What These Six Health Experts Have for Lunch

I’m always curious about how people approach eating in their everyday lives, beyond the recipes and discussion-worthy meals. These kinds of ordinary details can be so fascinating, telling a story about who someone is and what their days feel like. (I was riveted by this photography book at my library, showing how 80 people from around the world eat—but heads-up, it’s not at all vegan.)

At a practical level, learning about others’ regular meals on regular days can also be really helpful. In my case, cookbooks did very little to help me get in the habit of cooking for myself every day. What did help was learning new habits, short cuts, strategies, and simple meals. I get so much inspiration from hearing about how others eat—do they plan ahead? How do they get their greens in? Honestly, how often do they just eat toast??

Today, I’m excited to be launching a series asking people what they eat for lunch—you know, that mid-day meal that doesn’t tend to take too much of our time or mental bandwidth, the meal we’re often eating on our own, or packing to work/school, or juggling while we’re busy with children or other responsibilities. And this being Easy Animal-Free, you’ll hear about animal-free lunches, of course :)

To start, I asked six health experts what they have for lunch, so we can steal all of their healthy secrets. I adore each of these women, and highly recommend following the links below to stay up to date on their brilliant work. I found their answers to the question, “what do you have for lunch?” to be so interesting and helpful. I hope you do, too!

On beans and greens:

I’ll always be grateful to Ginny Messina for her books and website, which emphasize what we need to know to thrive as vegans, and which I relied on myself to learn about healthy vegan eating. She’s a registered dietitian with a masters in public health, and has devoted her career to ensuring that vegans have access to evidence-based nutrition information. She also writes and speaks about preventing ex-vegans, and promoting body positivity in the vegan community—both so valuable. 

She says:

I work from home and I also do bulk cooking every week, which means that the refrigerator and freezer are packed with ready-to-heat food. A typical lunch is roasted purple sweet potatoes (always the purple ones!), white or black beans sautéed with onions and garlic, and some type of leafy green, most often collards or spinach. I usually melt a little bit of Miyoko’s cheese over the veggies (Spicy Revolution Cheddar is my favorite). I’m also currently obsessed with Explore Cuisine brand edamame spaghetti, which is packed with protein, calcium, and potassium – three things that I’m currently emphasizing in my diet for bone health. I toss it with a little bit of olive oil and a lot of vegan Parmesan made from ground walnuts and nutritional yeast, and then top it with greens or chopped tomatoes.
— Ginny Messina

Ok, be honest, who else is planning on trying that spaghetti? Check out Ginny’s website (which contains super helpful resources), follow her on Twitter, and if you have any vegan-curious women in your life, I consider her book Vegan For Her a must. I’ve also heard Never Too Late to Go Vegan is THE book for older people considering veganism. 

On eating through the fridge:

If you’re curious about improving gut health or incorporating more plants to manage inflammatory disease, Desiree Nielsen is your woman. She’s a registered dietitian, host of cooking show The Urban Vegetarian, and author—her anti-inflammatory cookbook, Eat More Plants is slated to be released this summer, and is available for preorder. She’s also a mama of two young ones, and writes about plant-based pregnancy and children.

She says:

I’m lucky to work from a home office most of the time so I don’t have to prep in the morning; however, my lunches now look pretty similar to what they used to when I commuted. I try to use lunchtime to clear out the odds and sods from the fridge so they don’t go to waste. Leftover roasted veggies and beans might go into a wrap or bowl. Or I’ll sauté up warm leftovers like pasta with extra greens and maybe serve it with a side of hummus. When I’m making a lunch from scratch, it usually evolves from a can of beans. I’ll do a quick sauté of beans with a few handfuls of spinach or leftover veg and serve with a half an avocado, or make chickpea tuna and serve it open faced, with whatever vegetables I can rustle up.
— Desiree Nielsen

Desiree’s blog and website are a wealth of information, and you can also find her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. I especially like the funny memes…like this one, which is so accurate it hurts:

On packing a filling salad:

I first heard Michelle McMacken, MD, on the Rich Roll Podcast and I was blown away with her intelligence and compassion. She’s board-certified in internal medicine, and she serves as assistant professor at New York University’s School of Medicine and primary care physician at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue. And look at this plant-based lifestyle medicine program she’s responsible for!! They help people living with chronic disease eat plant-based and get healthier. I could just cry.

She says:

I am a primary care internal medicine physician in a busy academic practice in New York City. Typically, my “lunch hour” is only a few minutes, if that. Many days I don’t have time to run out and grab lunch, so I try to bring food from home when I can. I try to use lunchtime as an opportunity to pack in some leafy greens and other veggies, so I often have a big salad with either spinach, kale, or arugula as a base, and then add red cabbage, carrots, cherry tomatoes, red or yellow peppers, and raw cauliflower. I’m kind of obsessed with having as many colors as possible. I always have either a whole grain (such as quinoa or brown rice) or a root vegetable (such as sweet potato) plus a legume (lentils, hummus, tofu, tempeh, beans, and/or chickpeas) in generous proportions as part of my salad, so that I stay full during the afternoon. My favorite dressing is sesame tahini mixed with a splash of balsamic vinegar. Other days I bring leftover whole-wheat or brown rice pasta with crushed tomatoes, broccoli, and navy beans or chickpeas with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast, or homemade bean chili with veggies, topped with avocado and a slice of whole grain bread.
— Michelle McMacken

I’m inspired to eat more colours. Be sure to follow Michelle on Instagram and Twitter for super useful evidence-based and myth-busting info, and to stay up to date on her groundbreaking diet-as-medicine work.

