Meal prep for lunch box can be a delightful journey towards healthier, more varied, and cost-effective eating habits. This guide will walk you through each step, from cooking to storing your meals for optimal freshness.
Things You’ll Need: Meal Prep for Lunch Box
- Various sized containers for storage (preferably BPA-free)
- Cutting board and sharp knives
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Mixing bowls
- Frying pan and cooking pots
- Blender or food processor (optional for some recipes)
- Basic pantry staples (spices, oils, etc.)
- Refrigerator and freezer for storage
Meal Prep for Lunch Box – Meal Tips
Before diving into the recipes, let’s talk about some meal prep tips…
1. Plan Your Menu
The foundation of successful meal prep is a well-thought-out menu. Begin by contemplating what you’d like to eat throughout the week. This could involve a mix of different cuisines, balancing nutrition with your favorite flavors, or considering any dietary restrictions you or your family members might have.
Once you have a clear idea of the weekly menu, you can draft a shopping list. This not only ensures that you’ll have all the ingredients you need on hand, but it also prevents food waste and helps with budgeting. Think about meals that can share ingredients to maximize efficiency.
For example, if you buy bell peppers for a stir-fry, consider using them in a salad or wrap later in the week. A well-planned menu can make the entire process more streamlined and enjoyable.
2. Batch Cooking
One of the core principles of meal prep is batch cooking, which involves cooking larger quantities of food at once. This method is a time-saver and simplifies your meal preparation significantly. By cooking in batches, you’re able to prepare multiple meals in the same amount of time it would take to make just one.
After cooking, divide the food into individual serving containers. This makes it easy to grab a meal on the go during the hectic weekdays. It also helps in portion control and ensures that you have a variety of meals ready at your disposal.
When batch cooking, consider recipes that freeze well, like soups, stews, or casseroles, as they can be a lifesaver on particularly busy days. By having different meals portioned out and ready to go, you’re less likely to opt for less healthy or more expensive dining options.
3. Prioritize Nutritional Balance
Ensuring that your lunch boxes are nutritionally balanced is crucial. A well-rounded meal should include a harmony of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Protein is essential for building and repairing tissues and can come from sources like lean meats, fish, eggs, beans, or tofu.
Carbohydrates, found in foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, provide the necessary energy to fuel your day. Don’t forget healthy fats, which are vital for brain health and can be found in nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil.
When planning your meals, consider incorporating a variety of these elements to create a balanced diet. This not only caters to your body’s nutritional needs but also makes meals more satisfying and enjoyable.
For example, a lunch box could include grilled chicken (protein), quinoa salad (carbohydrates), and a side of avocado (healthy fats).
4. Efficient Storage
Storing your prepared meals efficiently is key to maintaining their freshness and making your meal prep a success. Utilize an assortment of containers to accommodate different types of meals – from soups and stews to salads and sandwiches.
Glass or BPA-free plastic containers are popular choices. Label each container with the date of preparation, which helps in keeping track of how long the food has been stored and aids in using older meals first.
It’s crucial to ensure that the containers are airtight to preserve the quality and flavor of the food, as well as to prevent any potential spoilage. Organizing your fridge with these containers can make it easier to find and choose your meals throughout the week.
5. Keep it Simple
While it’s tempting to try elaborate recipes, the key to sustainable meal prep is simplicity. Opt for recipes that are straightforward, requiring minimal ingredients and steps. This approach reduces the time and effort involved in preparing meals, making the process more manageable and less overwhelming.
Simple recipes are often just as delicious and can be easily varied with different seasonings or ingredients to avoid monotony. For instance, a basic stir-fry can be adapted with various vegetables and proteins, or a simple pasta dish can be transformed by changing the sauce and add-ins.
By keeping your recipes uncomplicated, meal prep becomes a less daunting task and more of a practical, enjoyable routine in your weekly schedule.
