If you want to devour a healthy mid-day meal, you can feel good about eating but don’t know how to start, this post shows you everything you need to know about successful lunch meal prep for the week.
The best part about them is that you can cook once and enjoy a healthy alternative to take-out -and even if you’ve found yourself working from home, they are the type you can heat-and-eat or eat straight out of the fridge!
In this video, I show you some of the recipes I incorporate into my lunch prep rotation. However, this post is all about the logistics of recipe selection, batch cooking, storage, containers, and more.
Lunch Meal Prep for the Week
Whether you are eating lunch at home or at the office, taking the time to lunch meal prep for the week can help you eat a variety of healthy meals.
If you think that the best part about eating lunch out or ordering take-out is the excitement of something other than a sandwich but want to save money while eating healthy, then the reality is that a little prep will help you achieve just that.
How to Meal Prep Lunch
Regardless of your mealtime goals, whether you’re trying to save money on eating out, eat clean, or simply eat something other than a sandwich or ramen, the easiest way to meal prep lunch is to:
- pick 1-2 recipes for the week
- pick the main ingredient
- pick a side
- pick the right container
- cook, pack, refrigerate
Meal Prep Lunch Plan
If the thought of adding lunch to your meal planning routine overwhelms you, I’ll remind you that it’s best to keep it simple.
By simple, I mean pick 1-2 recipes for the week (I’m going to share a bunch below for you to pick from) and cook those either for dinner one night and plan extras by doubling the recipe for lunches, or simply cook it at the same time you’re making dinner even if the recipe is different.
You can also prep one lunch on Sunday and another sometime mid-week. In the end, dividing up the work might be better if you’re short on time.
Here is how to get started on your lunch plan:
- Decide how many different recipes you want to prepare (start with 1-2)
- Select recipes you’ll be excited to eat like your favorite take-out recipes but healthier
- Use ingredients you might have on hand (more on this below)
- Use up pantry items and freezer staples for sides
The Main Ingredient
I usually start my meal prep recipe selection by deciding which “main ingredient” I want to eat first. I usually take a peek at my pantry and freezer and find items I might have purchased in bulk and start there.
Some of my top main ingredients to start with:
- Ground beef or turkey
- Pork or sausages
- Pasta and Rice
- Other grains like quinoa and farro
- Beans (black, pinto, white, chickpeas)
Once you can decide which “main” item to use, then you can build a meal around it. These main ingredients will inform your meal prep ideas for the week.
In addition to the main part of the meal, you’ll want to bulk it up with sides. Nobody wants to eat a plain, grilled chicken breast by itself unless it’s my Bruschetta Chicken Recipe.
One misconception about selecting a “side” to build a lunch meal prep is that the item will be served “on the side.” That’s just not true!
When I build my kid’s lunch -and it’s a sandwich- I then think of the sandwich as the main part of the meal and I might want to send carrots and fruit as the “sides.”
As a grown-up, I can have epic lunches that incorporate veggies, proteins, and grains into the recipe instead of packing them as side items.
Lunch Meal Prep Tips
Here are a few meal prep tips that will make packing lunches ahead a bit simpler. There are some tips that will make the process quicker -outside of having the right containers which I’ll outline those below.
Here are some simple lunch meal prep tips to help you get started:
- Start with your favorite restaurant-like recipe so you’ll be more excited to get started.
- Add a variety of ingredients to your plan -remember, we are thinking outside a ham + cheese sandwich.
- Add the ingredients for your meal prep to your weekly shopping list.
- Invest in quality meal prep containers -my favorites are below
- Keep a variety of items stocked in your pantry and freezer -even something as simple as a bean burrito bowl can get you started.
- Use spices. They are the easiest way to “change-up” your lunch routine.
- Plan to prep. Meaning, schedule time to get it done.
- Create a Pinterest board with lunch prep recipes.
- Delegate and ask for help. Have other hands at home? ask them to wash produce, help chop, and even prep ingredients.
