When I was growing up, lunch was ALWAYS a sandwich (usually PB & J), a piece of fruit, and a cookie, with a quarter thrown in so I could buy milk in the cafeteria. There’s nothing wrong with a lunch like that, but it can get a little repetitive, and there are definitely healthier options out there.
When I was home on summer break and maternity leave, I got in the habit of making really healthy lunches because I had plenty of time to prep them while Ellie napped. Now that I’m back at work, I’m trying to stick to those produce-filled lunches full of healthy grains and proteins, but I have WAY less time during the week to make it happen.
My new strategy is to devote an hour or two of meal prep on Sunday night so that it’s easy to assemble healthy meals to go all week long. Here’s my general strategy:
The photo above shows what I prepped for this week:
a big container of red cabbage, diced cucumber, and diced red bell pepper
1 head of kale, chopped and sauteed with garlic and red pepper flakes
carrots and celery, cut into sticks (and soaking in cold water so they don’t get soft).
Last week, I roasted some sweet potatoes and cubes of butternut squash (just tossed with olive oil and a little salt.)
I keep tomatoes and avocados on hand most of the time, but I don’t cut those until the night before I’m planning on packing them.
I also LOVE my salad spinner. This week it’s full of arugula but I also love butter lettuce, baby spinach or red leaf lettuce
PROTEIN AND GRAINS
In addition to cutting up a ton of vegetables, I cook some grains and protein. My favorite sources of protein are beans (which I cook in the slow cooker), lentils, which cook pretty quickly on the stove top, and tofu or tempeh, cut into cubes and sauteed.
For grains, my current favorites are quinoa and farro, which both cook relatively quickly on the stove. I also like to make a big batch of brown rice in the rice cooker.
I keep these in Snapware containers in the fridge so it’s easy to assemble salads the night before work.
This is probably the most important part. I don’t follow recipes when I’m throwing lunch together, but I do have a couple go-to combinations that I love.
rice vinegar + soy sauce + sesame seeds (this is especially good with avocado!
tahini + Bragg’s liquid aminos + sriracha
olive oil + lemon juice
pumpkin or sunflower seeds
By having all this on hand, it’s really easy to make lunches at night, while I’m cleaning up from dinner. I usually start with a layer of greens, top with grain + protein, then add some extra vegetables on top. Sometimes I’ll mix up the dressing in a separate container, but most of the time I drizzle it over the top when I pack, then mix it all up when it’s time to eat.
Hopefully these ideas will save you from expensive takeout or a boring sandwich rut!