As much as we love following recipes, when it comes to meal-prepping for the week ahead(Opens in a new window), it’s worth taking a different approach. Instead of preparing five different recipes for the five-day work week (how time-consuming!) or making a week’s worth of one dish (boooring!), prepare simple building blocks that both keep well in the fridge and mix and match well together.
You’ll want to set aside two to three hours to get all your meal-prepping done for the week, then you can easily build lunches within minutes throughout the week.
Want more ideas? Try these healthy meal prep lunch recipes, weekday meal prep breakfast ideas, plus great tips for making meal prep as easy as possible.
What Makes a Good Building Block?
Versatility and simplicity is key. You shouldn’t have to spend too much time preparing one individual building block, and it should be simple enough to pair with another flavor (i.e. roast or grilled chicken can be swapped into a variety meals: tacos, salads, pasta). At the end of the day, your goal is efficiency!
Here are some basic building blocks to get you started with meal prep:
Cooked grains are the ultimate foundational building block since they pair well with virtually everything and anything. Larissa from OXO’s Cleaning and Organizing team likes to cook a big pot of grains to use throughout the week and portion it out into separate containers(Opens in a new window). Change up your grain of the week regularly so you don’t get bored: rice (white, brown, black, wild), spelt, wheat berries, millet, barley, farro, quinoa. The options are limitless. Be sure to rinse your grains(Opens in a new window) well (and here's why(Opens in a new window)). Need help? Learn how to cook every kind of grain with this one easy technique.
Roasted vegetables are the ultimate veggie building block since all you have to do is chop up whatever’s in season, toss them with olive oil and seasoning, then throw them into the oven. Brassicas (i.e. cauliflower or broccoli), squash (i.e. acorn, pumpkin, butternut) and root vegetables (i.e. sweet potatoes, fingerling potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes) are all great to roast. If you’ve got more than you need, blend ‘em up into a pureed soup(Opens in a new window). Learn how to roast every kind of veggies with our handy guide.
Good Tip: When roasting a big batch of vegetables, divide them up into groups within the same tray and add different spices (keep it simple with thyme or rosemary or jazz it up with curry powder) to each group so you can add variety to your meals for the upcoming week.
Add a protein source to each meal to ensure you have a balanced diet and enough energy to get through the day. Stir-fried tofu or roast chicken are great ways to get in some protein. If you’re short on time, grab a rotisserie chicken and shred the meat(Opens in a new window) to repurpose in meals throughout the entire week. Eggs are a favorite source of protein, not only because eggs are wonderful in all forms, but you can make a batch ahead of time. Boil a batch of eggs (check out this trick for boiling eggs in a muffin pan!(Opens in a new window)) or make a frittata to slice up and add to your meal for an extra protein boost.
Dress It Up
While you’ll want to err on the side of simplicity when seasoning your grains, proteins, and vegetables, dressing is where you can really let strong flavors shine. Blend herbs, garlic, olive oil and vinegar (throw in a salted anchovy for a touch of umami) together to make a pesto. Lua from OXO’s Food Storage Team makes salad dressing in a shaker(Opens in a new window) in the beginning of the week, then stores it in the fridge to use throughout the week. Lynna’s tahini garlic and ginger dressing(Opens in a new window) is a good place to start, or try one of our other delicious homemade salad dressings.
While all of the above requires a degree of prep beforehand, don’t forget there are also on-the-fly add-ins that don’t require any (or very minimal) prep that can add some excitement to your lunch permutations. Here are a few add-ins you can pack with your lunch that require no preparation beforehand.
Bring an avocado and a slicer(Opens in a new window) to add in fresh slices of avocado to your meal so you don’t need to pre-cut it and end up with brown, oxidized avocado (because nobody likes a sad-looking brown avo!)
Adding in canned fish, like sardines or tuna, to vegetables and grains are a holy trifecta that only requires a can opener.
Don’t forget these guys! Add in fresh cucumber slices or cherry tomatoes to your meal. Easy peasy, and no cooking required.
Meal Prep Essentials
Last but not least, here are some products to help make meal prep even easier:
Smart Seal Containers
Keep your building blocks as well as your lunches in airtight containers so there are no unwanted spills in your bag or the fridge.
Extend the life of your fresh produce in a Greensaver so you can make use of all the produce you buy and reduce waste.
Twist & Pour Salad Dressing Mixer
This mixer not only keeps the dressing fresh with an airtight seal but the blades inside allow you to easily re-emulsify the dressing by giving it a quick twist.
On-The-Go Silicone Squeeze Bottle
Bring your dressing to-go and easily squeeze it out when you’re ready to add it to any meal. You’ll want to dress your food right before you eat so you don’t end up with a soggy lunch.