Meal Prep for Lunch Box – 15 Recipes
Now let’s dive into the meal prep recipes…
1. Classic Chicken Salad
Follow the steps below to prepare a classic chicken salad
Step 1: Season the Chicken
Before you can dice the chicken for the salad, you need to cook it. Start by preheating your oven to 375°F (190°C). Season the chicken breast with salt and pepper on both sides for a basic yet flavorful taste.
Step 2: Cook the Chicken
Place the chicken breast on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or lightly greased to prevent sticking. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the chicken is thoroughly cooked and the juices run clear.
Step 3: Cooling the Chicken
The internal temperature of the chicken should reach 165°F (75°C). Once cooked, remove the chicken from the oven and let it cool down before dicing. This method ensures the chicken is fully cooked, moist, and flavorful, perfect for adding to the salad.
Step 4: Dice the Chicken
Once the chicken is cooled, cut it into small, bite-sized cubes. These pieces should be small enough to mix well with the other salad ingredients, but large enough to provide a satisfying texture.
Step 5: Mix Ingredients
In a large mixing bowl, combine the diced chicken with creamy mayonnaise and tangy Dijon mustard, adding a rich depth of flavor.
Next, mix in diced celery for a crisp, fresh crunch, and halved red grapes for a touch of sweetness. Chopped almonds are included for a nutty flavor and additional texture. Season the mixture with salt and pepper to enhance the overall taste.
Step 6: Chill
Allow the chicken salad to rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour. This chilling time helps the flavors meld together, enhancing the overall taste of the salad.
The chicken salad can be refrigerated for up to 3-4 days, making it a convenient make-ahead option. It is not suitable for freezing as it may affect the texture and quality of the ingredients.
This recipe yields approximately 4 servings, perfect for individual lunch boxes.
2. Veggie Pasta Salad
- Whole grain pasta
- Cherry tomatoes
- Red onion
- Feta cheese
- Olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar
- Salt and pepper
Follow the steps below to prepare a veggie pasta salad…
Step 1: Cook Pasta
Boil the whole grain pasta as per the package instructions until it reaches an al dente texture, ensuring it’s cooked but still firm to the bite. After cooking, drain the pasta and allow it to cool. Using whole grain pasta adds a healthier, fiber-rich twist to the salad.
Step 2: Prepare Vegetables
Slice the cherry tomatoes in half to release their juiciness. Dice the cucumber into small pieces for a refreshing crunch, and finely chop the red onion for a sharp, flavorful addition.
Step 3: Combine Ingredients
In a spacious bowl, combine the cooled pasta with the prepared vegetables – the cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and red onion. Add in olives for a savory, briny flavor. Crumble feta cheese over the top for a creamy, tangy element.
Step 4: Dress the Salad
To finish, drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the salad for a rich, flavorful dressing. Season with salt and pepper, then toss everything together to ensure all ingredients are evenly coated and flavors are well combined.
This pasta salad remains fresh in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Like the chicken salad, it’s not recommended for freezing as the texture of the vegetables and pasta could be compromised.
The recipe makes 4 servings, ideal for prepping ahead for several lunches.
3. Quinoa and Black Bean Bowl
- Black beans
- Red bell pepper
- Olive oil
- Spices (cumin, chili powder)
Follow the steps below to prepare a quinoa and black bean
Step 1: Cook Quinoa
Start by rinsing the quinoa under cold water to remove its natural coating, saponin, which can give it a bitter taste if not washed off. Use a fine mesh strainer to ensure you don’t lose any grains. After rinsing, cook the quinoa according to package instructions.
Typically, this involves boiling it in water (or broth for added flavor) and letting it simmer until it absorbs all the liquid and becomes fluffy. Once cooked, set it aside to cool. This cooling step is crucial to prevent the grains from becoming too sticky when mixed with other ingredients.
Step 2: Prepare Additional Ingredients
Rinse and drain the black beans if you’re using canned beans. This step helps to remove excess salt and any tinny flavor.
Dice the red bell pepper into small, bite-sized pieces, ensuring they’re uniform for even distribution in the bowl. Cube the avocado and chop the cilantro finely, adding fresh and vibrant flavors to the bowl.
