Work, school, play: tips for on-the go meals
Plan healthy, portable meals the whole family will enjoy
A weekday lunch is the food prep wildcard. You can start your family off right with a hearty breakfast and end the day with a lovingly prepared dinner, but nailing that midday meal can be downright tricky. Rather than tossing a few items in a brown bag and hoping for the best, follow these five simple tips for planning healthy and satisfying options on the go.
Step up your prep
Sunday night meal prep can feel like a daunting task, but planning a menu for the week doesn’t have to mean cooking five unique dishes. Think of the pre-week prep as an opportunity to make your life easier.
Give yourself options by nailing down the raw (and, in some cases, cooked) materials that will help you to throw an exciting, nutritious meal together on the fly.
1. Roast broccoli, zucchini, sweet potatoes and any other favorite veggies, then store them separately in plastic containers for mix- and-match variety throughout the week.
2. Grill and slice some chicken, even if you’re not yet sure whether it will ultimately top a Greek salad or fill a burrito.
3. Prepare large batches of grains and healthy starches—think brown rice, couscous, or whole wheat pastas seal them tight, then dip into them as needed for the next five days.
It’s a fun way to inspire a bit of kitchen creativity, and “Friday You” will thank “Sunday You” for thinking ahead.
Break it down
Storing your ingredients separately and securely in the fridge just makes sense for keeping them fresher longer, but you can also leave them uncombined in the lunchbox, with a note specifying “some assembly required.” Deconstructed meals are fun for the whole family—especially with a proper set of multi-size storage containers. They’re also a tasty alternative to that peanut butter and jelly sandwich that’s getting soggier by the second.
For kids, try a build-your-own taco bowl by packing separate stashes of shredded cheese, lettuce, diced tomatoes, and rice and beans, plus a side of salsa and your protein of choice. To satisfy more refined palates, consider a flatbread with goat cheese, figs, and arugula. And don't forget the universal truth: Lunch just tastes better when you make it yourself.
Try a DIY bento lunch box
For packed lunches involving foods that shouldn’t mix (Ever had a Clementine wedge dipped in hummus?), create a DIY bento box. Try separating competing flavors in silicone muffin baking cups, or even paper cups, with foods that won’t stick or drip providing a bit of ballast in between (Little known fact: Carrot sticks are nature’s scaffolding.) For the office, try this foolproof method of crispier salad construction:
- Dressing at the bottom of the container
- Add sturdy vegetables: that’s broccoli, carrots, radishes, onions—you’re building a fortress of salad-tude here.
- Next layer in your protein
- Follow with your greens of choice
- Top off with the softer produce, like diced tomatoes and cucumbers.
This layering approach keeps balsamic-based oversaturation at bay until you’re ready to toss.
Make it social
Coordinating an office lunch among friends and coworkers is a great way to get everyone eating healthier. The idea: Instead of personal portions, everyone brings one dish that will feed three or four people—a fruit salad, potato salad, tortilla roll-ups, a chilled soup. Next thing you know, it’s a party in the break room, no special occasion necessary.
For kids, eliminate unauthorized lunchroom swaps by coordinating a trade agreement with a friend (and his/her parents). One day a week, pack a couple items for a friendly exchange. Grapes for your apple slices? Yogurt for your string cheese? Little ones will enjoy the dealmaking, and you’ll still know they’re eating well.
Borrow from breakfast
Prepping a hearty breakfast for yourself shouldn’t leave you too tired to pack lunch for the kiddos. Save time by repurposing your morning fuel-up into something the kids will love a few hours later. Simply add a stop on the assembly line: Halving a melon? Seal and pack the remainder (containers with built-in ice packs keep foods cool for hours). Yogurt parfait? Tuck some granola and chia seeds away and let them do the sprinkling. Even a smoothie holds up with the proper insulation—and tastes an awful lot like a fruity dessert. With a little creativity, the most important meal of the day can do double duty as, well, the second most important meal of the day.