It can be so challenging during the week to find the time to prepare a new and exciting lunch everyday. When we start stressing out about work/study/life during the week, sometimes making a nutritious lunch isn't of high priority. This is the time we can turn to the convenience of being able to order Uber Eats (no hate to Uber Eats) and buy lunch at a place close to work. Over time this can be a really expensive.
I have been an avid follower of a number of fitness and health Instagrammers and bloggers over the years. They often talk about “meal prepping.” Pictures of neatly stacked containers labelled from Monday to Friday with the same chicken and broccoli often flood my feed. I have tried this method before but found that having the same lunch everyday just isn’t satisfying. It was boring and didn’t give me anything to look forward to on my break.
Being a person that lives to eat (not eats to live) food is really important. It needs to be delicious, quick, easy to put together and give me a pop of excitement in my day. I will typically have some kind of salad for lunch. It is my mission to eat at least five serves of vegetables a day (the government recommendation) and to encourage others to do the same. Lunch time is when I really pack this in. Now I know just the thought of chopping up all the vegetables is already starting to weigh down on you so I am going to keep things really simple.
I like to spend about 2 hours on a Sunday “Food Prepping” (a term I have pinched from Sarah’s Day on YouTube to describe something I have done for years). I don’t prepare all the containers on Sunday because firstly I don’t have enough containers and second I don’t want all my greens to wilt and avocado to go brown by Friday (gross). I am going to put the link here to my supermarket shopping post so that you have an idea of the kinds of staples I always have on hand. This makes life so much easier when food prepping.
This post is exclusively about lunch ideas, I will do a separate one for breaky and dinner prep. I think that lunch is typically the meal we all have to have on the go so I thought it was appropriate to start with that. Now, there are seven categories of foods that I build my salads on. Each ones serves a nutritional and tasty purpose. Remember, this is just the way I like to organise myself during the week. Taking leftovers from dinners is just as effective as preparing something on one day of the week. I will share with you the way you can incorporate your leftovers into this method.
Now without further ado here are my seven categories:
1. Leafy greens: This forms the base of all my salads. The darker the green the more nutrients it contains. I am a little lazy when it comes to washing greens so I buy the pre washed bags because it is so much more convenient. I will typically prepare my lunch the night before so I have plenty of greens ready to go for the week in the fridge.
2. Protein source: This is one of the most important macronutrients. It is essential for building and maintaining your muscles, for carrying and storing our minerals, for the growth and repair of our DNA and hormone production. Importantly, it is a great way to keep us full and satisfied. My diet it mainly plant based so during the day I like plant based protein sources such as lentils and chickpeas. Here are a few plant and animal protein ideas you can prepare and incorporate into your lunches:
Paprika spiced crispy chickpeas: This will be no surprise to anyone who follows me on Instagram that this is first on my list. I make a big batch nearly every weekend and will store them in my fridge to put into my lunch. My recipe here is here.
Crispy butter beans: Continuing on the bean train, butterbeans are equally as delicious. This is another one that is super easy to prepare on the weekends to have for lunch during the week. My recipe is here.
Hummus: When it comes to hummus I can’t go past Deliciously Ella’s recipe (link here). I absolutely LOVE having this in my lunch. It adds the most creamy texture and goes beautifully with any vegetable or grain you incorporate into your lunch.
Boiled eggs: This is something that can easily be prepared for a couple of days during the week. I would often prepare my eggs a couple of nights in advance and have them ready to peel and add straight to my salads during the week.
Tuna: Canned tuna is another fantastic option for lunches. You don’t even have to mix it in the salad, simply pack it with your lunch and put it onto the salad when you are ready to eat. This is something I wouldn’t have everyday due to the levels of mercury in the can so try and keep this to once a week or once every couple of weeks.
Leftovers: During the week we will often have chicken thighs, meatloaf or veggie patties and if there is some leftover why not take it the next day? In Australia alone one in five shopping bags end up in the bin, this is a significant amount of waste. I always recommend using the ingredients and food you already have prepared to minimise food wastage.
3. Micronutrients (raw veggies): Raw vegetables are a fantastic source of a number of vitamins and minerals. The more colour in your salad the better! I typically will go for vegetables such as capsicum, fennel, zucchini, cucumber and carrot. I cut these up when I am actually making the salad (the night before work) so that they maintain their crunch (plus it only takes 2 minutes). Make sure when you do the shopping that you get plenty of these so you can mix up which ones you include every day.