Step 3: Assemble the Bowl
In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked and cooled quinoa, black beans, and corn. Add in the diced red bell pepper. The mix of these ingredients offers a balance of textures and flavors, from the nutty quinoa to the creamy beans and crunchy bell pepper.
Gently fold in the diced avocado and sprinkle with cilantro. The avocado adds a creamy texture, and the cilantro brings a fresh, herby taste to the dish.
Step 4: Season
Squeeze fresh lime juice over the bowl for a zesty, citrusy flavor and drizzle with olive oil for a smooth texture.
Season with cumin and chili powder for a warm, spicy flavor that complements the other ingredients. Mix everything well to ensure each serving gets an even distribution of all the flavors and textures.
This quinoa and black bean bowl can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. However, note that the avocado may brown over time, so it’s best added fresh if you plan to store the meal.
This recipe makes approximately 4 servings.
4. Turkey and Cheese Pinwheels
Follow the steps below to make turkey and cheese pinwheels…
Step 1: Prepare Tortillas
Lay out the whole wheat tortillas and spread a thin layer of cream cheese over them. This cream cheese acts as a moist barrier, keeping the tortillas from becoming too dry and adding a creamy texture that complements the other fillings.
Step 2: Add Toppings
Layer the sliced turkey breast on top of the cream cheese. Choose thinly sliced turkey for ease of rolling. Add a layer of cheddar cheese slices for a rich, melty component, and top with fresh spinach leaves for a crisp, nutritious addition.
Step 3: Roll and Slice
Carefully roll the tortillas tightly to ensure the fillings are well secured. Then, using a sharp knife, cut the rolled tortillas into approximately 1-inch thick slices. This creates the pinwheel effect, showcasing the spiral of ingredients when served.
These turkey and cheese pinwheels can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 days. They are not suitable for freezing as the texture of the tortillas and fillings may be adversely affected.
Depending on how tightly you roll the tortillas and the thickness of your slices, this recipe makes about 4-5 servings per tortilla.
5. Fruit and Yogurt Parfait
Follow the steps to prepare a fruit and yoghurt parfait…
Step 1: Layer Yogurt and Berries
Begin assembling your parfait in a clear jar or container to visually enjoy the layers. Start with a generous scoop of Greek yogurt, spreading it to create an even base. The thick consistency of Greek yogurt provides a rich, creamy texture and a good protein source.
Follow this with a layer of fresh berries – strawberries and blueberries are great choices for their vibrant colors and sweet, tangy flavors. Slice strawberries for ease of layering and even distribution.
Step 2: Add Granola
Next, add a layer of granola over the berries. The granola adds a crunchy texture, contrasting beautifully with the creaminess of the yogurt and the softness of the berries.
Choose a granola that complements the flavors of your berries and yogurt, perhaps with added nuts or seeds for extra texture and nutrition. Repeat these layers—yogurt, berries, granola—until your container is full or you’ve achieved your desired portion size.
Step 3: Drizzle Honey
For a touch of natural sweetness, drizzle honey over the top layer of your parfait. This step is optional, depending on your taste preferences and the sweetness of your berries and granola.
It’s best to store your fruit and yogurt parfait in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. However, to maintain the granola’s crunchiness, it’s ideal to assemble the parfait shortly before eating.
The number of servings varies depending on the size of your container.
6. Peanut Butter and Banana Roll-Ups
Follow the steps below to prepare peanut butter and banana roll-ups..
Step 1: Spread Peanut Butter
Lay out the whole wheat tortillas and spread a layer of peanut butter over each. The peanut butter not only adds a rich, creamy texture but also serves as a “glue” to hold the roll-up together. Choose a smooth or crunchy peanut butter based on your texture preference.
Step 2: Add Banana
Place a whole banana near one edge of the tortilla. This positioning helps in rolling the tortilla evenly. For added sweetness, lightly drizzle honey over the banana. The honey complements the natural sweetness of the banana and adds a touch of flavor to the peanut butter.
