It’s February, which means that we’re a whole month past the “healthy new year” enthusiasm that we all might have had 34 days ago when the clock struck January 2nd… but I’m here to tell you that you it’s ok(!) if you turned to cheesy comfort food during the polar vortex or if you’re craving chocolate now that Valentine’s Day is getting close. In my opinion, life is too short to (ever) feel guilty about food and one thing that helps me feel balanced is to aim for a healthy lunch.
When I worked in an office, the lunches I packed were some of the healthiest meals I’d eat in a week. They were full of fresh veggies, they kept me from eating out, and they were satisfying enough to keep me from getting too snack-y in the middle of the afternoon. Today, I’m sharing my favorite meal prep ideas, tricks, and tips.
Do you have go-to tips for healthy make-ahead lunches? I’d love to hear them. Leave a comment below with your best meal prep ideas!
Here are favorite meal prep ideas:
#1: Sturdy Salads
My favorite category of weekday lunch. We’re talking pasta salads, noodle salads, slaws, leafless salads, and, of course, kale salads. Vegetables and noodles that hold up well (or even improve) when dressed ahead of time are ideal here.
- How to meal prep: Prep the recipe start-to-finish ahead of time & store in to-go containers! You might want to freshen servings up with extra dressing, a squeeze of lemon, or a pinch of sea salt (#desksalt) but these salads should keep well in the fridge.
- How to pack: Carry servings in to-go containers (I like these glass ones). If I know I’ll want to serve these with a little lemon or lime, I’ll tuck a wedge on top of the salad. Packing garnishes like crunchy seeds or fresh herbs on top of a salad or taking them in a small separate container can be a fun touch as well.
- What to make:
Essentially salad’s heartier cousin. My favorite bowls consist of a grain, a protein (chickpeas, lentils, baked tofu, etc.), plenty of raw + cooked veggies, and a yummy sauce. Top with nuts, seeds, herbs, or something pickled for extra texture and pops of flavor.
- How to meal prep: Depending on the recipe you’re making, cook a big batch of grains ahead of time and prep your protein of choice. This could mean cooking a batch of chickpeas, draining and rinsing canned beans if that’s more your style, or baking cubes of tofu. Mix up your sauce, and chop, steam, or roast veggies for your bowl.
- How to pack: I like to layer bowl components separately within a single container and mix them together as I eat. Pack sauce on the side!
- What to make:
#3: Sandwiches and wraps
Sandwiches and wraps can get a bad rap as a less-than-healthy lunch, but if you fill them with plenty of fresh veggies and plant-based protein, they can be a great take-to-work choice. Veggies with a hearty spread, chickpea salad, or planks of baked tofu or tempeh are all great vegan filling options. If you’re not vegan, a little cheese can go a long way in adding flavor and staying power to a sandwich.
- How to meal prep: Sandwiches are best made day-of, but for speedy morning assembly, prep components over the weekend. For example, make a batch of a yummy spread like this spinach hummus, pulse together a chickpea salad, or marinate & bake tempeh for this club sandwich. I also recommend washing and drying greens and thinly slicing crisp veggies ahead of time. In the morning (or the night before), layer your bread with your prepared components. Your lunch will be ready in minutes!
- How to pack: I like to wrap sandwiches in foil to help them hold together during travel. If you eat sandwiches often, a reusable wrap might be a worthwhile investment.
- What to make:
Last but not least, leftovers(!) are a great lunch to take to work. Many soups, stews, and curries taste better on the second day, so you’ll do yourself a favor by setting aside a serving for lunch. Loaded veggie pizzas and veggie patties also keep well.
- How to meal prep: Make dinner!
- How to pack: I like to crumble leftover veggie patties over leafy greens, taking dressing in a small separate container. Pack curries and rice on separate sides of a single container. Alternatively, carry them in two small containers so that the curry stays saucy until lunchtime. If you’re packing up a soup or a stew you know you’ll want to reheat, make sure to store it in a BPA Free microwave-safe container. Glass is always my first choice. I use these. Definitely no metal here unless you’ll be reheating your meal in a pot on the stove.
- What to make:
Let me know what your favorite meal prep ideas are!
- 1 bunch broccolini, cut into pieces
- 3 large kale leaves, chopped (about 3 loose packed cups)
- Juice of ½ lemon, more to taste
- 2 cups cooked quinoa
- 1 watermelon radish, or 3 red radishes, thinly sliced
- 1 avocado, cubed
- ½ cup fresh leafy herbs (ie, mint, basil, and/or dill)
- 1 batch Roasted Chickpeas
- 1 batch Lemony Pea Pesto
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Prepare a large pot of salted boiling water and a large bowl of ice water. Drop the broccolini into the boiling water and blanch for about 1 minute, or until tender but still vibrant green. Transfer the broccolini to the ice water and let it cool for 1 minute. Drain and set aside to dry as you make the other components.
- Place the kale into a large bowl and drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Massage the leaves until they soften and wilt down.
- Divide the quinoa among 4 meal prep containers. Add the kale, watermelon radish, avocado, herbs and broccolini. Season with drizzles of olive oil, squeezes of lemon juice, and sprinkles of salt and pepper. Add the roasted chickpeas and top with dollops of pesto.