Burning Down the House: Back to School Vegan Breakfasts and Lunches

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About six months ago, when J.K. tried out a bunch of vegan breakfast smoothies, my life changed for the better. I’ve been in something of a smoothie rut ever since, ingesting either a pumpkin pie smoothie or some variation of a blueberry pie smoothie pretty much every morning, but it’s been an enjoyable rut. With a brand-new back-to-school season upon us, J.K. decided to try out ideas for back-to-school vegan, allergy-friendly, breakfasts and lunches. Or rather: How to Prep a Whole Week’s Worth of Breakfasts and Lunches in an Hour.

First up for breakfast: Overnight Oats. Note that J.K. did not invent this concept, but does have some ideas that have worked for her—though she might be the first to make overnight oats ahead of time for a whole week. In any case, she says she doesn’t “follow a recipe, I just sort of ‘ish’ the amounts.”

For those new to overnight oats, the bonus is that you don’t have to cook the oats. Instead you add milk (non-dairy or otherwise) the night before, so that the oats get a chance to soak. While you could just make this in a bowl and cover it in the fridge, J.K. prefers “cute mason jars with lids,” preferably the 24-ounce jars, and says it’s important to leave room at the top so you can stir everything up in the morning. She also says she thought it would be better to do the stirring in the morning outside of the jar, in a bowl, but it turns out for containing spills that “it’s better to mix it inside the jar.”

The basic ingredients are half a cup of rolled oats (gluten-free or otherwise) and half a cup of milk (dairy or non-dairy) or yogurt (dairy, coconut, or preferred non-dairy substitute). She also suggests adding some combination of the following optional ingredients: chocolate chips; fresh fruit such as strawberries or sliced bananas; frozen fruit; dried fruit, particularly dried cranberries or chopped-up dates; a tablespoon of peanut butter; a teaspoon of chia seeds, coconut flakes, or flax seeds; a scoop of vanilla protein powder; half a teaspoon of vanilla extract, a few shakes of cinnamon, and a teaspoon or so of agave syrup. You can also make your oats chocolate by adding unsweetened cocoa powder and a sweetener such as agave, honey, or maple syrup.

She says “some toppings go on in the morning, such as fresh strawberries, sliced bananas, and coconut flakes, whereas frozen fruit, dried fruit, peanut butter, and chia seeds are better added the night before.” Chocolate chips, ever flexible, can go either way.

Indeed, it’s putting in the fresh or frozen fruit or chia seeds the night before that really gives overnight oats its full deliciousness and power, because “then the flavor…” Here she makes a sweeping motion with her hands, and I agree—it’s hard to articulate exactly what happens when everything is allowed to soak and expand overnight, but it’s good.

Food-safety-wise, it’s generally good to only have food waiting in the refrigerator for a few days, but you could put a week’s worth of the dry ingredients in jars in the fridge and then just add any frozen fruit or milk or yogurt ingredients the night before.

J.K.’s younger brother, who eats everything, thought the overnight oats were “okay,” but her dad, who also eats everything, said, “They were yummy. I loved them. They tasted like muesli.” I really liked them, too. When asked her opinion, Ollie, our omnivorous bearded dragon, simply sniffed and walked away, thus reminding us that sometimes the best response is no response and that one shouldn’t take things personally.

J.K.’s second suggestion for breakfast was smoothie kits. For these, she says, you can put the ingredients for a week’s worth of breakfast smoothies into separate ziplock bags on Sunday night and then pop these bags into the freezer (or fridge, depending on the fortitude of your blending apparatus). Then, in the morning, pull out your preferred bag and dump the contents into your blending apparatus, add apple juice or the milk (dairy or non-dairy) of your choice, blend, and voilà.

 Some ingredients such as sliced bananas, other fruit, and greens do well stored in the freezer, with other ingredients such as vanilla plant-based protein powder perhaps better stored in a cabinet or in the fridge. She says to put enough fruit in each quart-size ziplock bag for one smoothie, for example:  half a banana, half a cup of blueberries or other fresh or frozen fruit, a scoop of protein powder, and greens such as spinach or kale or even broccoli. J.K. doesn’t love protein powder, but I actually like it in smoothies (and like the chocolate variety with water or non-dairy milk, though recognize that might be a sign of depravity). We have a NutriBullet, which we love, and we also have an immersion blender.

The Co-op now sells overly ripe “smoothie bananas” at a slightly discounted price in brown paper bags, so I’ve taken to slicing large quantities and popping them into a ziplock bag in the freezer, which gives me hope for the future and a delightful feeling of accomplishment—reminding me of moms I’ve read about who prepare a month’s worth of meals in an afternoon and freeze them. You know, sort of.

For back-to-school lunches, J.K. suggests, “Make a few different things ahead of time that you can combine in different ways,” for example: pasta salad, vegetable crudités, and fruit (such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and mini tangerines).

She says, “Here’s something I would do: You can make a quantity of pasta and then you can make a really simple pasta salad type of deal with chopped up tomatoes, sliced kalamata olives, olive oil, salt and pepper, and a little lemon juice. I would also chop up a bunch of vegetables—carrots into carrot sticks, cucumbers in rounds—and have a little container of hummus, which you can make or buy. You can also make pita sandwiches—just slice a hollow pita in half, put in hummus, and add sliced tomatoes and lettuce.” (She likes Romaine.)

 When I asked her, “What else can you do as a vegan?” she readily acknowledged, “It’s not exciting,” but says that as a rotation it should work. “Plus you can make a big thing of soup on the weekend in winter, or gazpacho or a lighter soup in warmer months, and use it throughout the week. Or vegetable soup with pasta.” Again, since leftovers shouldn’t be refrigerated longer than three days, you can refrigerate a couple of portions and freeze the rest.

J.K. also suggests jarred salads and marinated tofu. For jarred salads, she says to take a large mason jar and put dressing on the bottom, then kidney beans and/or chickpeas, then olives, cherry tomatoes, carrots, cut-up tofu, and finally lettuce or other greens on the top so they don’t get soggy. Then shake before eating. (For marinated tofu, see the very simple recipe from Rebar mentioned in the January 2016 newsletter.) Best wishes, everyone, for enjoying breakfasts and lunches and the first month back at school!