A make-ahead lunch that is ready to go when you are is a lifesaver on a busy morning. but not all lunches are created equally when it comes to prep, packing, and reheating.
Recipes with hearty ingredients that hold up for a few days in the fridge and come together easily when you need to quickly eat them at the office are the best options for take to work lunches.
Smart packing really helps make your meal more enjoyable when you are ready to eat. Here are a few tips:
- For salads, hold off on adding the dressing until serving.
- If you enjoy salads in a jar, you can also put the dressing in the very bottom of the jar and layer the ingredients. Add diced chicken or raw carrots on the bottom and delicate greens on the top, out of reach of the dressing.
- Remove any foil before microwaving if the food has been stored in it.
Variety is the key to an enjoyable lunch experience for me. For many of us, eating the same thing day after day can feel monotonous. Be sure to explore both hot and cold lunches. Many lettuce wraps work well with both warm and chilled fillings and pasta salads are similar. Experiment with making a base recipe your own.
I’ve pulled together a list of lunches that check all the important boxes. You can prepare them ahead of time, pack them easily, and adjust the recipe to create extras in case you're preparing multiple lunches. These recipes maintain their flavors and textures after reheating and many of them taste as good chilled as they do warmed up.
From salads to wraps and pasta, try a few of these recipes in your upcoming lunch rotation.
Instant Pot Barley Lunch Jars
These simple jars are packed with crunchy, fresh vegetables that compliment chewy, tender barley. Prepping the barley is mainly hands-off when you make it in the Instant Pot which is an added time saving bonus. These jars are also fully customizable. Add some kalamata olives, seeds or crumbled feta cheese to mix things up.
This salad is full of hearty ingredients that hold up well when stored in the refrigerator. You can layer them side-by-side in a rectangle meal prep container or stack them in a jar. Plan to cut the avocado and drizzle it with lemon juice the day you’ll eat the salad to prevent it from browning. You can also easily swap avocado for store-bought chunky guacamole. Make sure you don’t dress the salad until you’re ready to eat!
Make-Ahead Frittata Squares with Spinach, Tomatoes and Feta
A frittata makes an ideal lunch when you need some protein to keep you full throughout the afternoon. These squares create just the right portion for packing and reheating at lunch time. Serve it alongside an easy cucumber salad or you can turn the frittata square into filling for a sandwich by layering it inside a ciabatta roll with a light spread of mayo or Dijon mustard.
Italian Sub Sandwich
Sandwiches seem like the typical lunch option, but this sub is anything but boring. It layers meats, cheeses, and vegetables on a large loaf of Italian bread. Then you can cut off just the right portion to wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until you are ready to eat. Enjoy it alone or with some veggies and hummus or potato salad.
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Homemade Cup Noodles
If you are looking for a lunch that is almost magical, this is it. This make-ahead meal requires layering your favorite ingredients in a jar, then once you are ready to eat, pour in hot water and it transforms into a flavorful homemade bowl of noodles. There are so many ways you can customize it and plenty of ideas are provided to keep this recipe constantly new and exciting.
Rotini with Kale and Walnut Pesto
This simple pasta salad bursts with flavor from the rich pesto made of fresh basil and kale. The best part is its versatility. First, eat it hot or cold, your choice. Second, you can eat it as is, or pick from all kinds of add-ins. Grilled chicken, chunks of albacore tuna, grilled cauliflower steaks, chickpeas, and white beans are just a few ideas to get you started. You can also substitute gluten-free or grain-free pasta in this recipe.
This is the kind of lunch that can be eaten in a number of ways. Of course you can make an easy sandwich using your favorite bread, but this ham salad can also be served inside a large tortilla as a wrap or on top of whole grain crackers. If you want to skip the bread, try serving a portion alongside chopped seasonal fruit and mixed salad greens drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice for a lighter lunch.
Greek Salad in Jars
Another salad-in-a-jar favorite, all the ingredients in this recipe hold up well for storage and transport. It’s full of crisp veggies like bell pepper and cucumber and you can add the dressing to the bottom of the jar and the salad will stay fresh for at least 2 days. Just transfer it all to your serving bowl and toss well before enjoying.
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Chicken Freezer Burritos
This recipe allows you to keep chicken burritos stocked in the freezer for 3-6 months making it easy to grab and go when you don’t have time to prep your meal the day before.
White Bean and Tuna Salad
This quick lunch has only six ingredients making it an ideal last minute option. It’s packed with meaty tuna and creamy white beans that will leave you full, satisfied, and ready to take on the rest of the day. It can be eaten straight out of the fridge so it's the kind of meal that works well if you don’t have easy access to a microwave.
Pressure Cooker Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Bringing lettuce wraps to work just requires a little bit of assembly. Add the filling to a microwave-safe container in case you want to heat it up (but it can also be served cold). Rinse and dry your lettuce leaves then wrap them in paper towels and plastic wrap to store alongside the filling. Assemble your wraps when you are ready to eat.