If you’ve slacked on your New Year’s resolutions, you might be ready for a March redo. Did you mean to stop ordering take-out so much this year? Or maybe your goal was to eat more whole ingredients more often? March 10 is National Pack Your Lunch Day! (Did you even know there was such a thing? I didn’t.)
We’ve got tips for meal prepping here to make the whole lunch planning thing easier and more inspiring. Besides boosting your savings, meal prepping means you know what’s in your food—and it takes the pressure off thinking up lunch every day.
If you’re new to meal prepping, start with trial runs to see what works for you and expand your repertoire from there. Here’s how to get started.
Set yourself up with the right containers
Consider investing in some inexpensive glassware with snap tops like these Pyrex containers or Bento-style snack boxes—something that’s microwave safe. Alternatively, pick up some Mason jars and lids. You might even have a bunch hanging out in your basement.
Keep it easy
Don’t spend too much time on planning, and keep your recipes simple, says Rima Kleiner, licensed dietitian and nutritionist and founder of Dish on Fish. “Just enough time to decide if you want to do a salad for a few days and a sandwich the rest of the week,” she says. That keeps the planning feeling reasonable. Mix it up every week.
Keep healthy staples on hand
Having staples at the ready are the key to successful prepping. “Knowing what you like and buying in bulk when possible will make meal prepping easy,” says Barbara Bolotte, founder of Clean Creations, a subscription service in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
For the pantry, Kleiner suggests whole grains like quinoa or bulgur, proteins like canned salmon or tuna, high-fiber foods like beans, nuts, and seeds, and dried fruit for some sweetness. Grab-and-go foods in the fridge include apples, mandarins, grapes, and bags of leafy greens—kale, spinach, arugula, or mixed greens. In the freezer, that means frozen vegetables, fruit, shrimp or chicken, loaves of bread, or tortillas.
Mini-prep certain ingredients the night (or Sunday) before
That could mean batch cooking enough eggs for week, cutting up different kinds of vegetables, roasting vegetables and chicken together, or cooking a whole grain like brown basmati rice or quinoa so you have it ready to go for bowls or salads. Bolotte recommends baking sliced vegetables like bell pepper, tomato, and zucchini alongside chicken in advance and then topping it with hummus or tzatziki the day of.
Cook up a soup for the week
Soup makes a great lunch anchor. Parcel it out into those glass containers or Mason jars. Recipes abound. Try Kleiner’s cod and corn chowder, chili from scratch with dried beans (Instant Pot is your friend), chicken tortilla soup, or minestrone.
Try a Mason jar salad
The key to jar salad is the layering order, but sky’s the limit on what you include. You can make it differently every week. Start with an oil or lemon and vinegar dressing in the bottom, 2 or 3 tablespoons. Then layer in chopped vegetables that don’t get soggy, like carrots, red onion, bell pepper, or cauliflower, a layer of beans or tuna, tomatoes or cucumbers, a grain like rice or quinoa, and then top it with greens like spinach, arugula, or salad greens so they don’t wilt in the dressing. At work, you can mix it up in the jar or tip it out into a bowl so the dressing ends up on top.
Alternate with a grain bowl
A variation on the Mason jar salad, these bowls can be made with your favorite whole grain like brown rice or quinoa, leafy greens, avocado and smoked salmon or lean chicken and a good sauce like feta or hummus dressing. Google grain bowls for ideas on what to include. Try this Greek chicken grain bowl, a recipe from this list of grain bowls, or this burrito bowl.
Pack a Bento box
If you want to take a break from grain salads, try a bento box of vegetables and protein snacks. Kleiner recommends boiled egg, tuna salad, celery and bell pepper sticks, a handful of almonds, and grapes for your fruit.
Wrap it up
Skip the cold cuts and cream cheese. A whole-grain flour tortilla stuffed with roasted vegetables and a good sauce with some extra spice makes a great lunch. Check out these ideas for tips on perfecting a wrap with better condiments, herbs, and vegetables. The secret is having the right sauce in the fridge.
Make the sauce ahead
Grain bowls and wraps benefit from a great sauce. It’s easy to purchase hummus, tzatziki, salad dressing, or salsa at the store, but you can also make your own for the week. Take a look at these five recipes for ideas.
Brown bag your dinner leftovers
The easiest of the easy, leftover dinner makes a great lunch. When you’re making dinner, cook extra with lunch in mind. It takes less time to put together a few more enchiladas than packing lunch from scratch.
To get more ideas for Mason jar recipes, check out Taylor Swinson’s The Girl on Bloor blog. She specializes in meal prepping, and her blog has oodles of food photos and meal prep tips for quick but tasty lunches.
Ready to give it a go? You can always go back to sandwiches if meal prepping turns out not to be your thing. But you might find it’s exactly the redo your lunch is looking for.
More from HerMoney:
- 5 Affordable Meal Ideas to Try This Week With Recipes
- The Foods You Need to Buy in Bulk to Save Money
- How to Cut Out Food Waste and Save Money in the Process
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