Step 3: Roll and Slice
Carefully roll the tortilla around the banana, ensuring it’s tight enough to keep the banana in place. Once rolled, slice the tortilla into rounds to create bite-sized roll-ups. This slicing not only makes the roll-ups easy to eat but also reveals the appealing spiral of banana and peanut butter.
These roll-ups are best enjoyed fresh, as the banana may brown and the tortilla may become soggy over time. However, they can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a day.
This recipe typically makes about 4-5 servings per tortilla, depending on how thickly you slice the roll-ups.
7. Veggie and Hummus Wrap
- Whole wheat wraps
- Assorted sliced vegetables (cucumber, bell pepper, carrots)
- Spinach or lettuce leaves
Follow the steps below to make a veggie and hummus wrap…
Step 1: Spread Hummus
Begin by laying out the whole wheat wraps on a flat surface. Generously spread hummus over each wrap, covering most of the surface. The hummus acts not only as a flavorful base but also helps to hold the vegetables in place.
Step 2: Add Vegetables
Layer your chosen sliced vegetables on top of the hummus. This could include crisp cucumber slices, colorful bell pepper strips, and crunchy carrot sticks.
Add a layer of spinach or lettuce leaves for a fresh, leafy component. The variety of vegetables adds not only a range of textures and flavors but also provides valuable nutrients and fiber.
Step 3: Wrap and Cut
Carefully roll the wraps tightly to ensure the filling stays in place. You can then slice the wraps into halves or smaller sections if preferred, making them easier to handle and eat.
These veggie and hummus wraps can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 days. They are not suitable for freezing as the fresh vegetables may become soggy upon thawing.
This recipe makes about 1-2 servings per wrap, depending on the size of the wrap and the amount of filling.
Read more meal prep topics here – Meal Prep for Every Situation: Your Ultimate Guide
8. Baked Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burritos
- Medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
- Canned black beans, rinsed and drained
- Whole wheat tortillas
- Cumin, paprika, salt
- Shredded cheese (optional)
- Fresh cilantro for garnish (optional)
Follow the steps below to prepare baked sweet potato and black bean burritos..
Step 1: Roast Sweet Potatoes
Toss the diced sweet potatoes with olive oil, cumin, and paprika for a flavorful coating. Spread them on a baking sheet and roast in a preheated oven at 400°F (200°C) until they are tender and slightly caramelized. This brings out the natural sweetness of the potatoes and adds a savory depth with the spices.
Step 2: Prepare Filling
In a bowl, combine the roasted sweet potatoes with the rinsed and drained black beans. Season the mixture with salt to enhance the flavors. The black beans add a hearty, protein-rich component to the filling.
Step 3: Assemble Burritos
Lay out the whole wheat tortillas and spoon the sweet potato and black bean mixture onto each. If desired, add shredded cheese for a melty, creamy element. Roll up the tortillas to enclose the filling.
Step 4: Bake Burrito
Place the assembled burritos in a baking dish and bake in the oven at 350°F (175°C) for about 10 minutes or until heated through. This final baking step helps to meld the flavors together and warms the burritos throughout.
These burritos can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. They are also suitable for freezing for up to a month, making them a convenient make-ahead meal option.
The recipe yields about 4-6 burritos, depending on the size of the tortillas and the amount of filling used.
9. Greek Yogurt Chicken Salad
- Cooked and shredded chicken breast
- Greek yogurt
- Diced apples
- Chopped celery
- Walnuts or almonds, chopped
- Lemon juice, salt, and pepper
Follow the steps below to prepare Greek yoghurt chicken salad…
Step 1: Mix Ingredients
In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked and shredded chicken breast with Greek yogurt. The yogurt serves as a healthier, protein-rich alternative to traditional mayonnaise.
Add diced apples for a sweet crunch, chopped celery for a fresh bite, and your choice of chopped walnuts or almonds for a nutty texture.
