Jun 25, 2021
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If you’re looking for a lunch box meal prep with recipes that kids and adults will love, you’re in the right place. In this post, I’m sharing tips and ideas to help you pack a week’s worth of healthy lunches without spending half the night in the kitchen.
Devoting 1-2 hours during your weekend and midweek can shave down kitchen duty at night/early morning, and let’s face it, planning gives you time to be more creative with the recipes prepared.
Below, you’ll find practical tips and examples of what a lunch meal prep should look like, whether you are making it for school, the office, or both.
School Lunch Meal Prep
The best lunch meal prep recipes can make several servings and be refrigerated days in advance. They can be as simple as the wraps and sandwiches or entreé style meals like stir fry with rice, pasta, or soup/stews.
Here’s a simple step-by-step formula to create a lunch meal prep menu:
Take a look in the pantry
Planning meals based on ingredients you already have or ones you often keep on hand will minimize the shopping list and expenses.
Select the recipes
Once you know what’s available, I recommend choosing 2-3 recipes that can be divided into lunch containers for easy packing, and your family would want to eat for lunch that week.
Based on the recipes, you’ll know what is needed from the store. Grab a pen and paper or your phone and write down the needed items.
Create a prep list
Some recipes can be prepped entirely ahead while others will need to be broken down into smaller tasks. This looks like cooking rice, choppings vegetables and fruit, and assembling sandwiches or quesadillas for grilling the next morning.
For the recipes that can be entirely made ahead, such as soups, stir-fry, and power bowls, pack those into lunch containers and refrigerate. Items like salads can be partially assembled and need only a couple of minutes in the morning to finish and pack in the lunch bag.
Weekly Meal Prep Menu for Lunch
The first step to successful lunch meal prep is a plan. Knowing what’s on the menu, helps you know exactly what ingredients to shop for, which recipes to prepare ahead, and which can be partially assembled.
Below is an example of a 5-day meal prep lunch menu:
- Monday: Salsa Chicken Burrito Bowls
- Tuesday: quesadillas (with leftover Salsa Chicken)
- Wednesday: Cobb Pasta Salad + fruit
- Thursday: Egg Salad Sandwiches
- Friday: Cobb Pasta Salad + parfaits
Keep in mind that most recipes have a shelf-life of 3 days, so breaking up meal prep into 2 sessions a week is a great way to make sure everything stays fresh.
For the menu above, this would look like cooking the Salsa Chicken on Sunday and preparing the Cobb Pasta Salad and Egg Salad on Tuesday.
Want more recipe ideas for school and office lunches you can prep ahead? I have 101 of them in my new Packed Lunches eBook. It has everything from power bowls to pasta, salad, entreés, and of course epic sandwiches:
101 Packed Lunches eBook
All my best kid-friendly lunches from over a decade of creating meal plans. Add some variety to your child’s lunchbox with these epic lunches, plus receive my Pack Meals Like a Pro ebook, free with purchase!
Best Lunch Box for Meal Prep
Having quality food containers is important for meal-prepped lunches. They need to be:
- fit a substantial amount of food
- sturdy enough for transportation in a lunch bag
I have several school and office lunch container recommendations that do a great job. Setting aside cutesy options, my go-to choices for any parent would be:
Ideal for bento/bistro-style lunches with multiple ingredients like crackers, fruit, deli meats, and sliced veggies.
Prep Naturals Glass Meal Prep
For those who prefer glass, these are a great option. They also offer a compartmentalized container, and the locking lid is extra protection against leaks and spills.
Lunch Box Meal Prep Storage
Once you have the lunches prepared and assembled in containers, it’s time to store everything in the fridge. Most cooked recipes will last up to 3 days refrigerated, while pre-made wraps and sandwiches are good for only up to 1 day.
Below is a small chart with the approximate shelf-life of popular lunch recipes:
- pasta salad – 3 days
- bento boxes – (minus cut fruit)- 4 days
- sandwiches – 24 hours
- wraps – 24 hours
- salads (no dressing)- 2 days
- pinwheels – 2 days
- egg salad – 2 days
- tuna or chicken salad – 3 days
- hard-boiled eggs – 4 days
- rice – 4 days
- stir-fry’s – 3 days
- berries – 4 days
- sliced oranges – 2 days
- fruit salad – 2 days
How to Freeze Meal Prep
If you want to make 1-2 fully cooked recipes like chili or stir-fry and eat them all week, the best thing is to store 2 days worth in the fridge and freeze the rest.
My freezer meal prep process looks a little like this:
Prepare the recipe
Once cooked, allow the contents to reach room temperature before proceeding to the next step.
Pack into meal prep containers
Assemble the food into freezer-safe meal prep containers.
Seal the containers and freeze for up to 1 month.
Transfer the desired amount of frozen meals to the refrigerator and defrost overnight. If no microwave is available at school or the office, you can reheat the food and transfer it to a thermos container.
Ideas to Freeze
Need any ideas on the type of recipes that can be made ahead, frozen, and still taste amazing? Check out the ones below:
- All Meat & Veggie Chili
- Chicken Cauliflower Fried Rice
- Chicken & Broccoli Stir-fry
- Easy Taco Soup
- Salsa Verde Chicken Pasta
I’ve shared the biggest list of Lunch Meal Prep Recipes here if you need some help getting started.
School Lunch Box Meal Prep Tips
- 1 ounce pretzel thins
- 1 cup grapes
- 1 small green apple sliced
- 2 ounces rolled deli turkey
- 1 ounce cheese bites
- Place the ingredients into a divided lunch container.
- If prepping the lunch for later in the week, leave space for the cheese bites in the container. Add them the morning before serving the lunchbox.
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