If you find yourself eating the kids leftovers for lunch, never stopping to eat a real meal, or making the same foods everyday, these super doable tips for how to meal prep lunch are here to help!
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Meet Talia Koren
Talia is the founder of Workweek Lunch, a site and meal prepping program geared for people who want to eat well, save money, and use their time wisely when it comes to the midday meal. She’s a wealth of information about how to meal prep for lunch (and just meal prepping in general) and joined us on the Comfort Food podcast to share her tips.
“I was sick of spending $12 a day on lunch,” Talia says. “I could totally make this at home for half of the price.” She started to batch cook and it worked—she saved a ton of money. Plus, you can customize it exactly how you like it when you make your food at home in your own kitchen.
Lunch Meal Prep 101
The main gist of meal prepping for lunch is that you make a few lunches ahead of time, usually on the weekend, so that they are all ready to eat on busy weekdays. You could do lunches that need to be warmed or ones you can eat cold, but packing your lunch for the day in the morning would be as easy as grabbing a container and maybe adding a piece of fruit.
TIP: This is a straight forward way to prepare healthy meals and save on the cost of picking up lunch at a restaurant or grocery store each day.
How to Get Started with Meal Prep for Lunch
This approach can feel like a lot of work, but if you keep a few simple tips from Talia in mind, it’s doable for anyone. (And I say this as someone who’s only ever hard cooked eggs ahead for my lunches—the weeks when I’ve actually made a real meal have been so enjoyable!) To start, know that you don’t need any fancy equipment. Just the basics you already have in your kitchen. From there, these tips will help!
Tip #1 Think of What You Usually Buy for Lunch
What do you like to get for takeout? You can totally make a burrito bowl or sandwich or soup at home!
Tip #2 Avoid Decision Fatigue
Making some food ahead spares us from having to decide what to eat when we’re busy in the middle of the day.
Tip #3 Do it for Yourself
It’s awesome to make a dish or two for yourself ahead of time as an easy way to ensure that you’re taking care of you. Because chances are you’re already taking care of the kids!
Tip #4 Start Simple
Think pasta, burrito bowls, sheet pan meals, and other super simple template meals are an awesome way to start since they don’t always require a ton of cooking or ingredients.
Tip #5 Think Protein, Veggies, and Carbs
Combining the basic food groups will help make it easy to get started and will keep you satisfied.
Tip #6 Add Flavorful Sauces to Basic Entrees
Try adding salsa, tahini sauce, cucumber sauce, garnishes, mustard, barbecue sauce, hot sauce, guacamole, and other toppings can mix up and refresh meals you’ve made ahead for lunches.
Tip #7 Know Which Recipes Work (and Which Don’t)
Some recipes work better than others to make for the future. Anything that’s meant to be crispy won’t hold up (like breaded chicken), or foods like pizza, Asian noodles (like soba which can stick together when stashed in the fridge) and more.
Tip #8 Meal Prep in Small Batches
Do a few things on Sunday to eat Monday through Wednesday, then a smaller prep session to eat at the end of the week. This lets you follow your food mood and avoids you having to eat the exact same thing every day of the week.
Tip #9 Prep a Little Less than What You Think You Need
Something will always come up or you may not want to eat it, both of which are fine. So having less means that there’s less of a chance that you won’t eat it or that the food you made will go to waste.
Tip #10 Make Good Use of the Freezer
You can make extra chili, soups, stews, muffins, pizza rolls, and more and stash them into the freezer for future weeks.
Tip #11 Get the Right Containers
Invest in glass containers since they are the most durable and reheat the best, though if you are just starting out, you can play around with plastic containers once you know how much food you usually want in a meal. Glass won’t absorb flavors or food stains and will last for years without issue.
Tip #12 Customize Recipes to Share with the Kids
Omit the salt, make less spicy, include produce they like, deconstruct the recipes—it’s easy to share the recipes you like with the kids to save extra time and pack lunches for both yourself and the kids in one fell swoop.
TIP: Find more awesome resources over on Workweek Lunch.
Best Meal Prep Recipes
Here are a few of my favorite recipes to make ahead for easy lunches for parents and kids.
- Egg Muffins with Cheese and Veggies
- Butternut Squash Hummus
- Cheesy Meat Buns
- Healthy Homemade Granola Bars
- Pizza Rolls with Spinach
- Pesto Pizza Rolls
- Zucchini Fritters
- Chicken and Sweet Potato Bowls
- Butternut Squash Curry
- Soft-Roasted Chickpeas
- Spinach Pesto Pasta with Peas
- Healthy Pasta Salad
- Pizza Pockets with Broccoli and Cheese
- Chicken Nuggets with Sweet Potato
- Pasta with Sausage and Broccoli
- Big Batch Veggie Chili
- Morning Glory Muffins
TIP: Find my go-to 50 Recipes for Kids Lunches here.
How to Meal Prep for Kids
It’s actually easy to prep lunches ahead for kids if you keep things simple. I like to use the Easy Lunchboxes Snack Boxes (shown above on the left) since I find the four compartments to be super helpful for packing balanced lunches. My go-to proteins are chicken, eggs, beans, and cheese. My go-to veggies are roasted sweet potato, roasted zucchini, peas, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, snap peas and raw bell peppers.
You can really do any fruit your kids like (except ones that brown when sliced such as apples and bananas) and most snacks store well for a few days if you want to round things out with crackers or a granola bar.
TIP: Find my go-to Healthy Toddler Lunches here.
How does meal prep work with intuitive eating?
“I had a turning point when I stepped away from dieting but I kept meal prepping because there were so many benefits,” Talia says. “I was eating based on what sounds good and what I would want between meetings.” The focus on what will satisfy you and make you feel nourished, rather than coming from a place of portion control. “People think it’s very rigid, but you can plan to just take three lunches in a week and figure out the other two,” she explains. “It’s an easy way to anticipate your hunger and your needs.”
I’d love to hear how you approach lunches (both for yourself and your kids) and what you thought of the episode, so please chime in below.