vegan fast food

Recently, I had a taste of what it’s like to be a vegan who doesn’t cook.

For what seems like the past decade or so, I’ve been living with a kitchen remodel. Cooking while my kitchen was torn apart was not really a problem. I have an electric frying pan, an Instant Pot, and an Aroma Rice Cooker/Slow Cooker. I set them up in the dining room, creating a functional kitchen annex. But without running water (or a sink) plus some concurrent remodeling of the (very old) plumbing in the bathroom, clean-up was a challenge.

While I started out cheerfully cooking up black beans and quinoa in the Instant Pot and rice cooker, my cuisine quickly morphed into whatever could be made in the microwave and toaster and served up on a paper plate. Yes, there has been a lot (a lot!) of peanut butter on toast in my menus. But I’ve also managed to pull together some pretty decent hot dinners.

In addition to the obvious canned beans and veggie meats, these are some of the foods that made it possible for me to eat healthfully when I couldn’t cook.

Frozen vegetables. In particular, the “steam in the bag” type veggies which included broccoli, kale, barbecued corn, sweet potatoes, and Brussel sprouts. Maybe not quite as tasty as fresh veggies (although the barbecued corn was pretty great) but not at all bad when you top them with a dollop of hummus or a drizzle of tahini sauce. And yes, perfectly healthy. In fact, frozen vegetables can sometimes be more nutritious than fresh.

Frozen cooked brown rice. This also cooks up right in the bag.

Steamables. Fresh little sweet and white potatoes that can be microwaved in the bag. I ate a lot of these.

Instant Tabouli. Pour boiling water over it, add a can of chickpeas and voila—dinner.

Instant Black Beans. I have to say that any excuse to eat Fantastic Foods brand Black Bean Mix is okay with me. I don’t know why I love them so much, but it has long been one of my favorite foods on earth. Their refried beans are good, too.

Tasty Bite Entrees. Packaged in microwavable pouches, some of these are vegan and are available at warehouse stores like Costco and BJs. They’re high in sodium, so I used them more condiment-style over rice and veggies.

Salad from a bag with Follow Your Heart or Daiya dressings.

Baked Tofu. Teriyaki or ginger-flavored and ready to eat right out of the package.

Peanut butter. When all else fails, there is peanut butter or almond butter—packed with protein, fiber and healthy fats, these are almost perfect foods in my opinion. Spread them on apple slices or toast, or thin with water and drizzle over cooked vegetables.

This style of food prep definitely has its down side. For one thing, it costs a little bit more than what I normally spend on food (although it’s been way less expensive than going out to eat, which is something I rarely do). And there was the discomfort I felt about all of the wasteful packaging.

On the upside, though, during a fairly challenging and stressful time in my life, I had some reasonably tasty meals. And, my diet was healthy. Beans, brown rice, salad, collards, corn, peanut butter, whole grain bread, guacamole, oranges, apples, extra-virgin olive oil—it’s hard to imagine a healthier way of eating.

I also learned a lot about options for non-cooks. I’ve been impressed with how easy it’s been to “cook” up meals that are healthy and appealing with just a microwave oven, an electric tea kettle, and a toaster. And my groceries all came from a local market—which is not some fancy schmancy Whole Foods kind of store.

While I wouldn’t recommend building an entire diet around these foods—again, mostly because of cost and packaging—they provide options for those who are trying to be vegan in an imperfect world. Even people who enjoy cooking are likely to have days when they don’t have the time or energy to do so. So, there is something to celebrate about this kind of food—namely that it means that vegan food is available to everyone.