains each day ideally should be whole grains,” Geiger says. Whole grain pasta tends to contain more B vitamins, fiber, and protein.
“Adding a bunch 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 shelled edamame to balance out your meal with some protein.
For some easily added flavor, mix your pasta dish with garlic powder, red pepper flakes, black pepper, and nutritional yeast. For a recipe to model your meal after, try this spaghetti with spinach and white beans. Just swap the chopped onion and garlic with one tablespoon of onion powder and one 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 minutes to make, it’s filling, and there are so many options to choose from for toppings. Spread some peanut butter on top and add sliced bananas for a quick, affordable meal or snack.
“Toast doesn’t have to be only a breakfast option,” Geiger explains. “When eating toast for a meal you can opt for two slices and for a snack, depending on your hunger and activity, you could have one slice.”
This meal includes both complex carbohydrates from the whole grain toast, plus simple carbohydrates from the banana, both of which provide energy to help you go about your day.
“Peanut butter not only has plant-based protein, but also fat which will help keep you feeling full for longer, which can be important if your meals are farther apart,” Geiger says.
3 Dressed-up low-sodium canned lentil soup
As convenient as they are, vegan canned soups can sometimes leave the stomach wanting, calorie-wise. But, for a quick meal, you can and should add your own accouterments, such as frozen vegetables, brown rice, or whole grain toast on the side.
“Picking out a soup with protein such as lentils can help keep you feeling full as well as maintain your muscle mass,” Geiger says. “Opt for frozen veggies like broccoli and peppers instead of only corn and peas.”
Be sure to pick a low-sodium soup, as regularly eating high-sodium foods can lead to high blood pressure over time. “If you can’t find low-sodium soup, it’s okay to have the regular kind once in a while—just not all the time,” Geiger 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, making them easy to add into your day,” Geiger says. “They’re an excellent whole grain and can be purchased in bulk bins 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 research, frozen fruit is often just as healthy—if not more nutritious—than fresh, and it’s typically cheaper, too. It’s also longer-lasting in that you likely won’t have to toss it due to it going bad before you can eat it. But if you see fresh fruit on sale, buy it and freeze it at home.
“Drizzle the top of your oats with peanut butter to add a source of protein and healthy fat,” Geiger says.
5 Stir-fried vegetables with rice
You can make a nutritious vegan stir-fry without ever having to chop vegetables, let alone an onion.
“Stir-fry is one of the best ways to add a surplus of vegetables to your diet easily,” Geiger explains. “Vegetable stir-fry can be a perfect meal for days where you have ingredients in your fridge that you need to use up before they go bad.”
If you want to use all frozen produce, look for bagged mixed vegetables that contain flavor-packed produce, like onions and bell peppers. “It’s a customizable recipe so feel free to use any vegetables you have on hand,” Geiger adds.
As for the rice, using microwaveable brown rice will cut down on preparation time while delivering healthy carbs. But if you have the time and energy for it, cooking a batch of rice that you can use during the week is a good option, too. “Adding avocado to the top is optional but adds flavor and ‘keeps-me-full’ fat,” Geiger says.
Whether you need to save energy or just time, these easy plant-based meal ideas are worthy of your regular dinner rotation. You can make this vegetable stir-fry easier by using pre-baked and seasoned tofu and by skipping the chopped vegetables in favor of using a bagged mix.