Planning and preparing lunches in advance can be a time saving and cost effective strategy especially, during busy workweeks. By dedicating some time on the weekends to cook and organize you can ensure that you have healthy lunches available, for each day.This beginner’s guide will provide you with plenty of satisfying meal prep lunch ideas, tips for prepping lunches efficiently, and easy recipes to make in advance. Follow this advice to start enjoying the convenience of grab-and-go weekday lunches.
Gather Lunch Meal Prep Supplies
Make sure you have the kitchen utensils and storage containers before you start planning and preparing your lunches for the week. This will help things run smoothly and keep your prepped food fresh.
Some supplies that are useful to have on hand include:
- A set of glass or BPA-free plastic food prep containers in various sizes. Look for ones with tight sealing lids.
- Reusable freezer packs to keep food chilled.
- A large cutting board for efficient chopping.
- Sharp knives for slicing, dicing, and chopping ingredients.
- Mixing bowls in small and large sizes.
- Meal planning paper or app to organize your lunch ideas week-by-week.
- Permanent marker to label containers.
Prepping your equipment and supplies ahead of time will make prepping a breeze.
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Plan Out a Week of Lunch Recipes
The key to successful meal prepping is planning out what you are going to make ahead of time. This prevents you from being overwhelmed on cook day. It also helps ensure you have variety throughout the week.
When selecting recipes, opt for ones that use similar ingredients to minimize food waste. For example, plan two recipes that both use chicken. Or choose recipes that feature in-season produce.
Aim to include a mix of grain bowls, salads, soups, sandwiches, and wraps. Try to include a variety of vegetables, healthy fats, and lean proteins in your weekly lunch plans.
If you have time to prep breakfasts and snacks as well, look for recipes that allow ingredients to multitask across meals. For example, hard-boiled eggs can be prepped once then used in both lunch and breakfast meals.
Prep Ingredients and Store Properly
An important step of the meal prep process is gathering ingredients ahead of time. Make a detailed grocery list and shop for everything you will need for the full week of recipes at once. This saves you from making multiple trips to the store during your prep.
When you return from shopping, take time to wash, chop, slice, dice, and portion out ingredients before cooking. Place prepared ingredients in airtight containers or sealed bags to maintain freshness.
Perishable pre-prepped ingredients like chopped veggies and cooked rice can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Hardier ingredients like uncooked beans and lentils can be kept in the pantry.
Proper storage keeps ingredients ready when it’s time to assemble each lunch recipe.
Cook in Bulk When Possible
The more components of your lunch recipes you can make in bulk batches, the more efficient your prep will be. Look for opportunities to cook proteins, grains, and base ingredients in large quantities.
For example, you can bake several pounds of chicken breasts at once. Or make a big pot of quinoa or brown rice to use across multiple meals. Roasting a couple pounds of vegetables is another good bulk cooking method.
Double or triple recipe portions if needed so you end up with enough cooked ingredients for the full week of lunches. Then divide everything into individual containers once cooled.
Bulk cooking saves you from having to prepare each component separately for every single meal. This streamlines prep work tremendously.
Practice Batch Cooking Strategies
In addition to cooking base ingredients in bulk, you can batch cook full dishes and entrees too.
One strategy is to pick 2-3 lunch recipes to make double or triple batches of on prep day. Transfer the cooked dishes into individual containers so you have ready-to-grab homemade lunches waiting in the refrigerator or freezer.
Soup, chili, and stew are especially great to make ahead in big batches. These wet dishes typically keep well for a full week in the fridge. Alternatively, freeze a portion to reheat later in the month.
Casseroles, egg bakes, pasta salads, and grain bowls are other good make-ahead choices. The options are endless!
Prep Ahead for Easier Assembly
Once your lunch ingredients and entrees are cooked, make things even easier on yourself throughout the busy work week.
Portion out ingredients into containers so lunches can be quickly assembled or reheated each morning or night before work.
For example, cook a batch of quinoa then divide it into 5 containers – one for each workday lunch. You can quickly add the cooked quinoa to a salad or bowl without having to measure anything out.
