Last week, a blog reader, Mary, asked me if I could put together a post on healthy lunches that could be made ahead of time. I thought it was a great challenge for back to school, so I got to work planning!
I spent a few days coming up with different lunches that could be prepped on Sunday.
Complete with food stained paper!
I had several goals for the lunch recipes:
1) Most, if not all, of the prep work could be done on Sunday.
2) It would be made mostly from scratch for maximum savings (for example, using dried legumes instead of canned)
3) It would be vegan, gluten-free, and soy-free with easy nut-free options
4) In each lunch, I would have each of the following: protein, healthy fats, fibre, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains to make a well-rounded meal.
5) Chocolate, as necessary.
This challenge certainly lit a fire under my apron!
For the recipes, I decided on the following grains and legumes (1/2 cup dry, each):
- Millet or Quinoa
- Wild brown rice
- Black beans
Of course, you can use pretty much any grains and legumes that you desire. I purchased these from Bulk Barn and it was much cheaper than buying the canned or non-bulk variety. More money in my pocket means more money for chocolate covered cacao nibs! Wheee.
Next, I had to figure out all of the various prep and cook times for each. I consulted the wonderful Clean Food Cookbook for some tips!
Legumes and Grains Cooking Cheat Sheet
Use 1/2 cup dry, per.
Chickpea Cooking Instructions (needs soaking):
- 1/2 cup dry chickpeas yields about 1 & 1/4 cup cooked.
- Tip from Clean Food: Add a thumb-sized piece of kombu when cooking beans as it will aid in digestion.
- Soak 1/2 cup dry chickpeas overnight in a bowl with about 3 inches of water covering the chickpeas. OR use the ‘quick soak’ method, which is what I did because I forgot to soak overnight! In a pot of water, bring the chickpeas to a boil for about 1-2 mins., then turn off heat, cover with lid, and let it soak for about 1 hour. This method is great in a pinch.
- Drain and rinse the chickpeas
- Place in pot covering with about 2-3 inches with water
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, covered, for about 30 mins or until tender
- Drain and rinse
Black Bean Cooking Instructions (needs soaking):
- 1/2 cup dry black beans yields 1 & 1/4 cups cooked.
- Add in a thumb-sized piece of kombu when cooking beans as it will aid in digestion.
- Follow same soaking and cooking instructions as chickpeas above using 1/2 cup dry black beans
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, covered, for about 15 mins until tender
Brown Rice Cooking Instructions (no soaking required):
- 1/2 cup dry brown rice yields 1 cup cooked.
- Rinse rice in a strainer (this removes some of the starchy material that makes rice stick together)
- Use 1/2 cup uncooked brown rice and 1 cup + 2 tbsp water (and more water if needed)
- Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low, add pinch of salt, cover, and simmer for about 30 minutes until tender
- Watch closely during the last 10 mins of cooking and add more water if it begins to stick to pot.
- Fluff with fork
Lentils Cooking Instructions (no soaking required):
- 1/2 cup dry lentils yields 1 & 1/4 cup cooked
- Check for pebbles and discard
- In a strainer, rinse well
- Use 1/2 cup dry and 3/4 cup (or a bit more as needed) water
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, simmer, and cook for 15-30 minutes, until tender
- I used tiny black lentils and it only took 15 mins cook time, but larger green lentils will probably take longer
Millet Cooking Instructions (no soaking required):
- 1/2 cup dry millet yields 2 cups cooked
- Rinse and drain (I was lazy and skipped this)
- In a pot or skillet, ‘toast’ the dry millet over medium heat for 4 mins or so, until it has a nutty aroma (this helps bring out the flavour as millet can be bland)
- Now add about 3/4 cup water and bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, simmer, and cook for 20-25 mins, adding more water if necessary
- Fluff with fork and season well.
Note: This was the ultimate multi-tasking challenge! I had about 4 things going on the stove-top at once (and multiple timers). If you are time-crunched, you can always use canned beans and chickpeas.
It went from this…
All of that food only cost me about $3.50. Talk about savings!
While the legumes and grains were cooking, I did some other prep.
This trail mix, below, was one of my favourite recipes of the day. In fact, I’m munching on it right now. :)
Go Go Glow Mix
Energizing, delicious, and packed with antioxidants. This is the perfect mix to throw into a packed lunch. Sub the almonds with sunflower seeds if you want it nut-free. All ingredients were purchased at the bulk food store, Bulk Barn.
Yield: 2.5 cups
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1/2 cup goji berries
- 1/2 cup almonds (or sunflower seeds)
- 1/2 cup mulberries
- 1/2 cup dark chocolate covered cacao nibs (or dark chocolate chips)
- (I also added natural dried apple rings, but I was not a fan of their spongy texture)
1. Mix together and enjoy for a quick pick me up!
Eric and I are seriously obsessed with this mix. The chocolate covered cacao nibs are phenomenal and something I’m going to have to re-create at home!
