In the spirit of “back to school,” I want to offer up some lunch food prep that works well for a work week with traditional hours (8 hours, 5 days a week).
The trouble with lunch is all the pieces you need to have ready in advance in order to make the prep painless. Over the years, I’ve developed routines to make this pretty easy for me, but it took a while, and many Sundays spent too long in the kitchen, to develop the routine. However, I kept plugging away until it became habitual, and now I spend less than an hour prepping lunches for the week (sometimes a lot less), which works out to under 10 minutes per meal.
So, I am going to write this post with two parts, “Saturday” is going to be the prep that needs to happen before you want to make your meals for the week. This doesn’t have to be Saturday, of course, but at least a day before you need those ingredients. Judicious use of your freezer space can allow you to do this part weeks in advance, and as you develop a meal-prep routine, I strongly suggest you do it that way. “Sunday” is your meal-prep day. I always make enough to eat one of them that day, so then lunch planning is done.
Prep your protein. My go-to is boneless skinless chicken breasts and/or thighs cooked in the slow-cooker on low heat for many hours. You could sub in cooked ground or roasted turkey easily enough. I do not eat red meat, but I’d guess you could do something similar with beef. If you want fish or seafoods, I would recommend you keep them frozen until a day before you want to eat them to avoid spoilage, or buy cans or tins of preserved fish.
Prep your grains/beans. Whenever I cook rice, barley, dried beans, lentils, quinoa, etc. for dinner, I make extra. Then I freeze the leftovers in convenient amounts (3 cups, if I’m going to add them to lunches.) Thaw just before you do your prep for the week. I often use canned beans to save time. Just drain and rinse in a colander before using. You can also find cooked grains and beans in the freezer section of the grocery store, and they work well, too.
Consider prepping vegetables. I “cheat” and buy frozen veggies these days, but when I had fewer financial resources and more time, I would buy fresh vegetables, chop and steam them to have ready for lunches all week.
Basic “boxed” lunch
This is my go-to lunch when I’m teaching. To make it interesting week in and week out, I change which variation of flavorings I use. This is the starting place.
- Put out 6 reusable 4 cup containers with good lids.
- In each container begin with:
1 ½ cups chopped, cooked vegetables (I like broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, summer squash, and/or green beans, it’s ok if they’re frozen)
3-4 oz chopped chicken, turkey, or protein of your choice (also fine if frozen)
½ cup beans and/or brown rice, quinoa, or other cooked grain (more if you’re vegetarian)
Teriyaki boxed lunch variation
Add the following to each container of the the basic boxed lunch:
Use black beans or small, mild-flavored beans like azuki or black-eyed peas
⅓ 8oz can of sliced water chestnuts, drained (about ¼ cup)
2 Tbs prepared teriyaki sauce (I use Kikkoman Takumi collection original)
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
2-3 tbs cashews
Suggested fruit pairing: tangerines, oranges and/or pineapple
Tex-Mex boxed lunch variation
Use pinto and/or black beans and rice.
Either use a prepared salsa or make a spicy tomato sauce by stirring together:
2-3 cups tomato sauce
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp chili powder
hot pepper flakes to taste
Put ¼ to ½ cup sauce/salsa over the veggies.
Sprinkle with 1 tbs. pumpkin seeds.
Add 1 oz grated monterey jack or pepper jack cheese on top.
Suggested fruit pairing: diced melon and/or papaya (with a squeeze of lime!)
Italian boxed lunch variation
Use garbanzo or white beans.
Either use a prepared marinara sauce or make one by stirring together:
2-3 cups tomato sauce
2 tsp dried basil and oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 minced garlic clove
Put ¼ to ½ cup sauce over the veggies.
Sprinkle with 1 oz grated mozzarella cheese and 1-2 tbs. parmesan.
Suggested fruit pairing: grapes or an orange
For each of these, when you’re ready to eat, simply remove the lid and heat them up until hot, 3-4 minutes in the microwave.
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Do you have a go-to lunch that you like to make ahead for the week? Please comment below, and do let me know if you try any of these and what you think! Here is our comment policy.
A version of this post originally appeared at Fit is a Feminist Issue.