Make-Ahead Lunch Recipes to Cook for the Workweek

Not to dismiss the humble turkey sub or the classic PB&J, but eating a sandwich every day for lunch can get pretty boring. Yet as a country, we seem to be on lunch autopilot. Half of Americans eat at least one sandwich per day, a 2014 study found.

On top of being dull, all those sandwiches are bad for our health — those piles of bread, meat, and cheese account for one-fifth of the average adult’s daily salt intake. Let’s face it, It’s time to think beyond the deli counter.

Brown bagging your lunch is usually healthier, cheaper, and more convenient than always hitting the drive-thru during your break. Rather than spend $6.50 per day eating out, bring a homemade lunch that costs $3 per serving; it’ll save you nearly $900 over 12 months. Best of all, it’s easy. Spend just an hour or two on Sunday night in the kitchen and you’ll have tasty lunches to last you through the week. Most of the five recipes below are even freezer friendly, so you can cook them in big batches when it’s most convenient and simply grab and go.

1. Quinoa Salad with Cucumber, Tomato, and Herbs

Quinoa Tabbouleh

Quinoa salad | iStock.com

Some salads are best prepared just before you plan to eat them, which makes them less than ideal for quick work lunches. This tabbouleh-like quinoa salad, however, will keep for up to five days in the refrigerator. The recipe is courtesy of Serious Eats.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, split into quarters
  • 1 large cucumber, seeds removed, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 small shallots, minced
  • ½ cup roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • ¼ cup roughly chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Head to Serious Eats for the full recipe. 

2. Chicken Margherita

Penne in Colander, noodles, pasta

Pasta | iStock.com

Once a Month Meals touts this simple chicken margherita recipe as a healthier alternative to similar frozen meal from Lean Cuisine. It takes just a few minutes to prepare this dish, which can be divided into quart-size freezer bags and then reheated in the microwave when you’re ready to eat.

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces penne
  • 2⅔ cups cooked and diced boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons chop basil, fresh
  • 1 cup halved grape tomatoes
  • ¾ cups 2% mozzarella cheese shredded

Head to Once a Month Meals for the full recipe. 

3. Sausage and Potato Pockets

stuffed hot pockets

Sausage and potato pockets | iStock.com

Think of these as a classier version of the humble Hot Pocket. This hearty recipe from Real Simple calls for mushrooms, potatoes, spinach, and chicken sausage. You can use pre-made pizza dough to simplify the prep. It makes 6 individual pockets.

Ingredients:

  • ½ pound mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • ½ pound new potatoes, thinly sliced
  • 6 ounces fully cooked chicken sausage links, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 4 ounces
  • 1 cup of grated Gruyère or cheddar cheese
  • 1 pound whole-grain or whole-wheat pizza dough, at room temperature
  • Flour, for the work surface

Head to Real Simple for the full recipe. 

4. Garden Veggie Freezer Burritos

mexican tortilla/burrito, enchilada sauce

Burrito | iStock.com

Once you master the art of making your own frozen burritos, you’ll never buy the store-bought version again. While you could fill your DIY freezer burritos with whatever filling you prefer, we like this version from Oh My Veggies, which is packed with colorful ingredients like bell pepper and zucchini, plus a homemade cilantro jalapeño pesto.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced
  • 1 small red, orange or yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 1 small tomato, diced
  • ½ cup frozen corn kernels
  • Cilantro jalapeño pesto
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice or quinoa
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 extra-large (burrito-sized) tortillas
  • ½ cup cooked black beans
  • 1 cup shredded Monterrey Jack or pepper jack cheese

Cilantro Jalapeño Pesto

  • 1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
  • ¼ cup walnut pieces
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 small jalapeño pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into large chunks

Head to Oh My Veggies for the full recipe. 

5. Mini Lunch Box Quiches

mini quiche

Mini quiche | Source: iStock

Quiche is typically served at brunch, but there’s no reason you can’t eat it for lunch too. This recipe from Everyday Health uses a muffin pan to make 12 individual mini quiches, which you can then freeze for later. The recipe below is basic; experiment by trying additional fillings, like mushrooms or kale, to add a little more flavor to this simple lunch.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons (¾ stick) butter, melted
  • 4 eggs
  • 1½ cups milk
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste
  • ⅓ cup grated cheese, such as cheddar, Monterey Jack, or Havarti

 

Head to Everyday Health for the full recipe. 

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