As a homeschooling mother, I rarely have to pack a lunch for my kids, but I do have to pack a lunch for my husband. Packing tasty, husband-pleasing lunches seems just as difficult as packing kid-pleasing lunches. We finally hit upon a system that seems to work, so I thought I’d share it with all of you. Whether you’re packing your own lunch for the office, a lunch for your kids, or a lunch for your spouse, the same principles can be used to make sure you serve a filling, nutrient-dense meal.
So, here’s my system for creating grain-free lunches.
As with most kitchen endeavors, it begins with prep work.
The key to making easy lunches is to do most of the hard work earlier in the week.
1) Always have ready-to-grab veggies and fruits available. My Farmer’s Market meets on Thursday afternoons, and I come home with bags full of vegetables & fruits. Before I put them away, I prep every last bit of them that will keep for at least a week. Everything gets washed before going into the refrigerator, and any vegetable that can handle it also gets peeled, sliced, and diced and set into the fridge in its own container. Vegetables that don’t hold up well to refrigeration (like tomatoes) are simply washed and kept in a large screened fruit basked on my counter. This process takes me about thirty minutes to an hour and eliminates at least 15 minutes a day of prep work. I start my week armed with pre-cut carrot sticks, diced bell peppers, chopped onions & garlic, chopped greens, and sliced summer squash.
2) Always have at least three homemade dips and dressings on hand. The three most popular in my house are a Tzatziki sauce (yogurt, cucumber, olive oil, and dill), Tahini dressing (tahini, olive oil, tamari, ginger, and lemon), and Herbed Sour Cream (sour cream, mayo, garlic, onion, dill, and parsley).
3) Boil at least a dozen eggs for the week. We keep them in their own specially-marked container so we don’t accidentally confuse them with our raw eggs. These make convenient snacks and quickly convert into egg salad.
4) Grate your cheese for the week. We always buy our hard cheese in large blocks, then slice or grate according to need. Having grated cheese on hand is naturally convenient for topping salads or stirring into a roux for a quick homemade cheese sauce.
5) Make a big batch of seasoned ground beef for the week. Our favorite is ground beef with homemade taco seasoning, but we also enjoy an Italian-herb variety every now and then.
6) Keep meaty left-overs separate. When putting away your leftovers from dinner, put the leftover meats in a separate container from your veggies or other sides. That way you’ve got easy access to these quick salad toppers.
The next step is a simple, stream-lined assembly.
Now that you’ve got all these foods in convenient, ready-to-eat states, making lunch is as simple as assembling a daily tiffin full of food. (Here’s the tiffin we use, pictured at right.)
In the morning, I layer the lower tin with salad greens and veggies. The top tin holds whatever protein we’ve got ready. I prefer to use the previous night’s leftovers. If there are no leftovers, I use the pre-cooked taco meat. Sometimes I mash up some eggs with bacon grease, mayo, salt & pepper for a quick egg salad, or I stir some homemade mayo and pickle relish into tuna for a quick tuna salad. The top tin also holds the little sidekick container with whatever dressing or sauce goes best with the protein.
I also pack a snack of either hard-boiled eggs, sliced braunsweiger, or sliced cheese, nuts, and whole fruits.
As a finishing touch, I pour re-heated leftover homemade soup made with bone broth into a small thermos (we use this one, pictured at right). Our favorites are Tomato Basil Soup, Clam Chowder with Bacon & Green Chiles, French Onion Soup, Egg Drop Soup, and Tom Kha Gai.
Tah Dah! Say hello to easy, grain-free lunches.
So, what system works for you? How do you streamline your lunch on-the-go?
(photo by mittenmachen)
Great ideas! I need to work on this area in my life and stop relying on leftovers from dinner, because many times there aren’t any leftovers. I like the idea of the precooked seasoned beef.
Yes, the seasoned ground beef is a WIN all around: it’s inexpensive; it’s tasty; and we’ve got a ton of it in our freezer from our annual order of grass-fed beef.
Primal Toad says
Great lunch ideas and AWESOME new design!! It kicks ass.
My dehydrator just got shipped today so I can’t wait to make some crazy beef jerky along with other dried foods. I bought it for $65 on Amazon. There are a few different ones that I almost went with too. People buy jerky but why not make it and save hundreds of dollars? Why not grow your own basil and then dry it so you have it year round?
I am going camping in August and I can’t wait to being a ton of food that I dehydrate. Most people eat at work and eating healthy can become incredibly easy if you have a dehydrator around!
I’ve experimented with dehydrating before but don’t have a dehydrator right now. So, that’s another good lunch idea that was completely NOT on my radar. Thanks!
P.S. Thanks for the kudos on the site redesign!
Jessie Jo Lundell via Facebook says
I love your tips, thank you! Prepping as soon as I get home from the market is the biggest time saver for me as well. If I have a free morning, I get as much dinner prep done as I can.
