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I Made You a Meal Plan: 3 Not Sad Vegetarian Desk Lunches

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I Made You a Meal Plan: 3 Not Sad Vegetarian Desk Lunches

Before the pandemic, I went into an office five days a week and, supposedly, ate five lunches, most of them schlepped from home. I say supposedly because what those meals actually looked like is lost to lockdown-induced amnesia, replaced in my mind by a cacophony of trending TikTok sounds and a jumble of sourdough discarded recipes.

In reacquainting myself with the office desk lunch, a little trial and error has jogged my memory of the best practices: Choose recipes that are 1) packable and portable2) just as good at room temperature as warm3) filling enough to see you through to a commute-delayed dinner and, arguably most important, 4) easy to make the night before (or even the morning of).

Sound the meal plan airhorn because we’re back with three lunch-friendly recipes that check all of those boxes — with plenty of ingredient overlap and substitute opportunities to boot. They can be enjoyed in the comfort of your own home or in the slight discomfort of overhead fluorescent lighting.

First, you’ll need a grocery list. To make a Crunchy Cauliflower Salad, broccoli-walnut pesto pasta and a lentil and orzo saladpick up:

1 head cauliflower (just over 1 pound)
2 crowns broccoli or 1 (10-ounce) bag frozen broccoli
1 pound zucchini
8 ounces radicchio
1 bunch scallions
1 large bunch of mint
5 lemons
1 small head garlic
1 small block of Parmesan (look for vegetarian or vegan Parm if needed)
1 pound pasta (your favorite shape!)
Orzo (you’ll need 1 cup)
1 bag green or brown lentils
2 cups walnuts
1 small jar pickled pepperoncini

You’ll also need salt, pepper, olive oil and honey, which you probably have handy in the pantry. If not, you know what to do!

While the cauliflower salad recipe uses neutral oil, olive oil would work just as well if that’s all you have. And the lentils The orzo salad you buy makes a protein-rich addition to the cauliflower salad, upgrading it from vibrant side dish to substantial lunch. You could also top the cauliflower with white beans if you’ve got them, as Kay Chun, the recipe’s developer, suggests.

If you can’t find pepperoncini for the orzo salad (or would rather shop your pantry), you could reach for something else similarly briny and punchy, like capers, olives, pickled jalapeños or banana peppers. And although a number of leafy herbs — basil, mint, dill, parsley or a combination — would all work well in the orzo salad, sticking with mint Pares down the shopping list, as you’ll also use it in the broccoli-walnut pesto.

Lastly, if you have already frozen broccoli On hand, you don’t need to buy fresh crowns. Simply skip the blanching in Step 1 of the pesto recipe, as frozen broccoli is already cooked. (You’ll still need to boil a pot of water for the pasta, though.) Thaw the florets, drain and puree as directed, and if you need a little liquid to get the blender going, use a little pasta water.

While I can’t make the trains run smoothly or free you from soul-crushing commuter traffic — nor can I make the break room coffee taste like, well, coffee — I can give you a little something to look forward to at the office: desk lunches that are satisfying, cost-effective and decidedly not sad.

View this recipe,


A budget should never constrain your ability to eat deliciously. That’s the goal of these meal plans, as well as the goal of a new roundup of recipes we published earlier this week of 11 inexpensive vegetarian meals.

What do these dishes have in common? They each call for 10 ingredients or fewer (not including salt, pepper, oil and any optional garnishes or serving suggestions, like rice), lean heavily on assertive flavors (think miso, citrus and tomato paste) and showcase the versatility of vegetarian cooking staples. like tofu, canned beans and frozen vegetables.

Take a spin through it before your next trip to the store, and see you next week!


Email us at theveggie@nytimes.com, Newsletters will be archived here, Reach out to my colleagues at cookingcare@nytimes.com if you have questions about your account.

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