4. Grains: This is another one that can be prepared on Sundays. My grains of choice are rice (black, brown or wild), quinoa, spelt or freekah. I will usually make a few cups so that I have enough to get me through the week. Generally, I will only make one type of grain for the week and then just mix and match everything else going into the salad to keep it exciting.
5. Roasted or sautéed vegetables: If you spent every single night chopping up vegetables you will start to resent the task (believe me I have been there). I will always do this on a Sunday. I will list a few of my favourites that I prepare almost every week:
Roasted sweet potato: Oh my god can we take a second and just appreciate how amazing sweet potato is…. so glad we did that. These are definitely one of my favourites! I wash mine, cut them into large chunks, drizzle them with olive oil, pinch of salt (sometimes a sneaky pinch of cinnamon or paprika as well) and bake in a 180C oven for 40 minutes.
Other roasted vegetables: Sweet potatoes are so amazing that they needed their own heading (no disrespect to the other vegetables). My other favourite vegetables to roast are cauliflower, eggplant, mushrooms, carrots, pumpkin and zucchini. I will drizzle a combination of these with olive oil and put a good amount of salt then bake for 40 minutes on 180C.
Sautéed fave (broad beans): These often make an appearance in my lunch because let’s be honest they taste so good and they are also really high in protein. I put 2 tbsp of olive oil in a pan over high heat along with a packet of frozen fave and a pinch of salt. Cover with a lid and cook for 20 minutes stirring every two minutes. Reduce the heat to low if they start getting colour too quickly.
NOTE: Every week I will typically do one massive tray of roasted veggies and about 2 packets of broad beans and that will last me from Monday to Friday.
6. Fun additions: I mentioned in my supermarket post that one of my favourite places to do food shopping is at the Italian deli. This is where the “fun” comes in. To all my lunches I will add a few olives, a couple of artichoke hearts or some sundried tomatoes. These have usually been in olive oil so will add some great healthy fats to my meal. If this kind of food doesn’t get you excited then put a handful of nuts, some seeds or even a sprinkling of goat’s cheese (just make sure you have a fridge at uni/work that you can put the salad in).
7. Dressing and toppers (where I pack in the healthy fats): Contrary to what a lot of people think, fat doesn’t make you fat (shocking I know). In fact, it is actually so essential for our cognitive function, for proper structure of our cell membranes and in reducing our risk of developing heart disease. What we need to bear in mind is that fats can be saturated and unsaturated. I will write a detailed post on this soon but what we want to focus our dressing on is the unsaturated fats (both the monos and polys).
Monounsaturated fats: This includes foods such as avocado, pecans, cashews, macadamias and olive oil. I am really basic when it comes to dressing so I am more than satisfied with some olive oil, hemp seeds and salt. If I want to be a bit fancier, I will massage half an avocado with some salt and paprika into my greens (still really simple I know). If you do want to go the extra mile with dressing there is so much you can do with cashew butter to make a Caesar salad type of dressing. You don’t have to go much further than Google to find a great recipe! In terms of toppers a sprinkle of cashews or pecans always add a lovely crunch to any salad.
Polyunsaturated fats: Without getting overly complicated here, your polyunsaturated fats include your Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids. These are not made endogenously (by the body) so we need to get them from the diet. Omega 6 is generally easier to get in because it is contained in a lot more foods such as legumes, sunflower oil, canola oil (often found in processed foods) and peanut oil. What we need to be a bit more conscious of is getting in our Omega 3. This is found in flaxseed oil (expensive but delicious), chia seeds, leafy vegetables and oily fish (such as salmon and tuna) and walnuts. A handful of walnuts every day goes a long way in getting in your daily Omega 3s.
The night before work/uni I will assemble my salad using a bit of each of the seven elements. This usually only takes me about five minutes. There is something so satisfying about getting the already assembled container out the following morning and just knowing that there is a delicious lunch waiting for me. As I always say, get creative. Have fun with different vegetables, grains and proteins. Look what you have in the fridge before you start preparing anything too, you never know what kind of cooked goodies you might already have waiting for you in the fridge.
This is the first of a little series of food prepping posts I will be sharing with you. I would also love to share some fun quiches, Sheppard’s pies, soups and wild rices that would also be an excellent lunch option if you like having something warm. If there is anything specific that you would like, please send me a message on Instagram and I will do my best to bring that to you.
Happy food prepping!!