On the glory of soup:

Pamela Fergusson is a vibrant ethical vegan living with her husband Dave and their four children in the mountains of Nelson, BC. She is not only a registered dietitian, but she also has a PhD in nutrition (!!!) and is constantly lending her invaluable expertise to initiatives that promote plant-based eating, including with me at the Plant-based Policy Centre. If you’re interested in nutrition advice from a knowledgeable, warm, lovely person, check out Pamela’s online nutrition practice, which serves clients across North America. 

She says:

My favourite thing to have for lunch is soup. There is nothing like soup for nourishing, healthy and convenient tastiness. And so versatile too! My favourite soups are curried sweet potato kale, lentil, carrot coconut and potato leek. Soup is easy to transport too; I have a big thermos and my soup comes with me to the ski hill, hiking or to a meeting. I’m a busy mom so I need to make those school hours count, and I don’t want to spend a lot of my daytime in the kitchen. Soup is easy to meal prep a few days ahead.
— Pamela Fergusson

Yes to a big pot of comforting soup and some fresh sourdough! Find Pamela on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook for evidence-based nutrition info and family friendly meal ideas.

On cooking on Sundays:

Amy Symington is a force in Toronto’s plant-based movement. She has a masters degree in nutrition, and works as a nutrition professor, chef and researcher. It seems like if there’s a plant-based initiative to assist with, Amy is there: volunteering at the Toronto Vegetarian Food Bank, developing recipes for the Toronto Vegetarian Association, serving as the Nutrition and Kitchen program coordinator at Gilda’s Club Greater Toronto, and more.

She says:

If I am not recipe testing or eating my culinary students’ food I like to keep my midday meals during the busy work week simple. Firstly, I always ensure that our family is eating a wide variety of bright and beautiful whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains and good quality plant-based protein. Secondly, batch cooking is our best friend. This planning component is key because disorganization here will not only cost you money and time and often create food waste, but will also negatively effect your health in the long run. Sunday my whole family helps to prepare meals that can easily be reheated throughout the week. Think tofu bourguignon, mango almond curry, lentil bolognese, tempeh or bean tacos with a quick coleslaw - food that can be thrown together and eaten cold or fast and furiously if needed during the week. Thirdly, if you are lucky enough to work from home having well stocked pantry is also invaluable in the moments when you need to MacGyver a meal from a head of cabbage.
— Amy Symington

MacGyvering meals is my love language. Amy is online at ameliaeats.com, and on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Find more of her prep-ahead recipes and tips here.

On head-sized salads:

Julieanna Hever is a dynamic, passionate, brilliant vegan, and I’ve loved following her online presence for many years. She’s a registered dietitian with a masters of science in nutrition, and among her many gifts to the world, she authored Plant-Based Nutrition (Idiot's Guide)The Vegiterranean Diet, as well as two peer-reviewed journal articles on plant-based nutrition for healthcare professionals. She counsels clients around the world via PlantBasedDietitian.com and as Nutrition Director of Efferos, Inc.

She says:

My motto is, “if a salad isn’t bigger than your head, it doesn’t count.” And nothing makes me happier than a huge, bowl of delicious, nutritious salad. Although this may not sound exciting at first, I’m not just talking about any old salad...I love to get creative. Usually, I mix it up with lovely legumes and/or leftover soups, stews, potatoes, and roasted veggies, usually topped off with a quick nut- or seed-based flavorful DIY dressing, freshly whirred up in the blender. Since I am in a new phase of my life, with an intensive travel schedule and no two days alike, I rely on my green goggles to find wholesome, satisfying meals wherever in the world I may be. Also of note, I now eat one or two meals per day to restrict my feeding window, so I don’t use the terms “breakfast,” “lunch,” or “dinner.” Instead, I sip water, tea or sometimes coffee throughout the morning and wait until I am good and hungry for my first meal. Ultimately, all of my meals are based on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices in some tasty combination and I find there is no limit on inspiring options.
— Julieanna Hever

That is definitely that kind of life motto that gets you places. Find Julieanna on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter for fantastic and approachable plant-based health info.

Thank you so much, Ginny, Desiree, Michelle, Pamela, Amy and Julieanna! Your lunches sound delicious and nutritious, and I’m so grateful for your work to make healthy plant-based diets accessible to all.

For even more lunch ideas, check out five ridiculously simple vegan sandwiches we love, how to make a bowl, and three ultra-fast meals using canned food.