The path to a workplace breakdown is paved with boring turkey sandwiches. Ok, perhaps that’s a little dramatic, but a healthy, colorful, delicious lunch can do wonders for your mood and your energy at work. You should look forward to lunch and feel good about your meal, rather than mindlessly eating something while you catch up on email (or your internet distraction of choice) or slowly drain your bank account with take-out.
Now imagine looking forward to a tasty lunch that’s good for you and good for your wallet five days a week. But who has the time for that? You do, actually. If you follow the tips below from our dieticians.
1. Pick Your Strategy
If you want to cook once and have lunches for the whole week, Cole Adam and Stacy Beeson, both Registered Dieticians in the Denver area, recommend two basic approaches: Pick a recipe and make a lot of it, or start with a base and add variations.
Find a recipe you know you like, and double or triple it based on how many meals you want. But don’t experiment with six servings of something you’ve never tried before. That could lead to a lot of wasted food or sad lunches to slog through just to avoid wasted food.
If you don’t want to eat the exact same thing every day, then start with a “base,” such as a grain and a protein or vegetables and lean protein, and then mix it up throughout the week. Cook up a big batch of brown rice and black beans on Sunday and then you can add avocado and salsa one day, cucumbers, tomatoes, hummus and feta cheese another, corn, chiles and cilantro the next, and so on. Adam recommends barley and quinoa for other grains, and supports a plant-based diet so he frequently uses beans, lentils and minimally processed soy-based proteins such as tofu, tempeh and edamame.
But you can also cook your favorite meat and mix it with grains, vegetables, sauces and other favorites. For example, Beeson recommends cooking a lot of chicken breasts at the beginning of the week.
“Then it’s just a matter of, ‘Do you want that chicken breast with salsa on top, do you want it with lemon and garlic, do you want it with basil?” she says.
2. Make a Detailed Shopping List
Don’t sink your whole week of meals because you didn’t buy two or three ingredients you thought you had. Bring your recipe of choice with you or save it on your phone and mark it off as you go. You might be able to use the ingredients in future recipes.
If you go the “base with variations” route, make sure your kitchen is stocked with some kitchen essentials. A wide variety of herbs and seasonings can spice up your meals. A versatile oil like olive oil (not the extra virgin variety, which isn’t suited for cooking higher than low-medium heat), avocado oil or safflower oil can be used for several cooking methods. Bulk grains and legumes provide your base and give you the most bang for your buck. And a plethora of vegetables help your base taste fresh and give you a full range of vitamins and nutrients.
Here are some ingredients Beeson keeps on-hand all the time for soups, marinades, to flavor meals and several other cooking methods: canned tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, Dijon mustard, yogurt, low sodium chicken broth, garlic, onions, lemons, limes and balsamic vinegar.
3. Make Time to Cook
For those who don’t really like to cook, Adam recommends blocking off a couple hours on Sunday, cooking up a storm and then being done with it. If you like cooking, maybe Sunday and Wednesday night are your big cooking nights.
Beeson likes to take advantage of 20-minute pockets of time when you might be near your kitchen anyway to prep different meal components. While you’re kinda sorta watching the news or that sitcom, slice or roast vegetables, put some sweet potatoes in the crock pot or bake some chicken or tofu. Do that a few times over the weekend and you have meals for days.
Whatever works for you, just schedule it and give yourself enough time. The point is to reduce stress and the amount of times you have to cook. So don’t rush yourself and allot some extra time for clean-up.
4. Invest in Some Glass
Tupperware, that is. Most of the nice glass Tupperware sets have secure, snapping lids. But most importantly, it won’t seep any unwanted chemicals into your food when you reheat it.
“Plastic leaches some nasty chemicals into your food when you heat it back up in the Tupperware,” Adam says. “Microwave safe only means it’s not going to melt or spark, but any sort of plastic compound is going to have those chemicals in there.”
So there you have it — meal-prep rules to live by. But we won’t just leave you to wander into the grocery store empty-handed. Here are some recipes picked by our dieticians to get you started:
30-Minute Vegan Chili
Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas
The Lunch Bowl Formula