Want to save money, eat better, and avoid the takeout line? Make a week of lunches! Doing a lunchtime meal prep totally pays off.
Whether you make a round of Meal Prep Salads or a couple batches of Freezer Burritos, prepping lunch in advance will put your mind at rest. Follow this strategy for pulling off a meal prep for lunchtimes and eat well all week long!
At the start of each work week, I spend a couple hours in the kitchen, doing a lunchtime meal prep for the days ahead. Believe it or not, these are not school lunches for the kids, but work lunches for us adults!
And it’s one of the best habits I ever developed.
Why Do This
It saves time. My husband’s work provides employees with access to a microwave and refrigerator. He has a 30-minute break for lunch. I work at home while homeschooling my kids and running a home business. My “break” is often shorter.
Having lunch all ready to go ensures that we actually eat during the day instead of spending time trying to fetch or prep a meal in a hurry.
It’s efficient. For years I prepped lunch the night before or morning of. It wore me out! And then I realized I could adapt bulk cooking strategies I use for freezer meals for fresh lunches. Don’t make lunch every day, but once a week!
It’s cheap! Lunch out can easily cost $8 to 12 per person per day. We can eat all week for that price. Not only do we save money, but we eat better, too!
Here’s a simple formula for lunchtime meal prep. Adapt it to suit your preferences, budget, and schedule.
1. Make a meal plan.
My lunch meal plan is nowhere near as elaborate as our weekly dinner plan might be. I basically ask my husband what sounds interesting to him. He’s okay with eating the same thing twice a week, so I usually choose two lunch menus and double them.
I want our food to be fresh so I only pack four day’s worth of lunches on a Sunday night. Those get us through lunch on Thursday. To push it to Friday goes against my 4-day “leftover” rule.
My husband likes to go out to lunch on Friday — as do I! — so it works out.
If you want five days of lunches AND to follow my 4-day rule, do the meal prep on Monday morning. Then you’re good for all five days of the week.
Alternatively, you can choose items that freeze well, like bean and beef burritos or you can do a second mid-week meal prep.
Be sure to scroll down for some of our favorite lunchtime meal preps!
2. Go shopping.
Obviously, you’ll save money if you shop the kitchen first. Use what you have before going to the grocery store.
I typically do one big shop on Sunday morning or afternoon. When I come home, I prep it all for the week’s lunches. Do what works best for your schedule.
3. Chop, chop, chop.
Since we like to focus on vegetables for lunch time, either as salads or roasted veggies, I do a fair amount of chopping during my lunchtime meal prep, but not too much; I want quick and easy after all. Sometimes I buy baby zucchini or carrots or broccoli already cut into florets so I don’t have to do any chopping at all.
My basic prep work looks like this:
- prep veggies for the week
- chop salad greens and toppings
- prepare homemade salad dressing
- hard cook eggs
- cook rice
- cook chicken
- roast vegetables
4. Form a line. An assembly line.
Once all the main components are prepared, I lay out all the containers and lids and assemble lunches in an assembly line.
This part is super quick, so depending on how many elements you’re combining, your lunchtime meal prep really shouldn’t take too long.
And that’s it! I put two stacks of lunches in the fridge. My husband takes one stack to work with him on Monday mornings. I keep one stack for myself.
It’s so nice not to have to make a meal midday for myself. My kids are happy with quesadillas, burritos, or sandwiches that they can make themselves, but I usually crave something more.
Note about storing lunch at work: my husband has very respectful co-workers. No one has stolen his lunch that I know of. The cream for his coffee is another story. Your mileage may vary.
Best Meal Prep Tools
- plastic cutting boards – I have blue boards for veggies and white boards for meat.
- Ergo Chef chef’s knife – I’ve had my set for several years and they work well.
- large skillet with lid – I have two of these since I love this model so much. I use it to cook big batches of chicken.
- chili pot with lid – This is great for cooking quinoa, pasta, rice, etc, and, of course, chili.
- a Power Cooker – I was a skeptic at first, but this is a whiz for making rice quickly.
- salad spinner – I love this ginormous salad spinner. I can easily fit several heads of romaine in it at one time.
- Pyrex containers with lids – I use these to store food in the fridge. I want to be able to see what’s in there so we can use it up.
- plastic containers with lids – I pack my husband’s and my lunches in these boxes.
- mini pepper grinder – Talk about fancy schmancy!
Favorite Meal Prep Recipes
This post was originally published on September 9, 2016. It has been updated for content and clarity.
I regularly eat five day old salads with chicken, prepped on Sunday afternoons and eaten all week. For those that are leery of five day old salad, instead you can freeze single servings of your favorite soup and make Friday Soup Day every week. Many clear broth based soups are pretty low calorie / fat so you can stay on a diet even though you’re not having a salad. I make a big pot of veggie soup but add shredded chicken for protein, and freeze servings in a container that I can pop out into a glass bowl to microwave. Easy to stay on diet when you bring your lunch, since no one is asking if you want fries with that. You only have to decide to be healthy once a week, when you’re doing your food prep!
Finally tried the quinoa salad and love it! Even better, hubby likes it. He was convinced it was too “girly food” but he liked it. Better yet, I had to email the recipe to him so that he could share it with the guys at work. Your monkey salad and quinoa salad recipes are now famous with a local group of engineers and factory workers.
Thank you for this post! I’ve been waiting for it since seeing your pictures on Instagram. 😉 I’m off to the store to see what veggies they have marked down and we’ll start there. I have the containers in my Amazon cart ready to check out. Thanks again for the wonderful idea!
Let me know how it goes!
I actually took an idea from you during a previous post about make ahead salads for lunch. I went out the day I saw that post and bought 6 glad round containers about 9 inches around and started prepping salads for during the week on Sundays. I hard boil some eggs, shred some cheese, cut up the salad items and cook some chicken. I do an assembly line like you said and just make 6 salads. It is definitely so nice to be able to pull one of those from the fridge each day for our daughter who eats most of them and pack them in her lunch bag. I do the same thing with breakfasts for her. I’ll make a frittata on Sundays and cut it into quarters and give her a piece each day. With hubby he usually eats a sandwich or I’ll give him leftovers so I don’t usually prep his lunches for the week. But it sure is nice when there’s something ready each day (especially daughter who is so fussy about what she eats).
Your people have it really good. Can you come cook for me?
Thanks to you, Jessica. You have given me so many wonderful ideas! Your family has it great with all that you do for them. Maybe you can cook for me. Ha Ha.
It is our children who pack lunches. I have my “formula” for packing.
Lunch = 2 fruits +1 vegetable + 1 meat+ 1 crunchy + water
I believe it was your husband who said you needed the right tools? We start with insulated lunch bags, reusable ice sheets and reusable 4 oz. food containers.
My kids are not big on salads or casseroles. They do not like their food to touch or mix. Instead, I fill 4 oz. reusable food containers with small amounts of fruit, vegetables, and meat.
I try to prep these containers on the weekend. The meat is the only item that might spoil. Once I prep the meat containers on Sunday night I put 2 days in the freezer and then pop them out on Wednesday night to thaw or sometimes I will give the kids cheese instead of meat on Friday.
In the morning every lunch sack gets 2 fruits, 1 vegetable, and 1 meat container. I add in a small bag of crackers or 1 cup of popcorn for something crunchy.
Each lunch bag includes a thermos of water during warmer months or broth based soup in colder months.