I’ve been a vegetarian for about a year, long enough to start fielding questions like “How do you get your protein?” and “Do you only eat salads?” I get plenty of protein and I don’t just eat salads, but the way I eat doesn’t look much like the Pinterest or Instagram vegetarian diet, where everyone seems to be making their own hummus and cashew milk and smoothie bowls with ingredients I don’t know how to pronounce.
If you’re interested in cutting out meat, or at least eating less of it, here are five days of meat-free meals like the ones I eat—no fancy tools or Whole Foods necessary! These meals, which are rough ideas more than detailed recipes, are meant to show is that it’s easier than you might think to make vegetarian meals that are healthy, cheap, and filling. (Note: These five days take place in a fantasy world where you make something different for every single meal, instead of making a big batch of enchiladas and eating them for lunch and dinner for the entire week.)
Day 1: Overnight Oats. Fill a Tupperware or mason jar with oats, and cover to the brim with milk (cow, soy, or almond). Add a sweetener like jam, honey, cinnamon and sugar, fruit, or any other mix-in, and let it sit in your fridge overnight. In the morning, you’ll have creamy oatmeal ready to eat!
Day 2: Burritas. A Honduran specialty, these are breakfast burritos that you can eat like a sandwich. Spread refried beans on one side of a corn tortilla, top with a fried egg, and then with a second tortilla (double up the tortillas on each side if they’re not structurally sound enough on their own). You can also add cheese, avocado, or fried plantain. The secret to a good burrita is using good corn tortillas, not the dry, preservative-filled ones you find at the grocery store.
Day 3: Two-ingredient breakfast cookies. The basic ingredients here are ripe bananas and oats. Mash the bananas, mix in the oats, dollop on a sheet pan like cookies, and bake at 350 for around 10 minutes. Mix in a little sugar, cinnamon, cocoa powder, dried fruit, coconut, chocolate chips, or anything else that occurs to you. It sounds too simple to be true, but these really work!
Day 4: French toast. Beat one egg per piece of toast you want to make, and stir in cinnamon and sugar. Dip bread in the egg mixture on both sides, and set it on a hot, greased pan. Let it cook until lightly browned on both sides, and serve with syrup or honey.
Day 5: Pancakes. A weekend morning staple! Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together with milk, eggs, butter, vanilla, and whatever else occurs to you (pumpkin, blueberries, etc.). Ladle onto a greased pan or griddle and cook on both sides. Serve with syrup, honey, cream cheese, or jam.
Heavy meal (lunch or dinner)
Day 1: Sheet pan vegetables. Dice vegetables and toss them in olive oil, salt, and your favorite spices, then roast in the oven at around 350 for 25-30 minutes, stirring halfway through. I like to use potato, sweet potato, malanga (a root vegetable similar to taro), onions, whole garlic cloves, broccoli, and red peppers. Add protein by topping with cheese.
Day 2: Enchiladas. This is a great meal for batch cooking. You can start with leftover sheet pan veggies, or make your own filling with ingredients like beans, peppers, corn, onion, and broccoli. The important thing is to mix the filling with some sort of sauce. I use a store-brand Mexican red salsa that comes in cans, but you could certainly make your own (or even use barbecue sauce). Wrap the filling in flour tortillas, then cover the whole pan of enchiladas with more salsa and shredded cheese. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or a little longer if you didn’t pre-roast the vegetables.
Day 3: Pasta. Pasta is quick and filling, but not very nutritious, so you need to really load up the sauce. For red sauce, I start with tomato paste and add water, a little oil, and sautéed vegetables like onion and pepper. “Soy meat” is very inexpensive here, so it’s a good option to add protein to the sauce. I had never heard of this before living in Honduras and have no idea if it’s accessible in the U.S. It’s sold here in packets of dehydrated flakes. You can hydrate it in a pan with water and soy sauce for flavor.
Day 4: Homemade pizza. My mom’s pizza dough recipe never fails. Dissolve 2 tbsp of yeast in 2 cups of warm water with 3 tbsp of sugar and a dollop of olive oil. Let it sit for 10 minutes, until the yeast is activated. Add flour (and a pinch of salt) until the dough is a little tacky without being too sticky. Knead the dough until smooth, adding more flour as needed. Cover and let it sit in a warm place for 30 minutes to rise. Punch down the dough, and roll it out to make crusts. This dough also works for cinnamon rolls! For pizza, top with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and your favorite veggie toppings, then bake at the highest heat possible for 10-12 minutes, or until the crust is firm.
Day 5: Vegetarian Chili. This is the one of the best recipes to clean out the fridge at the end of the week. Start by sautéing onions and garlic in the bottom of a big pot, then slowly add in vegetables (carrots, celery, peppers, corn, tomatoes, etc.) and beans (black, white, chickpea). Add water, tomato paste, and lots of spices (hint: a little bit of cinnamon adds a nice touch). Let it simmer until everything’s soft. I like to serve with a dollop of cream cheese mixed in and bread on the side.
Light meal (lunch or dinner)
Day 1: Fruit, yogurt, and granola. This seems like a breakfast food to most people, but sometimes I don’t want anything heavy at the end of the day, and yogurt is both light and protein-filled, especially if you add a granola with nuts. I buy plain yogurt, which you can sweeten with sugar, honey, fruit, or jam for meals like this, or use as a sour cream or mayonnaise substitute in other cooking.
Day 2: Avocado toast with egg. Take it from a millennial, this is actually one of my favorite meals, and it takes less than 10 minutes to make. Slice and lightly salt the avocado on top of toast, and add an egg (I like mine over-medium). Also good with feta cheese.
Day 3: Baked potato. Potatoes are a great vehicle for all sorts of different toppings. Try with butter and roasted broccoli, or black beans, cheddar cheese, and cilantro. To roast a potato, cover it in foil and bake for around 20 minutes, or cover in a damp paper towel and microwave for around 5-6 minutes (either way, make sure to poke holes in the skin with a fork first). This also works with sweet potatoes. If you want to make mashed potatoes or potato salad, boil the potatoes until soft. (This may seem obvious to you, but the first time I tried to make mashed potatoes I started by baking the potatoes and couldn’t figure out why they wouldn’t mash. Lesson learned!).
Day 4: Veggie sandwich. Vegetarian sandwiches in restaurants are always crazy expensive, and you can make your own at home for so much cheaper. Ingredients I like on a sandwich include roasted eggplant, red pepper, mushrooms, sliced tomatoes, sliced avocado or guacamole, and cheese.
Day 5: Good salads. No more cherry tomatoes on iceberg lettuce! Build your own salad with a base (i.e. spinach or romaine lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes), protein (chickpeas, quinoa, nuts, cheese), toppings (olives, carrots, apples, etc.), and a dressing. Make your own dressings by mixing olive oil with balsamic vinegar and an emulsifier like honey, mayonnaise, or mustard.
In order to make these meals, my pantry is stocked with these staples. Is there anything you’d add to the list? What’s your favorite, go-to vegetarian meal? I’d love to hear the recipe!
Katerina Parsons (’15) lives in Washington D.C., where she works in advocacy at Mennonite Central Committee’s Washington office and studies international development at American University’s School of International Service. She spends a lot of time thinking about US policy towards Central America and North Korea, writing, singing, and searching for the city’s best pupusas (suggestions welcome).