I also chopped up 1 cucumber, 1 large red pepper, and 4 carrots. I put them into a big container filled with water as this will keep them fresh and crisp all week long. Quick and easy snacks paired with hummus or other dips.
Note: I would not advise putting the peppers and cukes in water as I just discovered that they don’t crisp up, but get soft! The carrots were fine all week though.
When I had a burner free up, I made the Carrot Apple Ginger Soup using some beautiful garden carrots. Yes, my carrots are finally ready to harvest after planting tiny seeds way back on May 24. Happy!
Dare I say it turned out even better using my garden carrots? ;)
Once the prep work was done, I started assembling lunches.
First up, Monday’s lunch!
Monday’s Lunch featuring Avocado-Lime Black Bean Salad
Adapted from Avocado-Lime Black Bean Salad
- 1 & 1/4 cup cooked black beans (from 1/2 cup dry)
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped (or herb of choice)
- 1 avocado (cut this up and mix in just before serving)
- 1/2 cup chopped red onion
- 1 tbsp fresh lime juice
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1/2-3/4 tsp ground cumin
- S & P, to taste
- Dash of maple syrup (or other sweetener), to taste
- Other snacks: 1/2 whole wheat pita OR use Gluten-free bread if required, Banana and nut butter (or sunflower seed butter for nut-free)
- Lemon water
1. Mix together the cooked black beans, chopped cilantro, and onion. In a small jar or bowl, shake or whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, cumin, S & P, and maple syrup, to taste.
2. Pour on the dressing and mix well. Season well to taste (I love adding Herbamare). Just before serving, chop avocado and mix into salad. Serve with 1/2 a whole wheat pita and a banana and nut or seed butter.
I had this lunch yesterday and it was delicious! (I forgot to include the avocado in the picture, but it really makes the salad.)
Up next, Tuesday’s lunch:
Tuesday’s Lunch featuring Carrot Apple Ginger Soup
- Carrot Apple Ginger Soup (click for recipe) in a mason jar for portability
- 1 cup cooked millet (or quinoa), with Earth Balance, salt & pepper
- 1/3 cup Go Go Glow Mix (above)
- 1 plum
- Lemon Water
Be sure to heat up the millet with a bit of Earth Balance and seasoning. It’s also good mixing it into the carrot soup.
All the prep work I did yesterday took me the entire morning (about 4 hours), but I’m glad that I did it now because I have a ton of food prepped for the week.
Here is a grocery list, if you want to follow along. Keep in mind that it’s just a guide and you can make any modifications that you desire! I just used mostly what I had on hand…I’m not suggesting you go out and buy the entire list, but get creative and see what you can use in your own pantry and fridge. :)
What I used (for mains + all snacks)
Grains + Legumes + seeds + nuts
- 1/2 cup dry brown rice
- 1/2 cup dry black beans (or 1 can)
- 1/2 cup dry chickpeas (or 1 can)
- 1/2 cup dry millet or quinoa
- 1/2 cup dry lentils
- Mary’s GF Crackers or other crackers
- Whole wheat pita or GF bread
- Nut or seed butter
- 1-2 tbsp hemp seeds (or seed of choice)
- hummus or other spread
- nuts (I used a couple tbsp walnuts)
Fruit + vegetables
- 1 pear
- 1-2 plums
- 1 peach
- 1 apple
- 1 banana
- 1 lime
- 2 lemons
- 1 orange
- 1 red pepper
- 1 cucumber
- 2 lbs carrots
- jar of Roasted red peppers or homemade
- fresh herbs (I used parsley and cilantro)
- 1 avocado
- 4 inch piece fresh ginger
- 2-3 cups Leafy greens (romaine, kale etc)
- Red onion
- Sweet onion
- Green onion (or just use onion of choice)
- Vegetable broth (4 cups)
- cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper flakes (if you like adding a kick of spice)
- garlic powder or if you prefer, mince fresh cloves
- extra virgin olive oil
- kosher salt and pepper
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- Dijon mustard
- maple syrup (or other sweetener)
- apple cider vinegar (or balsamic for dressing)
- Scant ground nutmeg
- Go Go Glow Mix: 1/2 cup each: Goji berries (I got 3/4 cup to use extra for salad), chocolate covered cacao nibs (or choc chips), mulberries, almonds, dried cranberries
- Chocolate :)
I sincerely hope I didn’t forget anything on this list!
In Part 2, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday’s lunches are coming on up! Click here for the post.
