Let’s get something straight—I am NOT a morning person. That being said, waking up early to make a healthy lunch every day is just not an option. I would rather feast from a vending machine than sacrifice my last 20 minutes of sleep to pack my lunch. Pathetic, but the truth.
And since I cook dinner at night, I find myself not having the time to make lunch the night before. Sound familiar?
After one too many Lean Cuisines, I forced myself to start making my lunch for the week on Sunday. I usually make enough to last about 3 days, factoring in the other few days I will take leftovers to work. Here are a few tricks I learned about the best foods to include, how to pack and reassemble, and the general ratio of grain-veggie-protein.
Which Foods to Pack
I like to have a complete meal for lunch—grains, vegetables, protein, and sometimes dairy. Grains are easy. Quinoa, pasta, farro, rice, and bulger are good bets. Once cooked, they keep in the fridge for awhile and can easily be reheated.
Veggies on the other hand are trickier. I intentionally choose veggies that I know are hardy and will not get mushy. Think carrots, radishes, kale, snow peas, green beans, cabbage, asparagus, peppers, corn, and cauliflower. Avoid veggies that seem like that would get mushy or wilt while sitting in the fridge for a few days—lettuces, eggplant, potatoes, zucchini.
As for proteins, I pack mostly vegetarian lunches, so I use nuts and cheese as my main proteins. However, cooked chicken or other meat will work as well. Visit StillTasty.com to see the shelf life of different proteins, which are usually around 3-4 days.
To Cook or Not to Cook the Veggies
I usually divide veggies into 2 groups: Those I want cooked (ex: snow peas) and those I’ll keep raw (ex: radishes, cabbage). To avoid the ‘mush’ factor, I cook veggies by just boiling them for a few minutes, until they are al dente or still have a little bite to them. That way, if I reheat the meal, they won’t get overcooked.
After letting the grains cool completely, I first layer the grains, then the veggies, and put the protein on the very top. Depending on your calorie goal, the ratios may be different, but I stick to about ¾ cup grains, 1 cup veggies, enough protein to get you to at least 8 grams (for me this was 2 tablespoons of chopped nuts).
Avoid putting the sauce or dressing on until just before eating. This will keep it all fresh. For the sauce, I mixed a little sesame oil, canola oil, red wine vinegar, lime juice, red peppers, and garlic powder, and stored it all in one jar for easy transportation.
Using this general ratio, it’s easy to experiment with different combinations of ingredients and flavors. This particular one had an Asian feel, but another delicious combo, inspired by a Southern Living recipe, is farro, blueberry, kale, feta, and pecans.