Chopped veggies, roasted proteins, dressing, sauce, and other meal components can all be prepped in advance too. Doing the knife work ahead of time saves you 10-15 minutes each morning!
Get Creative with Leftovers
Cooking extra food intentionally is smart meal prep. But you’ll likely end up with leftovers each week too.
Avoid food waste and enjoy free lunches by repurposing leftovers creatively. Use leftover roasted veggies or grilled meat in a grain bowl or salad. Convert leftover chili into stuffed peppers or top a baked potato. Chicken can be reused in wraps, sandwiches, and soups.
Making “frankenbowls” is one of the easiest ways to use odds and ends. Simply layer leftovers over greens or grains to create an entirely new lunch.
With a little resourcefulness, leftovers become lunches too!
Make an Assembly Line
On weekday mornings when time is precious, avoid scrambling to pack lunch right before work.
Instead, create an efficient assembly line the night before using your prepped ingredients and components. Assemble lunches for the following day like you would on an assembly line – grabbing ingredients and building each meal step-by-step.
Set up an area with all your equipment, prepped food, and empty lunch containers. Work your way through, placing grains, proteins, veggies, and dressings into each dish. Don’t forget utensils and an ice pack too.
When you’re finished, stack the filled containers in the refrigerator. Now weekday lunches are ready to grab without any morning stress!
Prep Freezer Friendly Lunches Too
In addition to making lunches fresh for the work week ahead, double your efforts by prepping extra meals that will keep in the freezer too.
Dishes, like soups, casseroles and burritos tend to freeze for a minimum of one month. Just let them thaw in the refrigerator overnight and warm them up whenever you want to enjoy them.
Freezer lunch prep means you’ll have an arsenal of homemade lunches ready when life gets too busy for meal prepping one week. It also helps you pull together lunches in a pinch if you forget to prep.
Slowly build up a stash of frozen homemade lunches so you always have quick and healthy options on hand.
Lunch Meal Prep Recipes to Try
Now that you know the basics of getting organized and prepping lunches efficiently, it’s time to start cooking! Aim to try 1 or 2 new recipes each week to keep your lunch meal prep exciting. Here are some satisfying recipes that are perfect for making ahead:
Southwestern Quinoa Bowls
Cook quinoa in bulk then portion out into meal prep containers. Add black beans, corn, avocado, peppers, and salsa. Sprinkle with cumin and chili powder.
Greek Chicken Salad
Cook chicken breasts in bulk. Layer over lettuce with tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, olives, and feta. Drizzle with lemon vinaigrette.
Make a batch of hearty chili with beans, tomatoes, and veggies like zucchini, corn, and peppers. Can be frozen too.
Chicken Burrito Bowls
Cook seasoned chicken and rice in bulk. Portion into bowls and top with beans, salsa, veggies, cheese, and avocado.
Tuna & Chickpea Salad Sandwiches
Mix tuna with chickpeas and Greek yogurt dressing. Assemble sandwiches with lettuce, tomato, avocado, and sprouts.
Pesto Pasta Salad
Toss cooked pasta with pesto, cherry tomatoes, artichokes, olives, and mozzarella. Keeps well refrigerated.
Egg Salad Wraps
Hard boil eggs in advance. Make egg salad with Greek yogurt, mustard, celery, onion, and dill. Spread in whole wheat wraps with lettuce and tomato.
Lentil & Farro Soup
Prepare a batch of lentil soup with farro. Keeps well refrigerated or frozen. Pair with a side salad and piece of fruit.
The Benefits of Lunch Meal Prep
Preparing your lunches ahead of time offers many benefits that will make your workdays easier and more enjoyable. Here’s a recap of the top reasons to start meal prepping for lunch:
- Saves you time in the mornings
- Lets you eat healthier homemade meals
- Reduces food waste since you buy only what you need
- Saves you money by limiting dining out
- Helps you stick to your nutrition goals
- Allows you to enjoy lunch despite a busy schedule
- Provides convenience, variety, and satisfaction!
With a little planning over the weekend, you can enjoy satisfying lunches all work week long. Start with some of the recipes and tips in this beginner’s guide to make meal prep work for your lifestyle. Soon you’ll come to love the ease and rewards of homemade grab-and-go lunches.