Are you looking to eat more healthily, or cut back on spending?
A great place to start is packing a lunch for school or work. If you typically find yourself eating out for lunch because you can’t find the time to make your meals at home, read on for 7 tips that will help you prepare home made, healthy lunches quickly and easily.
Plot out 4 weeks worth of meal ideas in a calendar or schedule. Choose options that you know you enjoy, that you can make in advance and that are easy to transport. Repeat your plan every month, and mix it up whenever you get tired of certain meals or based on what you have in your kitchen.
Having your meals for the month sketched out will take away the stress of trying to come up with new ideas all the time. It will also mean you know exactly what you need to buy each week to be able to prepare your lunches, which will save you time in the grocery store.
If you’re trying to save money or prefer to eat locally, adjust your meal plan with the seasons or look at what’s on sale at the start of each month to stock up on non-perishables, then incorporate those into your meal plan for the next 4 weeks.
Prepare meals in batches
You can save time by preparing multiple meals at once, because it cuts down on the overall time you have to spend washing, chopping, cooking, portioning and cleaning up. Block off a couple of hours each week to prepare your lunches for the next 5 days (Sundays are great if your schedule allows).
If you don’t already have one, invest in a Tupperware set that includes different sizes for your main meal, snacks, sauces and accompaniments. Having at 4-6 good-sized containers will mean you can pre-portion several meals at once. Opt for glass containers or BPA-free plastic.
Alternatively, mason jars are a great way to make food in advance – they seal in the freshness, and you can keep them in the fridge so you can grab-and-go in the morning!
Strive for balance
Although you should stick to meals that don’t take long to prepare, you don’t want to sacrifice nutrition in the process. The key to a healthy meal is ensuring that it’s well rounded. Ideally, your lunch should be proportioned as follows: half your plate should be vegetables and/or fruit, a quarter of it should be protein and the other quarter should be grains.
Keeping this guide in mind will mean you can quickly toss together a balanced meal that will keep you satisfied until dinner, as long as you choose healthy options. Use whatever you have on hand – try beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and lean meats for your protein, whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, millet, barley and whole wheat noodles for your grains and a variety of fresh produce for the fruit/vegetable portion of your meal.
Keep your kitchen well stocked
Always make sure that you have the ingredients for a quick go-to lunch on hand, in case you don’t have time to go shopping or spend more than a few minutes preparing your next midday meal. Sandwiches are great when you’re pressed for time, so keep a loaf of whole wheat bread in your fridge or freezer at all times and try to always have things like nut butters, jams, vegetables, cheese, hummus or cold cuts on hand.
Having a well-stocked kitchen will mean you’re less likely to run into a situation where making a meal at home isn’t an option. If everything you need to make a healthy, homemade lunch is already right in front of you, you’ll be less tempted to buy food out.
Do a weekly inventory of your fridge
Take a few minutes at least once a week to go through your fridge, freezer and pantry. Make a note of what you have, what you’re running low on and what you need to pick up to put together your lunches for the week. It will save you from having to make last-minute trips to the grocery store (and if something is about to spoil, you can plan to use it quickly so you don’t end up tossing it out).
When making a shopping list, try to make sure you’re spending most of your time in the perimeter of the grocery store where the majority of the fresh items (produce, baked goods, meat and dairy) are kept. If you struggle to make healthy choices in the grocery store because your favourite brand of cookies or potato chips always seem to call out to you, avoid those aisles entirely.
Have ready-made meals on hand
We all have days when we’re especially tight on time, so be prepared for even the busiest of days by keeping at least 2-3 frozen or non-perishable meals that you can pack for lunch as a last resort. Having a few home made meals in your freezer is great, otherwise pre-made soups, chilli or pasta dishes work well.
Try to always have at least a couple of fresh items in your fridge so you can round out the meal with a couple of servings of vegetables or fruit. It’s also a good idea to keep nutritious snacks at your desk (like fruit, trail mix, granola bars, brown rice cakes, whole grain crackers and nut butter) so that healthy options are always within your reach whenever you get hungry.