If you’re switching to a healthier lifestyle, be prepared. That’s not a warning — or a scare tactic. It’s advice. To eat healthfully, you should plan most meals in advance. Take lunch, for example. Grabbing a sandwich and chips at the corner store is convenient. But if you brought lunch from home, you’d likely have a better meal.
Here’s our guide to making healthy work lunches. Our method calls for cooking on the weekends — about two to three hours of kitchen time. But during the week, you just throw ingredients together before heading to work.
Is it worth the extra effort? Definitely
1. Go shopping on Saturday or Sunday.
At the store, stick to the produce, bulk, and refrigerated sections. Buy the base for your lunch: greens like butter lettuce, kale, romaine, or arugula. Buy toppings: green beans, tomatoes, avocado, herbs, cauliflower, broccoli, or Brussels sprouts, as well as fruits like pomegranate or berries. Then head over to the bulk section and buy nuts, quinoa, brown rice, lentils, or beans.
If your diet allows dairy, eggs, and meat, pick up fresh cheese and a dozen eggs. If you eat fish or meat, pick up a whole organic chicken or a piece of meaty fish like salmon.
2. Preheat the oven while you unpack the groceries.
As soon as you get home, get cooking. Organize your ingredients according to what you’re going to do with them. Set up a station for cleaning and another for prep work like peeling and chopping.
3. Roast vegetables and fish or meat.
Grab a couple of sheet pans topped with parchment paper. Chop the vegetables that are going into the oven — carrots, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, etc — and arrange them separately into the pans. Finish with salt and a drizzle of olive oil. Start roasting, set your timer, and get to work on the rest of your ingredients.
If you’re roasting a chicken or fish, place it on a baking dish, season, and throw it in there with the vegetables.
4. Cook lentils. Boil eggs
Unlike chickpeas or black beans, lentils don’t require soaking. They take about 20 minutes to cook (around the same time it takes to roast those vegetables!) and they’re great in salads. Rinse them, place them in a pot with water, and simmer until tender. Do the same with quinoa, if you’d like. For the eggs, boil them separately using this handy guide from Bon Appétit magazine.
6. Clean greens
Rinse your greens. Dry them thoroughly in a salad spinner or with two clean dish towels. Wrap in damp cloths and stash them in a reusable container in the fridge.
7. Make vinaigrette
The easiest way to make vinaigrette requires a Mason jar. Combine vinegar, mustard, honey, and salt. Shake, add olive oil, and shake again. Use this for the whole week!
8. Put everything away. Clean up
Take the vegetables and meats out of the oven. Drain the lentils, flake the salmon, pick apart the chicken, and run the eggs under cold water. Allow everything to cool down before putting it away in the fridge.
9. In the mornings, before going to work, assemble your lunch
Try different combinations of what’s ready, and be sure to check out our tips for building a perfect salad. Use the roasted vegetables for dinner, too. They’re great as side dishes.