Packing lunch must be one of the most annoying tasks ever. The thought of waking up early just to prepare my afternoon meal will make my skin crawl. Not knowing what you’re going to eat for the rest of the week is a really stressful problem for many university students. If you’re a studious full-time student (which I’m sure you are… maybe not. My site doesn’t discriminate. Food lovers unite <3), the worst is during midterms or finals when you are cramming nonstop: cramming not only mundane facts in your brain, but cramming lousy junk food in your body, too.
I received an excellent question from a follower who spends the entire day at school and often buys foods that are unhealthy for her. Her question is how can she “preserve food for the entire week and save money and not put on weight?” This is a very good question that people of all ages, not just college students, should ask themselves. (forget being a full-time student; eating healthfully is a full-time responsibility for everybody!)
For me, having a week-long meal plan during my undergraduate years became a lifestyle change. Not only did I become healthier by avoiding processed foods and take-out meals, but I learned how to have self-restraint, cook better, and enjoy and appreciate simplicity.
Here are my three rules to live by if you want to learn how to pack your lunch for the whole week in advance:
1) Cook in bulk — basically, make enough to have leftovers
When I cook, I generally try to make enough food so that I only have 1 to 2 servings of leftovers afterwards. By doing so, I don’t get tired of a dish too quickly. It’s called leftovers… not “leftovers-over-and-over-again.” I cannot explain how nice it is to be able to grab a Tupperware container filled with delicious leftovers for lunch during the week. It certainly makes life a lot easier, and sometimes when you’re hungry and tired, you just want a meal that tastes like it was just prepared. A good rule of thumb is that leftovers shouldn’t stay in the fridge for more than 3-4 days (yes, that includes the sandwich you got from that weird cafe last week).
2) Have ingredients prepped for any occasion
Choose a day of the week when you’re not too busy (perhaps a Sunday?) and prepare food for the rest of the week. For example, you can prepare some ingredients for salads throughout the week. Have some hardboiled eggs, and then chop up some fresh vegetables (like bell peppers, jicama, red onion, cucumbers, mushrooms, zucchini) and store them in an airtight container. Try to prepare ingredients that can be used for several dishes. These vegetables aren’t just perfect for salads! You can also turn them into fajitas, burritos, omelettes, frittatas, stir-fry, pasta stir-fry… anything goes! Because these ingredients are prepped, you will save a lot of time in the morning when you whip up a quick snack or meal for the afternoon.
3) Eat nutrient-dense foods
By doing so, you will lose the urge to buy small unnecessary food items like chips, sodas, lattes, etc. Look for foods in their whole form, and try to avoid foods that you have to unwrap! Things like raw fruits and vegetables are excellent with a few tablespoons of nut butter or any delicious spread. Grab an apple, an orange, a banana, some baby carrots, celery sticks, a container of yogurt, whole wheat toast, or a package of instant oatmeal, and your lunch experience will no longer be a hassle — these are all easy things to throw into your lunch bag. Raw vegetables can last a whole week, and when prepared properly, fruits and vegetables will be your gateway to a healthy diet. And when you eat nutrient-dense foods, you don’t have to eat as much throughout the day to stay satiated. This is an excellent tip that my good friend gave me (she’s studying metabolic biology, so she knows what’s up).
I’ll admit it: preparing lunch for the whole week takes a little bit of work at first, and you’ll have to get creative sometimes to avoid a monotonous diet. But I’ve provided some recipes below for you to get an idea of how to prepare lunch without stress!
Healthy (and satisfying) salads that store well:
Lemon Cranberry Quinoa Salad
Greek Orzo Salad
Couscous Salad (with tomatoes, mint, cucumber, lemon)
Pesto Pasta Salad