It's lunchtime on a Monday. You didn't have time to make a sandwich and grab some fruit this morning, so you have nothing to eat, as usual. Rather than go hungry, you peruse the menus of local fast-food restaurants before choosing to have a greasy burger and some oh-so-delicious but salty fries for lunch. We’ve all been there.
While this type of meal is fine to eat once in a while (after all, you need to treat yourself), it isn't good to have it multiple times per week, or even every weekday. So, what can you do to solve this problem? Easy. Workweek lunch prep. This method of planning and making your meals in advance definitely ensures that you eat healthier and don't have to rush every single day.
So, how to get started? Let’s find out!
Why Prepare Your Lunches Ahead of Time?
There are many reasons to prep your lunches over the weekend, instead of in the morning before work or after you get home from work the evening before. If you live a busy life, then saving time wherever you can is very important. Meal prepping helps with this, as you will have your lunch ready to go every morning, freeing up both time from your morning routine and in the evenings, so you can relax and get other things done.
In addition to saving time, meal prepping also ensures that you eat healthier than you have in the past. Rather than end up with fast food for lunch every day, or even a sodium-filled frozen meal from the grocery store, you'll have a healthy, ready-to-go lunch waiting for you in your refrigerator. All that you need to do is take it to work and either heat it up or eat it as is, depending on what you choose to make ahead of time.
On top of both of those reasons, there's a third to be aware of. Being organized and planning your meals ahead of time can save you money on groceries. You won't have to stop at the store after work (wasting time), and you'll be able to plan out your shopping trip, so you can hunt for coupons and locate the best possible prices.
Between this useful reason, as well as the others described here, it's clear that handling some work week lunch prep on the weekends is the best way to save time and money and ensure that you're eating right.
Now, you just have to make a few decisions when it comes to deciding which meals to prep for your work lunches.
Hot or Cold Lunches?
The first decision to make helps you get started on your meal planning. First, ask yourself whether you prefer hot or cold lunches. Some people like a mix of both, so they'll switch off during the week, having a hot lunch one day and a cold one the next.
A few examples of this to help you choose to include things like pasta, as well as meat-based dishes, many of which fall into the "hot lunch" category. As far as cold lunches are concerned, your options consist of foods like salads, fruit, and even bento boxes with cold cuts and other items that need to be eaten either chilled or at room temperature.
Here are a few meals for each category:
Hot Lunch Ideas
There’s nothing quite like a hot (or warm if you prefer) lunch. These meals are baked or sautéed ahead of time and then placed in containers, so you can just grab them and go every morning. Here are a few suggestions:
Whether you want a warm, carb-filled meal on a cold day or just need a boost to get you through a busy afternoon filled with meetings, pasta does the trick nicely.
As part of your meal prepping, make your noodles and cook the meat of your choice (ground beef works well), especially if you add in some garlic, onion, and a few spices, like oregano and basil. Once the meat is thoroughly cooked, stir in the sauce of your choice (don’t be ashamed about using jarred sauce) and then portion everything out. Place a scoop or two of noodles in a container, top with enough of the sauce and meat combo, and then toss a little cheese on top.
Ground Meat and Rice
For a slightly healthier option, make your lunch from ground turkey and rice. Cook the ground turkey in a saucepan, using any spices that you wish. Place a scoop of it in a container and arrange some cooked rice on the side. Include a veggie or two (like corn or green beans) to round out your meal.
Cold Lunch Suggestions
An alternative to hot or warm meals, these cold lunch suggestions work well if you either don’t have access to a microwave at work (like if you’re a salesperson who’s always on the go) or just want to eat something that doesn’t require moving from your desk. No matter the reason, here are a few ideas to consider:
This isn’t an ordinary salad. Instead, this one contains numerous components and comprises of most of the food groups, including proteins, carbs, and fiber.
Start with a bed of lettuce (including a mix of romaine, iceberg, Boston, and more), then add in some tasty sliced carrots, celery, and radishes. Place some lean meat or chickpeas on top for added protein, and then include some croutons for a carbohydrate boost. Top with the dressing of your choice.
Hard Boiled Eggs and Veggies
If you aren’t a fan of salad or are simply tired of it, then go for something simple. Get a bento box (those cool boxes that come divided into individual compartments) and then hard boil a bunch of eggs. Place an egg or two in each box alongside some sliced veggies (carrot sticks work well), some hummus for a dip, and a handful of crackers. If you want to include something sweet, place some fruit in the container as well.
Meal Prepping Tips
Now that you have some ideas for meals that you can prepare prior to the start of your workweek, it’s time to go over some tips. After all, you want your meal prepping to go smoothly so that you continue to do it week after week. (One bad week, where nothing goes right and you feel unprepared, and you might decide that meal prepping isn’t for you, when in fact, it is!)
By following these tips, you can get your lunches prepped before Monday, leaving you with some smoothly moving mornings.
Planning Your Menu in Advance
It helps to plan your menu in advance. This way, you can go to the store with your shopping list and get everything that you need to prep your meals (as far as food is concerned) before you get started. There’s nothing worse than ending up missing an ingredient or crucial component!
This type of meal planning is simple—write down the days of the week on a piece of paper, and then write down what you plan on making (and eating) underneath it. Don’t forget to alternate days so that you aren’t eating the same thing every single day.
Gathering Your Supplies
Once you have all of the food that you need, it’s time to gather your supplies. How? Start by getting all of your containers ready. Whether you prefer simple plastic food containers, bento boxes, or even mason jars, the choice is yours.
Then get out the seasonings, pots and pans, cutting boards, and knives that you’ll need so that you can get started without having to stop and hunt for something.
Make Meal Planning Fun
There are a few ways to make meal planning fun so that it doesn’t seem like a complete and total chore. For example, you can blast music and dance and sing along to it while chopping veggies and boiling eggs. You can also invite friends and family over for a meal prepping party, get your entire family (children and spouse or significant other) involved as you race to see who can fill containers faster or with a more creative concoction. The more fun you make it, the more likely you are to get your meal prepping done.
There are many advantages to preparing your lunches ahead of time. Saving time, following a meal plan, and even eating healthier will get you in a better mood and provide plenty of energy, so you can tackle those afternoon meetings or spreadsheets. By choosing between hot and cold meals and then preparing everything the weekend before your workweek, you’ll be in great shape for the week to come.
Your mornings will go more smoothly, and you’ll find that you have plenty of extra time after work. More time to relax? Yes, please! Because let’s be honest—it doesn’t get any better than that, now does it?