Step 2: Season Salad
Season the salad with lemon juice, which adds a bright, citrusy flavor. Adjust the taste with salt and pepper to enhance the overall flavor profile. Mix all the ingredients well to ensure that each bite has a balanced mix of flavors and textures.
Step 3: Chill Before Serving
Transfer the salad to the refrigerator and let it chill for at least an hour. This step is crucial as it allows the flavors to meld together, enhancing the overall taste of the salad.
The Greek Yogurt Chicken Salad can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. It is not suitable for freezing as the texture of the yogurt may change.
This recipe makes about 4 servings, ideal for a light lunch or as a side dish.
10. Quinoa Veggie Stir-Fry
- Cooked quinoa
- Assorted vegetables (bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, peas)
- Soy sauce or tamari
- Garlic, minced
- Ginger, grated
- Olive or sesame oil
Follow the steps below to prepare quinoa vegetable stir-fry…
Step 1: Sauté Vegetables
Heat olive or sesame oil in a large pan or wok over medium heat. Add minced garlic and grated ginger, sautéing for a fragrant base.
Then add the assorted vegetables, such as sliced bell peppers, broccoli florets, julienned carrots, and peas. Sauté these until they are tender-crisp, ensuring they retain some bite for texture.
Step 2: Add Quinoa
Stir in the cooked quinoa with the vegetables, mixing thoroughly. The quinoa, a protein-rich and gluten-free grain, adds substance and heartiness to the dish.
Step 3: Season and Serve
Finally, season the stir-fry with soy sauce or tamari for a savory, umami flavor. Make sure to stir everything well to evenly distribute the seasoning. Serve the dish hot, as a nutritious and satisfying meal.
The Quinoa Veggie Stir-Fry can be refrigerated for up to 5 days and it freezes well for up to a month, making it a convenient option for meal prepping.
This recipe yields about 4 servings, perfect for a family meal or for having leftovers for future meals.
11. Lentil and Spinach Soup
- Dry lentils, rinsed
- Fresh spinach leaves
- Onion, diced
- Garlic, minced
- Vegetable broth
- Cumin, coriander, salt, pepper
Follow the steps below to prepare lentil and spinach soup…
Step 1: Cook Lentils
Start by heating a pot over medium heat. Add diced onions and minced garlic, sautéing until they become fragrant and translucent. This step builds a flavorful base for the soup. Then, add the rinsed dry lentils and pour in the vegetable broth.
Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer. Cook until the lentils are tender, which will usually take about 20-30 minutes depending on the type of lentils used.
Step 2: Add Spinach and Season
Once the lentils are tender, stir in fresh spinach leaves. The spinach will quickly wilt in the hot soup, adding a pop of color and nutrients. Season the soup with ground cumin and coriander, along with salt and pepper to taste. These spices lend a warm, earthy flavor that complements the lentils and spinach well.
The Lentil and Spinach Soup can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. It also freezes well for up to 2 months, making it a great option for meal prep or future meals.
This recipe makes about 6 servings, perfect for a family or for having leftovers throughout the week.
12. Turkey and Cheese Wrap
- Whole wheat tortillas
- Sliced turkey breast
- Sliced cheese of your choice
- Lettuce, shredded
- Tomatoes, sliced
- Mustard or mayonnaise
Follow the steps below to prepare a turkey and cheese wrap…
Step 1: Prepare the Wraps
Lay out the whole wheat tortillas on a flat surface. Whole wheat tortillas are a healthier option, providing additional fiber and nutrients. Spread your choice of mustard or mayonnaise over the tortillas. This adds flavor and helps in keeping the wrap moist.
Arrange slices of turkey breast on top, followed by your choice of cheese, which adds a creamy texture and flavor. Add shredded lettuce for a crunchy texture and fresh sliced tomatoes for a juicy and tangy bite.
Step 2: Roll and Serve
Carefully roll the tortillas tightly to ensure that the fillings are well-enclosed. Cutting the wraps in half makes them easier to handle and eat. Serve the wraps immediately to enjoy the blend of flavors and textures.
