You Can Take It with You: Meal Prepping For Healthy, Portable Lunches
Step into the New Year with a week's worth of our favorite healthy meal-prep recipes. Whether you've got a weight-loss goal, are doing more healthy eating, or want to spend less money on take-out, these bold lunches will help you on your way.
ByTory L. Davis
The holidays are over, that intense annual gauntlet adorned with indulgence and good cheer. It's a time of eating lavishly for weeks on end, drinking more than usual, wearing silly sweaters and sparkly dresses — and spending more money than originally planned. And while having a break to bond with the friends we love and the family we tolerate is important and fun, by January 2nd it can be a relief to get back to work and everyday life.
Except a few things have changed. That favorite pair of jeans no longer quite buttons, and the credit card bill is — how high? Time to tighten up all around. But fear not: New Year’s resolutions don’t have to be about restriction and suffering. With a little creativity and advance meal planning (see the recipes below), you can save money, buckle your belt another notch, and enjoy truly tasty, healthy meals for lunch that put fast food to shame.
A few notes on "equipment," so to speak: You don’t need special meal-prep containers or tools for these lunches. Grab a couple canning jars, wash and re-use a few sturdy take-out containers (save money and the planet), or grab those super cute bento boxes you bought on a whim that now gather dust on a shelf. Just be cautious: When pouring hot liquid into a Mason jar (or any glass container), be sure to set it on a potholder. Sometimes hot liquid in glass set on a cold counter can cause a vessel to crack. Or grab a microwave-safe stoneware soup mug with a lid; you can’t see the beautiful layers of food like you would in a glass jar, but the mug won’t break unless you drop it.
Lastly, a return to work can cause a case of Sunday Night Blues. Taking Sunday evening to draw up a weekly meal plan and prepare some delicious lunches for the week to come can be a soothing self-care activity that builds self-esteem and sets you up for easy grab-and-go mornings. So let’s get to some meal prep ideas.
Turkey Taco Lunch Bowls
In 2019, Taco Tuesday can be any day you want it to be. Making one big pot of rice (with a pop of lime zest) makes it easy to prep several lunches at once, and the brown rice’s fiber means feeling satisfied until dinner. A pico de gallo made with cherry tomatoes makes a salsa worth eating (even in the coldest days of winter), and a one-pound package of ground turkey is simple to sauté with a few tablespoons of Mexican taco seasoning. This is the rainbow you should be tasting.
Want to shake it up? Substitute cauliflower rice to make a low-carb taco bowl, or add in some black beans to make it a burrito bowl.
DIY Starbucks Protein Bistro Box
These protein-packed lunches come together so easily — and with such minimal prep time — it might make more sense to call this “assembling” instead of “cooking.” And making them at home saves a ton of cash that could be used for an afternoon coffee, obviously! Multigrain sandwich flatbreads have plenty of complex carbohydrates, and the whole meal makes a fun grazing experience, whether in an office or on a plane. Mini Babybel cheese wheels are satisfying to unwrap, but unlike this photo, don’t cut your hardboiled eggs in half, lest they dry out. Feel free to substitute some celery sticks for the flatbreads to make a low-carb peanut butter dipper.
Mason Jar Tuna Niçoise
Something about a Niçoise salad is deeply satisfying; the French figured out the magic equation to make a healthy, balanced dish that feels good in the stomach, is gluten-free, and genuinely fills you up without being heavy. It's the perfect lunch for gazing out over the Mediterranean Sea ... or out your office window.
These beautiful salads are as elegant to look at as they are to eat, and are carefully layered to ensure each ingredient remains intact and fresh: a simple vinaigrette and tuna on the bottom, then hardboiled egg and olives, followed by sliced new potatoes and green beans, all gently topped with fluffy butter lettuce. The prep can take some effort (this salad has many components), but if you prepare four lunches at once it’s totally worth it.
Kitchen Note: It’s best to prep ingredients on Sunday, but keep them separate and fill each jar the night before you plan to eat it so each ingredient retains its individual character. (We never said the French weren’t fussy!)
Thai Coconut Healthy Homemade Instant Noodles
This cozy winter soup tastes too decadent to be healthy, but it is. The recipe calls for wheat spaghetti noodles, but you could use dried rice noodles that automatically cook in the jar when you add boiling water. In fact, there’s lots of wiggle room to customize this dish so you never get bored: Add zoodles if you love a delicate spiral or mushrooms if you crave umami. Or swap out the chicken breast for tofu cubes and/or cooked shrimp. Plus it’s fun once it’s "cooked" (i.e. boiling water has been added and the whole thing has rested for a few minutes) to screw on the lid, give the jar a shake and watch the green Thai curry paste and fresh lime juice slowly turn your soup a tempting shade of green.
Stir-fried Tofu Bento Box with Sesame Soba Noodles and Ginger-Carrot Broccoli
Everybody loves a bento box lunch! And this balanced meal is so delicious you might not notice it’s vegan. Feel free to replace the frozen broccoli florets with fresh: Simply cook a minute or two more until they’re crisp-tender. Grating fresh ginger is worth the effort: it’s warming, aids digestion, and adds a zesty note. And while a cute bento box makes lunch more special, chilled soba noodles (made from buckwheat, a gluten-free grain) taste just as refreshing and hearty out of a plastic container.