Food Renegade via Facebook says
@Jessie — My aunt does the same thing. She usually has dinner “done” by late-morning so that she can ENJOY her afternoon.
Jo at Jo's Health Corner says
Thanks for the great lunch ideas! I like to keep boiled eggs in the fridge too. I love your new design!
Thanks! It’s so strange. It’s like sporting a new hairdo or a killer dress. Every time I get a compliment on the new design I feel a little giddy.
These tips are brilliant – and timely too! I’ve just started a ‘serious’ job (the ‘chained-to-the-desk’ deal) and I’ve been intermittently fasting every day recently, basically because I can’t get organised enough to prepare a paleo meal, and I won’t eat crap. It’s getting difficult to concentrate for the full 8 hours though, so I’m going to try to transform my routine a bit. I always enjoy cutting up veggies anyway because I like snacking on my efforts. 🙂 Great site by the way.
Glad you like it! I hope this week is the week you get organized!
All great tips!
I make a batch of meatballs for the freezer every week. I usually have at least two types of meatballs I can pull out of the freezer and cook up in a hurry.
I’m sure I can’t be the only one who panics when I realize I have three dozen eggs in the house.
What a great idea to have some meatballs handy for a quick lunch. I’m going to incorporate this into our menu plan in the next few weeks. I mean, who doesn’t like to eat a meatball??? 🙂
Actually I panic when I have only 2 dozen eggs left. I’ve gone from ordering 4 dozen every week from our local farmer to now getting 6 dozen.
I’ve got a recipe for Make-Ahead Frozen Meatballs. They’re great dipped in a Tzatziki sauce.
Alexis Dunigan via Facebook says
I love braunschweiger but cannot find a local source without nitrites. 🙁 Where do you get yours?
I don’t have a local source. I’ve bought nitrate-free organ meat sausages online before. But on the whole, I’m not too concerned about the nitrates in an organ meat sausage. No one tells you that the nitrates in conventionally grown produce (like spinach) can be anywhere from 10 to 100 times more concentrated than what you’ll find in a cured meat because of the synthetic high-nitrogen fertilizers used. In my mind, the good from eating liver and other organ meats far outweighs any danger posed by minimal amounts of nitrates. Obviously, I prefer nitrate-free organ meat sausages and will do it whenever possible, but I don’t sweat it if I can’t find it.
Wellshire farms, distributed nationally, makes liverwurst either from turkey or pork with no added nitrates. I find it at whole foods.
Go to US Wellness Beef. They carry a wide assortment of liverwurst, braunschweiger and some other like meat products.
Yes, I’ve enjoyed their organ meat sausages more than just about any other of their products. (That and tallow from grass-fed beef. LOVE that stuff, too!)
Lori @ Laurel of Leaves says
Such great tips! I’ll be implementing some of your ideas just to have a quick lunch or dinner on stand-by when I don’t feel like cooking.
Amy Love @ Real Food Whole Health says
Hey Kristin! GREAT ideas! We are big on prep ahead as well as batch cooking. I love the tiffin containers! And the new design is just fabulous- fantastic job 🙂
First of: love the new look! Great and, what-ya-call-it… sleak? Nice, anyway.
I am wondering though: when you prepare things like fruit and cheese ahead for a full week, won’t it spoil? I’m always one for the ‘they come in their own packaging’-theory. I’d imagine that fruits already cut up will lose some of their vitamins; wholefood chees (without the conservation stuff) might mould, even in the fridge. Have you ever encountered such problems, near the end of the week?
Well, I don’t cut up things that won’t last anywhere from a couple of days to a week. So, for example, avocados stay whole until I actually need them. But some fruits, like cantaloupe, do well pre-sliced and eaten over the next 2-3 days. I’ve never had pre-shredded cheese mold on me before I’ve used it up, but we go through it quickly!
The Table of Promise says
Great post. I love all the ideas. I have to get really serious about packing lunches for my kids when they start school and daycare in the fall.
Where did you buy that tiffin? I have never seen stainless steel ones!
And I like the website redesign. It looks really nice.
I got the tiffin on Amazon. You can follow the link in the post to check it out, if you want!
The Table of Promise says
It is no longer available on amazon 🙁
I’ll find one 🙂
Oh, bummer! I bet they’ll re-stock soon. There are a half-dozen other stainless steel tiffin styles on Amazon made by the same manufacturer that are probably worth checking out, too.
Mike Lieberman says
The first tip is a huge time saver when it comes to preparing meals. I need to get back to doing that again. If you have a mandolin or food processor, it can help to cut the time back even more.
Barb @ A Life in Balance says
I need to get back into prepping veggies. It is on my list in Springpad, though I don’t stick to that list, obviously.
Love the lunch box. I found a rectangular one that fits the lunch boxes for my kids. It has 2 layers, and works well for the less messy lunches.