The Turkey and Cheese Wrap is best enjoyed fresh. However, it can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. Keep in mind that the tortillas may become soggy if stored for too long.
This recipe yields about 4 wraps, making it a suitable choice for a quick and easy lunch or a light dinner.
13. Baked Sweet Potato Fries
Follow the steps below to prepare baked sweet potato fries…
Step 1: Season and Bake
Begin by peeling sweet potatoes and cutting them into fry-shaped pieces. This shape allows for even cooking and a good surface area for crisping. Toss these sweet potato fries in a mix of olive oil, salt, pepper, and paprika. Olive oil helps in crisping the fries while adding a subtle flavor.
Paprika not only adds a beautiful color but also a mild, smoky taste. Lay out the seasoned fries on a baking sheet in a single layer, ensuring they don’t overlap too much to allow for even baking.
Step 2: Bake
Preheat your oven to 425°F (220°C). This high temperature is key to getting the fries crispy on the outside while being soft on the inside. Bake the sweet potato fries for about 25-30 minutes. Remember to turn them halfway through the baking time to ensure they crisp up evenly on all sides.
Baked Sweet Potato Fries can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. They are best enjoyed fresh as they tend to lose their crispness over time. Freezing is not recommended as it can significantly affect their texture.
This recipe makes about 4 servings, perfect as a side dish for family meals or as a healthy snack.
14. Greek Salad Pita Pockets
- Pita bread
- Cucumber, diced
- Tomatoes, diced
- Red onion, thinly sliced
- Feta cheese, crumbled
- Olives, sliced
- Olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper
Follow the steps below to prepare Greek salad pita pockets…
Step 1: Prepare the Salad
In a bowl, combine diced cucumber, tomatoes, and thinly sliced red onion. The cucumber adds a refreshing crunch, while the tomatoes offer juiciness and the onions provide a sharp, slightly sweet flavor.
Add crumbled feta cheese for a creamy and tangy element, along with sliced olives for a burst of briny flavor. Dress the salad with olive oil and lemon juice, which create a light, zesty dressing. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Step 2: Fill Pita Pockets
Cut the pita bread into halves to create pockets. Gently open the pockets and stuff them with the prepared Greek salad. The pita bread serves as a convenient and edible container, holding the salad together for a delightful and easy-to-eat meal.
Store the prepared Greek salad separately in the refrigerator for up to 3 days to maintain its freshness and crunch. Assemble the pita pockets with the salad when ready to eat to keep the bread from getting soggy.
This recipe yields about 4 pita pockets, suitable for a light lunch, snack, or a quick and healthy meal option.
15. Cheesy Vegetable Pasta
- Whole wheat pasta (penne or fusilli)
- Broccoli florets, chopped
- Carrots, diced
- Frozen peas
- Cheddar cheese, grated
- All-purpose flour
- Salt and pepper to taste
Follow the steps below to prepare cheesy vegetable pasta…
Step 1: Cooking Pasta
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions until al dente. Drain and set aside, reserving some pasta water.
While pasta cooks, steam the broccoli and carrots until they are tender but still crisp. You can also stir-fry them with a little olive oil for added flavor.
Step 2: Cheese sauce
In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook for a minute. Gradually add milk, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens. Add grated cheese to the sauce, stirring until melted and smooth.
Add the cooked vegetables and frozen peas to the cheese sauce. Stir until the vegetables are coated and peas are warmed through.
Step 3: Combining
Combine the vegetable and cheese sauce with the cooked pasta. If the sauce is too thick, add a little of the reserved pasta water to reach the desired consistency.
Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat in a microwave or on the stovetop with a little added milk to loosen the sauce.
This recipe makes approximately 4 servings.
Conclusion: Meal Prep for Lunch Box
Meal prepping for lunch boxes can be a rewarding and time-saving activity, especially when you’re equipped with the right tools and know-how.
By following these detailed instructions and recipes, you’re now well-prepared to create a variety of delicious, nutritious meals that cater to different tastes and dietary needs, including kid-friendly options.