Like many of you, I was touched deeply by the tragedies of 9/11. I’m watching along today and sending my thoughts to those innocent lives that were lost and families and friends who were impacted. Bless you all…
Thank you for doing this. I was just thinking how i needed new ideas for lunch. Im off to make the Carrot Apple Ginger soup. Sounds heavenly. :)
These are some great ideas-I love having yummy but healthy lunches when I’m at school, even if they get looks sometimes. ;) I have seen goji berries everywhere but haven’t tried them….maybe I need to! We were watching 9/11 ceremonies on TV this morning and I could barely keep myself from sobbing. I was only in kindergarten but they still had a huge impact on me.
Oeh I love this post Angela!! This will come in so handy when I have to pack lunches for school Trail mix is indeed already one of my easy, go-to staples.
Thank you so much for this post! My daughter and I have just gone back to a vegan diet and your week of lunches is a huge help!
Best. post. ever. I am a student, therefore on a budget and busy busy busy so this is an AMAZING lunch plan! Thank you so much!
I was about to write the exact same thing! Great post, thx!!
Glad you like the lunch idea guys!
uuuh, I’ve been wanting a post like this for EVER! I’m a college student and always bring my lunch with me from home. this weekly plan is excellent for inspiration!
I don’t go to school anymore, but I do pack a lunch to work everyday. I’ve been in a lunch-rut so I’m excited to try some of these out. I totally forgot about pita pocket sandwiches, too!
heh I did too til I saw a pic of one last week!
Angela-what a beautiful and comprehensive post! Although I don’t have a full kitchen now, as I’m on a meal plan in school, I’m bookmarking this anyway because it is so helpful. And even with just a kitchenette I can make some of these things for when I’m not into eating what’s at the dining halls.
This is such a great post! I really want to try that avocado and black bean salad. Can’t wait to see what the rest of the lunches for the week are!
This is seriously awesome! Here’s another challenge. For those of us thinking of trying veganism, maybe you could do a post on how to make sure you’re getting enough nutrition (including all the various minerals, vitamins, etc).
This was and a helpful and awesome post from beginning to end!! :-)cc
MASON JARS! Great idea! I’ve been trying to figure out a good way to transport soup for lunches, and have been having an impossible time finding non-plastic, leak-free, microwavable containers and the answer has been sitting on the shelf all along! Simple, but brilliant. Thanks!
LOVE these types of posts. They’re so helpful to reference and these are awesome ideas!
I love all the informations! I’m always a bit hesitant with dry grain but you encourage me to use them :)
Also, those lunch are so colorful, yet healthy and not pricey!
Great ideas! I love the “quick” method of the chickpeas… I’m taking advantage of that right now so I can add to my soup. :)
yum! i love the difference flavors and textures…perfect for lunches :)
These are absolutley wonderful tips! I had to go on a gluten free diet over the summer, so going back to school where I do not even have access to a fridge or microwave has been a HUGE struggle. I will definitely be utilizing these tips. :) Thanks!
I’ve always found preparing easy, healthy, and portable lunches during the week such a challenge. Thanks, Angela! A much needed post. :)
This is a wondeful post and your photos are gorgeous! I love the breakdown of how to cook the grains and beans…very helpful tips! Thanks!
Love the container of veggies, will make packing lunches the night before go more quickly. I’m going to do that today. Now I wish there was a trick to ensure my kids ate them! Would cauliflower and broccoli go in water or just washed and then wrapped in paper towels?
Hmm I think you could also put it in water too? I would assume so anyways!
Thank you so much for this! This is the first college semester when I’ve needed to pack lunches and lately my mind’s been drawing a blank. I’m bookmarking this post for many future references :)
Thanks for this post!! I’ve been looking for make-ahead lunches and this post is really useful! Also, I never thought of putting my veggies in a container filled with water to keep them fresh and crisp all week long. That’s a great tip! Can’t wait to read part II!
This is such a cool idea! Thanks for all of the hard work you’re putting in. You definitely took on a huge task of vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, with nut-free options. Whew! Awesome :)
Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you! I love these ideas ad can’t wait for your next post!
What a wonderful post! I’m all about quick eats and often need to bring my lunch with me to school/work.
This is a fun little “series!” It’s kind of neat to see your lunches throughout the week and the prep that goes into them. I always have such good intentions on Sunday’s to do prep work for the week but it seldomly happens!
This challenge was also a good kick in the butt for me as I’ve been eating the same lunch day in and day out for a while now. It’s nice to change it up!
This is an awesome post! I love the idea of prepping everything on Sunday. It makes staying on track with your weekly eats so easy. Making things easy = actually doing them! Right ?
I had wanted to mention that I really enjoyed your tutorial on how to chiffonade basil a little while ago. I will definitely be linking to it the next time I call for basil chiffonade. It was so clear, concise and easy to understand! …and your photography takes it over the top. :)
I’m happy that helped you!
