Making lunches for the week just got easier.

Corey Olsenfood

Packing lunch is a popular resolution for a reason: It feels like such a considerable effort, worthy of goal setting. But while I’ll admit it requires some advanced planning and a fair amount of self-control (your co-worker’s grilled cheese will always be appealing), I've learned that meal-prepping doesn’t have to be stressful or time consuming.

I used to think packing lunch mandated making a week’s worth of lunches over the weekend. In addition to cooking Sunday night dinner, I would prepare a separate big-batch dish for lunches. I would stress about how to store everything and whether it would keep all week—and by the time Wednesday rolled around, I craved variety. Clearly, I needed to make a change.

With the start of the new year, I decided to participate in Epicurious’ #Cook90 Challenge, cooking 3 meals a day for the month of January. It took less than one week for the project to shed light on my biggest meal-prepping misstep: I had never before taken advantage of leftovers. When I began bringing my leftovers for lunch, it cut my prep time down considerably.

For example, when I made shrimp with a stew-y mixture of tomatoes, white beans and pesto for dinner, I packed the stew for lunch and swapped the shrimp for a whole-wheat pita. The next night, I stuffed roasted sweet potatoes with curried mushrooms and herby yogurt, then packed a second sweet potato with cooked grains and leftover pesto (from the shrimp) for lunch. One night, I topped tempeh chilaquiles with a fried egg, then opted for an (easier-to-pack) avocado the next day. Sometimes, I don’t change a single thing. A slice of strata and a side of kale salad necessitated no add-ins or substitutions.

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My advice is this: Use your time on Sunday to buy groceries for a week of homemade dinners, and to prep a few easy staples, such as a batch of grains, a few hard boiled eggs, and jar of vinaigrette. Then, as you cook dinner during the week, intentionally make enough to have leftovers for lunch. That way, even on days you order carry-out or eat at a restaurant, you will have set yourself up with enough basics in your fridge to make a quick grain bowl or salad for lunch.