Love the new design! Two questions for you:
1) What brand sour cream do you buy? I’ve been trying to find a good brand that doesn’t have rbgh in it, but haven’t found one that even lists anything about that on it. Argh, wish I had the option for raw milk!
2) I’ve considered pre-cutting veggies when I get home from the market, but my husband insists that if I pre-cut the onions and garlic they are going to lose their flavor & nutrients. Do you find that to be true?
1) I’m all over the map on my sour cream. A good thing to note: anything organic will NOT have synthetic growth hormones in it. I’ve bought it from my dairy, from the farmer’s market, made it myself (a cup of cream with a tablespoon of buttermilk left out overnight does the trick!), and bought national brands like Organic Valley and Horizon.
2) You have to be picky about which vegetables you cut up. But as long as you’re doing it to a vegetable that can tolerate it well (like an onion), it’s not a big deal. As to losing nutrients, I can’t imagine that something that got picked by my farmer mere days (at most) before I ate it has less nutrients than something I bought from the supermarket that’s been in cold-storage for a long time. (That can actually be up to a year! Trust me, my husband used to work in the warehouses of Harry & David. And they store fruit FOREVER.)
Kalona Super Natural makes a great sour cream, also full fat cottage cheese, milk and cream and starters are the only ingredients. Many coops here carry their products. I choose kalona over organic valley because kalona uses no gums, is made with mostly grass fed milk and the milk is non homogenized.
Great ideas. I have the kid lunch thing down well. But sometimes my mind goes blank when planning lunch for myself. I also like the vegetable prep idea, that will make the rest of the week much easier, especially the busy days!
NICE POST!!!!!! I do very similar things to make fixing good foods~FAST!!!!
Tiffany (As For My House) says
Thank you for this helpful gathering of tips!
Prepping the food as soon as I get back from the Farmer’s Market is probably the most important take-away for me – that would help avoid things sitting around because it’s too much work/time to prep them when it occurs to me I could use them.
I’m new to the blog, so you may have already shared – I’d be interested in your dressing recipes. I know it’s simple, and largely a matter of taste, but as someone new to REAL cooking, I’m hesitant to leap… 🙂
Good idea. I often don’t post some of my most simple recipes because I just don’t even think of them as recipes! They’re just casual, easy things I whip together according to our tastes. I expect others to do likewise. So far, I’ve gotten requests for my dressings, refried beans, and mac & cheese made with rice pasta. I need to get on it, don’t it?!
Gyata Stormon says
Awesome post. Thanks. I get frustrated by the feeling that I work full time in the kitchen to prepare three meals a day. Prepping the whole week of veggies ahead – I like it.
Sarah Smith says
We primarily use frozen leftovers as lunches for my husband to take to work. Whenever I’m making a soup, stew, or even meatballs and veggies, we freeze a few portions in glass containers. That way, there is variety in the freezer (usually at least 4-5 different items to choose from). Then he re-heats these in a toaster oven at work. I try to make at least one or two meals per week that will result in some freezer meals.
My husband is lacking a bit of variety for snacks, though. I like your idea of having several dips on hand. My poor husband ends up taking just some plain yogurt or carrot sticks on most days. I’m sure he would love the added variety of more dips. I also like the idea to boil eggs for the week. I often boil them a few at a time throughout the week, but it would be better to plan ahead and boil a bunch at once. That would also help me have a quick-and-healthy snack on hand at all times while we’re at home.
I love all of these ideas! I’ve been struggling to figure out a easy way to cut grains out of my lunch, but it’s been hard because I’m a surveyor, and am often out in the middle of beyond, and don’t have access to a microwave, a table or any other niceties when it’s lunch time. I settle for pb&js, trail mix, and a fruit just because it doesn’t need silverware…Obviously, I need to rethink this!
(new to this site; so far, I love it! It’s a great resource for anyone else trying to manage a healthier diet!)
Christina Kalix says
Hi, I’m new to food renegade. Thanks for the article, but major disappointment that the chickpea tomato medley (?) in the picture is not featured as a recipe! What a tease! Do you have a recipe for this, it looks kinda tasty and I’m a newbie looking for recipes. Big Thanks for the taco seasoning and mayo recipes!!
Quickpea Chickpea Salad
2 cups cooked (or canned) chickpeas
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 small carrot, grated
chopped herbs, dried or fresh (basil and parsley are nice)
freshly ground black pepper (lots)
Toss all ingredients in a bowl. Taste and adjust flavors. Serve over cooked grains (try quinoa for added protein) or salad greens. Serves 2.
as seen on Mitten Machen
Thank You! Now I will go google “mitten machen”…..
Hi! I love all the ideas in this post and the stainless steel tiffin as well. But…how does your husband reheat the leftovers in the tiffin once at work?