This is great! Wow, thank you Angela. Love your lunch ideas!
Can I just say WOW. This post seriously rocked! As a person that practically lives at the University, these lunches are amazing! Thanks sooo much :)
Fantastic recipes! Very WF salad-car-esque, my fav ;)
Thanks for the fesh veggie tip, i would of thought they would get soggy in water.
Approx how many calories in 1/3 cup of the glow mix?
I’m not sure on that one, but I will post about it if I calculate it out :)
This looks amazing – such a useful post! Quick question though – how do you store the grains once they’re cooked to make them last a week? I would have thought they’d go a bit smushy after five days…?
generally they last in the fridge for 5-7 days in an air tight container. You can also freeze some and then thaw overnight in the fridge.
Thank you so so sooo much for doing this, I love this theme idea and really needed some new inspiration this year!! :)
Great idea for a post, Angela! Thanks a ton! Those are some of my favorite kitchen staples, and this really inspires me to *finally* get around to using dry beans instead of canned!
Thanks so much!! I always pack my lunch, but you gave me some great ideas. I especially love the “quick soak” tip, I always forget to soak my beans! Ashley at the Edible Perspective posted about cooking beans in the crock pot as opposed to boiling and it’s been working perfectly. And I had no idea about keeping cut veggies in water. Great post!
Crock pot is a great idea. I heard that cooking chickpeas in a crockpot makes them larger too (which is a problem I have when cooking in a pot)
Yes, I’ve definitely noticed they’re larger! And I love not having to deal with waiting for them to cook, it just happens while I’m at school, or skimming bean foam. All around fantastic! Unless, of course, I’ve forgotten to soak them.
Angela, this is awesome! I’m returning to school for what I anxiously refer to as my ‘hell’ semester. It’s going to be an intense four months and eating healthy to properly fuel myself for days long study sessions is so important. Thanks!
Thank you! Lunches always stump me. These look delicious and I can’t wait to see what you have up your sleeve for the rest of the week :)
Great post Angela. Often my planning goes as far as making enough food the night before for lunch leftovers, but I am often stuck with days where we ate out and I have nothing to take! It’s a vicious cycle! I’m going to be whipping up a few of these today for sure!
thanks for doing this! I have to pack lunch every day and dinner two days! These recipes will really help me out!
Blessing in deguise! We are not planned people over here..but need to get there. Today I made up a master grocery shopping list with all those items and plan to laminate it and carry in my purse. My daughter will have no excuse that we don’t have good nutritious lunches. I can’t thank you enough!
Everything looks absolutely beautiful! Your soup is so bright and colorful – it’s gotta be those homegrown carrots, eh? Oh, and I gotta get me some goji berries. Superfood!
Oh Angela you legend!!!! Going to make tha bean salad for dinner tonight :) …. Thank you!
I actually stopped reading this post halfway through to go and make the carrot soup…I’m back now to tell you that I love you and read the second half of the post. Amazing..thank you!!
haha that’s cute :)
whoa Angela! This was some work! THANK YOU!!
I also know what you mean by: “Complete with food stained paper!” always the case for me.
Yes, a special day of remembrance too.
These look awesome Ange, the trail mix in particular!! I always make a big batch of something on Sundays for lunches. You’re so lucky to have carrots growing in your garden!! I don’t think I’d be able to wait to let them grow big enough!! :) Enjoy the rest of your Sunday!
The Go Go Glow mix looks absolutely delicious! I love the cacao nibs addition– awesome stuff :D
All of these meals look wonderful! I love the variety, yet frugality and ease of it all. The soup and trail mix lunch is easily my favorite. So much to choose from and munch on for a long, voluminous lunch. Yum! :)
Angela! I absolutely LOVE this post! As a weekly meal planner, this post will save so much time! Would you mind sharing, roughly, how much these ingredients cost all together?
Hey Jamie, I’m not sure how much all the ingredients cost as I used mostly what I had in my fridge already. The great thing about the recipes is that you can modify them based on what you already have in the kitchen. I would estimate that each lunch costs about $3-4.
Love this! I never knew that soaking cut veggies in water would keep them crunchy for the whole work week! I’ve been cutting mine every night for the next day’s lunch. Thanks for saving me time. I can’t wait to see what the other recipes are. :)
The cuke and carrots worked but the peppers got water logged and a bit soft…fyi! ;)
OH. MY. GLOW, this is a fantastic post. Thank you for the instructions and recipes. I can’t wait to see Wednesday, Thursday and Friday’s lunches!
Thanks for this post. . . it was MUCH needed. I’m in college, and sometimes I just can’t think of what to eat that’s quick so I resort to the same meals (sandwiches, brown rice + veggies) a lot.