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5 Meal-Prep Hacks for Better Brown-Bag Lunches

It's Time for Brown Bag Lunches to Throw In the Towel

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Research shows bringing lunch from home means you'll eat healthier. But that can get boring—and if you aren't happy about your lunch, it's more likely you toss it for something tastier (like that slice of pizza you smell from your coworker's desk). Here's how to pack creative-yet-easy meals you'll look forward to all morning. (P.S. We have vegan-friendly recipes perfect for lunch too.)

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Make Sweet Potato "Toast"

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Toss a spud and some toppings in your bag, and when you're ready to eat, slice 1/4-inch-thick slabs of the potato, pop them into a toaster oven for about 5 minutes per side, and load them up with toppings, says Kate Kordsmeier, the founder of the natural living website Root + Revel. (Sweet potato toast is always a great low-carb alternative to bread.) Her tasty combo ideas will get you started:

  • Mustard + Sliced Hard-Boiled Eggs + Cornichon Pickles
  • Hummus + Bell Pepper + Cucumber + Edamame
  • Greek Yogurt + Pomegranate Seeds + Sliced Almonds
  • Nut Butter + Sliced Pear + Coconut Flakes

Photo: Ted Cavanaugh

Always Have Crunch On Hand

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Enhance any lunch with nutty flavor plus some good texture by making a batch of dried quinoa to stir into yogurt, sprinkle on salads, or top soup, suggests Trae Basore, the executive chef at Pearl & Ash in New York City. (ICYMI, the quinoa can also do wonders for your skin.)

How to: Spread cooked quinoa on a baking sheet in a thin layer. Bake at 250° for 30 to 40 minutes, then season to taste with salt and pepper and your favorite spices.

Photo: Ted Cavanaugh

Put Lunch On a Stick

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Kebabs let you get creative and are easily portable, says Leith Hill, the owner of healthy restaurant Ellary's Greens in New York City. Just bake or grill a variety of proteins and vegetables seasoned with different herbs and spices on skewers. Pack a few each day, and toss in some pita. (Test out these kebab recipes to find out what you like and mix and match your flavors.)

Photo: Ted Cavanaugh

Master a Go-To Dressing

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Basore's healthy "ranch" does wonders for any sandwich, salad, or grain bowl. Snag the recipe below (or put at healthier spin on your favorite store-bought dressings on your favorite store bought dressings by making them at home).

Ingredients:
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 medium avocado
1/2 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon each of dill, chives, and extra-virgin olive oil

Directions:
1. Add ingredients to a food processor or a blender and puree until smooth
2. Thin it out with skim milk as needed and season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Bring a week's worth to work in an 8-ounce water bottle.

Photo: Ted Cavanaugh

Take a Break from Lettuce

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Lettuce wilts quickly and can get soggy if you dress it in advance. Swap out that green for one of these heartier alternatives and switch up how you're carrying it. Plastic containers take up a lot of precious space in your lunch bag and office fridge. Pack and store your salads in resealable storage bags instead. When you're ready to eat, add some dressing to the bag, reseal, shake it up, and pour your lunch out onto a plate, says Basore. Bonus: There's no dirty container for you to wash.

Spiralized vegetables like beets, carrots, and zucchini will stay crunchy even in dressing. Plus, they add extra vitamins and minerals to your meal, says Kordsmeier. (Here: 12 spiralized veggie recipes perfect for packing to-go.)

Sturdier greens such as Swiss chard, kale, and beet greens have more punch when they marinate, be­cause they get a chance to absorb the flavors, says food blogger Tieghan Gerard of Half Baked Harvest.

Raw Asian slaw actually gets better once it has softened in some dressing, says Hill. Shred cabbage, broccoli stems, carrots, and celery, then toss with ses­ame seeds and sesame oil. Plus, it pairs well with any protein, so you can mix it up depending on what you like.

Photo: Ted Cavanaugh

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