When I first moved to New York, I bought my lunch every day from the cornucopia of amazing options I had at my fingertips—dumplings, Chipotle, sushi, salads, street food, more Chipotle! But when I changed jobs and worked from home, I realized I had been spending in an inordinate amount of money on not-so-healthy food. But at home, I could make a massive, delicious, healthy spread with the help of a thoughtfully built grocery list.
Now, three years back in a regular office, I used what I learned making my lunches at home to help me and my always-short-on-time self to pack a daily lunch that is monstrous (I require lots of food), healthy and flavorful. I’m not meal prepping in the sense that I’m pre-packing all of my lunches in a million different containers. Instead, I’m making batches of sides to mix and match together on a whim.
What you need to get started:
1. One big, lightweight, reusable container. I like this one by Sistema.
2. Yeah, that’s it.
So grab your adult-size lunch box; here’s your grocery list for meal prepping this week.
We were joking in the office that kale went from the green of hipster menus to just another leaf chasing after cauliflower. But trendy or not, kale is still amazing. In fact, it’s a superfood. Packed with fiber, vitamins A, C and K, minerals like calcium and even protein, I love knowing that buying one big bag of kale takes care of a lot of the things my body needs that I don’t really have time to think about.
What I buy: Chopped kale greens
How I use it:
- Salads: I’ll use this as the base of my bring-to-work salads. I always let the kale sit in the dressing (more on that later) before I eat it, which breaks down the hearty leaf and makes it taste better.
- Bowls: Olive-oil sautéed kale with tons of garlic and a splash of apple cider vinegar is one of my favorite things. I’ll eat it for breakfast with an egg on top, and add some crispy quinoa for dinner (again, more on that later).
A BIG BATCH OF A GRAIN OR PASTA
I need a large quantity of food to feel full, so having a big ol’ batch of gluten-free grains in my fridge transforms a light meal into a hearty one. No, I’m not gluten-free, but I feel much better (aka I don’t need to nap under my desk) when I scarf down a bowl of quinoa as opposed to regular noodles.
How I use it: I’ll cook up the whole box or bag, let it cool and store it in the fridge. I’ll use a couple (OK, a few) spoonfuls to bulk out my salad, or I’ll use it as the base of a bowl for dinner. And don’t be afraid to re-heat your quinoa up in an oil to make it taste better. Or go all out with a quinoa “fried rice” (add: sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, any chopped-up veggies you have in the fridge and an egg).
SLOW-COOKED CHICKEN BREAST
Nothing takes an office lunch from zero to hero like some shredded chicken. Dump your chicken breasts in a slow cooker with…well, literally whatever you want. You cannot mess up slow-cooking chicken. I cover the chicken with water and/or broth of some sort. Season liberally with salt, pepper, chili powder, garlic cloves, lemon halves, etc. Eight hours later, drain the broth (you can use it for other recipes, but I honestly never do) and shred the chicken. Let it cool and pop in the fridge.
What I buy: I use skinless, boneless breasts since it makes cooking and prepping that much easier, but thighs and legs are also fair game. A pack of three, skinless, boneless chicken breasts can usually get me through the week.
How I use it: I use it in my salad. I feed it to my dog. I add it to soup.
I love Asian-inspired cucumber salad. Best of all, it’s stupid-easy to make. You can slice them mandolin-thin or whack them with a cutting board and cut them into bigger chunks for that “smashed” salad vibe. Dice an onion or shallot and a clove or two of garlic, toss it all in a bowl with the cukes and season zealously with lots of salt, red pepper chili flakes, pepper, paprika (I discovered this because I accidentally used paprika once and wound up loving it). Smother it in a brew of equal parts rice wine vinegar to sesame oil with some dashes of red wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar, cover and put in your fridge to do its thing.
What I buy: I prefer Persian cucumbers—the long, thin ones that are less watery and a little crispier.
How I use it: I will snack on this as-is, but I’ll mostly use it as a flavor-forward (can’t believe I just used that term) vegetable on my salad. It also doubles as a salad dressing. At home, I’ll use it as a dinner side or in a bowl since it adds a boost of acid. I would honestly bathe in it.
A ROASTED VEGETABLE
You can roast vegetables. YOU CAN ROAST VEGETABLES. If they didn't turn out well last time, it's not because you suck at cooking. It’s probably because you under-seasoned (hint: I almost always double or triple the amount of herbs recipes suggest) or because you overcrowded the sheet pan and the veggies steamed instead of roasted. But really, all you need to do is pick a veggie you like that’s in season—broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, etc.—pour on some olive oil, lots of salt and pepper and maybe a dash of your favorite vinegar. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, then pop the veggies in until they’re crispy and delicious.
What I buy: Usually, I’ll buy either broccoli, cauliflower or little fingerling potatoes (they’re like buttuhhhh).
How I use it: Same as the cucumber salad: I’ll add to my big kale salad, I’ll eat on its own and I’ll use as a side.
Whoever decided eggs were strictly a breakfast food was an idiot. Eggs are an every-meal food. Learn to make a jammy egg and your life will be better for it.
What I buy: A dozen of the best priced, least hormonally assaulted, most cage-free eggs.
How I use it: Round out a boring bowl of rice and kale with a fried egg on top. Hard-boil (to aforementioned jammy perfection) to eat on the run or chop it up in a salad.
PANTRY ITEMS I KEEP STOCKED
Red pepper flakes, olive oil (duh), rice wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, canned chickpeas (add to any salad or bowl) and lemons.