4 Shortcuts to Make Packing a Lunch Easy Again

Heading back into the office and totally forgot how to meal prep? These dietitian tips can help get back on the packed lunch bandwagon.

4 Shortcuts to Make Packing a Lunch Easy Again
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Going back to the office in some capacity after working remotely during the pandemic? While unpacking all your feelings about that might take a while, one thing you can begin to tackle is your lunch.

You're not alone if you're stressing over how going "back to reality" is going to impact your eating (and your wallet; let's be honest). After working remotely for well over a year, many people are re-entering the world of commuting and sad desk salads full of anxiety about health and safety and mixed feelings about working in an office setting again. That re-entry overwhelm is no joke.

Focusing on just a few doable things at a time can be super helpful when you're adjusting. So, simplify your health and wellness approach by focusing on small, sustainable changes, such as how to make healthy eating more convenient when you're been used to making healthy salads and snacks at home for so long. (

Packed Lunch Ideas to Make Meal Prep Easier

Here are a few of my favorite tips to help ease you back into meal planning, and lunch prepping whether you're already back in the office, will be soon, or just need to hit reset on your homemade meals.

1. Ease back into meal prep.

If you've been used to cooking every meal from scratch while working remotely, don't put pressure on yourself to dive right into a heavy-duty meal prep on week one. Start with simple stuff (think: adding beans to a salad, hard-boiled eggs, overnight oats, chia pudding). You also don't have to prep a whole week of meals — especially if you're returning to the office on a hybrid schedule. Start with making lunches for two or three days, or even with just making extra dinner portions to have leftovers for lunch. For hands-off cooking, dust off the slow cooker or Instant Pot to save yourself time. (

When deciding what to make, use this simple formula for a balanced, nutrient-dense meal: Fill half your plate (or meal prep container for choice) with veggies, add a protein, and then make sure you have something that's providing some fiber (ex: whole grains, sweet potato, corn, peas, lentils, fruit, nuts and seeds) and something with healthy fat (cooking with olive oil, adding avocado, or garnishing with a little nut or seed butter in a sauce).

2. Embrace healthy shortcuts.

Healthy shortcuts are your BFF when you're short on time. Stock up on frozen produce, frozen fish, frozen cooked whole grains, and healthy shelf-stable pantry items like beans, canned or tinned fish, and canned tomatoes. Pre-cut produce or mixes of vegetables can also be a huge time-saver when you're cooking meals or prepping for many lunches at once.

You might think of meal kits as a great way to simplify dinner but you can also portion them out into multiple lunches. They are big time-savers since you can choose the recipes online ahead of time as part of a subscription and the ingredients in the quantities you need are delivered right to your door.

You can also use a half-scratch approach, where you pair a pre-made protein or veggie side with what you have prepared yourself. Meal kit companies are now offering add-ons meant for exactly this use case. For example, the meal delivery service Freshly now has multi-serving packs of grilled chicken breasts, meatballs, and seasoned cauliflower rice, to add to your delivery. Sunbasket customers can add cooked pulled or grilled chicken, salmon fillets, or falafel to their order. Blue Apron now offers a meal prep option too. Hungryroot also delivers meal components you can mix and match to your order for easy lunch prep.

3. Have a backup plan.

For those times you know cooking or meal prepping isn't going to happen, have some backup options available. For example, keep some healthy frozen meals in your freezer or extras of things you've made and froze, such as soup or chili that you can heat up when you're ready to eat. You can also try a service like Freshly, Territory Foods, or Sakara for healthy prepared meals to suit your needs and preferences. Smoothie lovers will enjoy Daily Harvest (which also has items like soups, grain bowls, and lattes) or Evive, which makes blender-free smoothies. Healthier frozen meals or your favorite pre-made soups can also serve as backup options when lunch prep is just not happening.

4. Be patient with yourself.

As with any transitional time, it's important to show yourself some compassion and patience. It takes time to build habits (or find them again) and establish a routine, so give yourself some space. What worked for you pre-pandemic might not work for you today, so give yourself permission to adjust as needed and you'll find your meal prep lunch stride in no time.

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