- Batch cook the main ingredient to be repurposed into epic lunches.
- Freeze extras for other weeks.
- Portion your meals by using containers.
- Wash and prep produce at once for easy grab & assembly.
- Use the slow cooker or pressure cooker (Instant Pot) to give you a helping hand.
- Find shortcuts – frozen cauliflower rice instead of making your own? Yes please. Buy a rotisserie chicken to save time? That too.
In the end, the hardest part about meal prepping is getting started. You’ll find your groove and get excited about eating delicious meals.
Lunch Meal Prep Containers
ince 2010, I’ve owned a meal planning company where I’ve helped more than 2 Million parents plan their weekly meals with a simple weekly plan.
Because of this, I’ve tested a lot of meal prep containers and kitchen gadgets.
I have an entire post on MOMables.com dedicated to the best meal prep containers. I’ll save you the click and tell you exactly what you need in this video.
Shown in the video and in the meals below:
- Take-Alongs Plastic Meal-Prep (14pk) perfect for single-serve meals, inexpensive, freezer safe.
- Easy Lunchboxes (4pk) great to share with the kids and inexpensive.
- Round Dressing Containers (4pk) you’ll need these for salad dressings and dips.
- Round Glass Meal-Prep Bowls (3pk) perfect for soups, salads, and bowls.
- Rectangular Glass Meal-Prep (5pk) perfect for layering, salads, and one-bowl meals.
- Rectangular Divided Glass Meal-Prep (3pk) for days you want to separate ingredients or make bento-style lunches.
How Many Lunch Meal Prep Containers Do You Need?
The number of containers you’ll need to meal prep will depend on how many people will be doing weekly lunch meal prep and how many meals you plan on making.
For starters, I recommend 2-3 containers per person per week. That means you’ll enjoy 2-3 different meals per week. If I had to start today, I’d purchase a set of Round Glass Meal-Prep Bowls and the Rectangular Glass Meal-Prep.
How Long Can I Leave my Meal Prep Lunches in the Fridge?
When you have a plan for your food, you’ll know exactly when to enjoy your prepped meals.
I typically recommend keeping your prepped lunch 2-3 days in the fridge. Otherwise, it goes in the freezer for another day.
Do You Eat Meal Prep Lunches Hot or Cold?
If you don’t have access to a microwave, a Thermos container is always a great idea. Here are my Top 5 Thermos Containers I’ve tested and continue to recommend.
How Long do Meal Prep Meals stay good for?
Well, it depends on the recipe ingredients. A good rule of thumb is no more than 4 days, no matter the ingredient.
For this reason, it’s important you store food in airtight containers to help your food stay fresh longer.
Can you Meal Prep Rice?
You sure can! You can meal prep rice and cauliflower rice in an airtight container.
Will my Avocados Brown in my Meal Prep?
Yes, they will. If you watched the top video, one of the first questions I asked was about whether your avocados would brown in the containers -even when stored in the fridge.
For this reason, if a little brown doesn’t bother you, 1-2 days is the maximum amount I’d keep sliced avocados in the fridge. Otherwise, prep your meal, and in about a minute in the morning, slice your avocado for your lunch.
Do I Dress My Salad Ahead of Time?
Green salads should not be tossed with salad dressing during meal prep; that’s why I recommend small lidded dressing containers.
You can portion your salad dressing, refrigerate, and grab & go in the morning or at lunchtime.
Lunch Meal Prep Recipes
I’ve shared hundreds of meal prep lunch recipes through the years, but there are a few that I end up eating over and over again. A few of my favorites are:
Get more recipes plus all my meal prep tips in my book, Meal Prep’d.
Meal Prep’d eBook
In this book, I share 70+ recipes that can be cooked ahead, stored in single-serve portions or frozen, and save you time and effort in the kitchen.
Cook once and have ready-to-eat meals for an entire week. These nutritious and filling recipes can be enjoyed as dinner or packed for lunch.
I’d love to know – what are your favorite lunch meal prep ideas?