If you are like me, you make someone in your life (or even yourself!) lunches every week that they can take to work or school. However, while you may have a lot of acceptable recipes in your repertoire, the same old thing gets exactly that, old. Suddenly, the will to try something new strikes you and you flock to Google and it is nothing but jar salads, quinoa paired with everything and everything, or meals that would be impossible to actually make ahead for a week like you want to.
Let's be real for a second here, health food and fresh vegetables are great and the recipes look really nice, but they are not the most convenient things to eat. Added to that, even if you could make them ahead and keep them tasting fresh, I know my boyfriend would open a container of quinoa and avocado then promptly close it back up and go to Pizza Hut for the lunch buffet.
If you want truly good make-ahead meals that aren't so fancy you need to make a special trip to Whole Foods to find obscure ingredients, give these six unpretentious meals a try.
Personally, I'm a big fan of meat pies and other doughy delights that you can cook in one big batch, freeze or wrap in foil and refrigerate, then heat up and eat without a fork. While meat pies require a lot of ingredients that you can prep and pair together, pizza pockets are easier. Just put all your favorite pizza toppings in with sauce and cheese, seal the dough up, and bake. If you want to get super serious about it, you can make your own bread dough, but the frozen bread dough you find in the freezer section of the supermarket works just fine. If you roll it out nice and thin it goes a long way and doesn't let your pizza pocket be more bread than toppings.
Parmesan Crusted Chicken Tenders
“Parmesan crusted” suggests a lot more work than actually goes into these. This recipe (by Kristine's Kitchen) is so simple it can make an easy, and even better, kid-friendly dinner, but the best part is that these chicken tenders freeze really well and reheat nicely. They pair well with a nice bag of veggies, and, to keep things interesting, you can use whatever dipping sauce is the fancy of your family for that particular week.
When it comes to making pot pies ahead of your week, the pot pie itself is super simple to make, but the key is picking the right container to put it in. Pot pies freeze excellently, but that just doesn’t matter if you put it in an aluminum container that you can’t microwave or in a container that is way too huge to enjoy in one sitting. Otherwise, a good pot pie is an excellent hearty lunch to perk up an otherwise dreary day.
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Mashed Potatoes and Meatloaf Balls
Ah, a more portable version of a classic home dinner. Homemade mashed potatoes, homemade meatballs, and a little gravy can really perky up a lunch. However, you should never, ever freeze mashed potatoes. Thawing them and reheating resulted in a mushy, grainy mess. This can be combated by mixing in a large amount of butter or cheese to keep the moisture from leeching out, but even then it is still not great. They can be made a week in advance and refrigerated though, or you could just put your meatloaf balls in a perfectly freezer-ready potato soup.
Burritos are a wonderful make-ahead lunch because you can add in so many different flavours inside, and they basically all freeze well. Except lettuce, but lettuce is usually the realm of tacos anyway. You can get as fancy (or as secretly healthy) as you’d like, or you can just stick with a simple shredded meat, refried beans, and cheese all wrapped up tight in a tortilla. If you get a particularly big piece of meat to roast up, you can make enough burritos to freeze for a month.
You can also cut the tortillas in half, fill them with meat and cheese, roll tightly, bake, and then freeze for some exciting little taquitos. You might be required to eat more than one to fill you up, but they are less messy to eat than a burrito.
Rice is pretty much a staple in the make-ahead bulk lunch world. It is a good filler and you can flavour it up nicely with very little ingredients. Fried rice is an easy way to do that. Basically you can use whatever meat is cheap and put in any veggies that suit your whim. However, if you every get sick of soy sauce, you can really shake it up by turning it into taco rice. This basically just involves cooking the rice with taco seasoning, diced tomatoes, chillies, and black beans then spreading a little cheddar over the top. When reheated, it creates a great new flavour and it can also double as bulk burrito filling.
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- Hot ham and cheese (Try a fancier bread to give a better burst of flavour and texture.)
- Spaghetti and meatballs (Noodles and sauce are always a classic. If you want to save money, make your own meatballs.)
- Pizza bagels (When you put pizza on a bagel, you can eat pizza anytime.)
- McMuffin Knock-offs (Eggs, cheese, bacon/sausage/Canadian bacon – all stuffed in an English muffin. Freezes great.)
- Chili (You can make so much chilli for cheap, and if your containers don’t leak, it is an excellent lunch, as are most soups.)
Pancakes (Guys, sometimes a day just requires pancakes, and they freeze really well.)
Work Lunch Pro Tip - Cook Considerately
are so many great meals that you can make ahead, freeze, or store in the refrigerator. However, even if a recipe sounds or is delicious, you shouldn’t always make it for a work lunch. A lot of meals feature aromatics that might be a nuisance in the lunch room. Typically strong smells like onions or garlic should be kept to a minimum just so you don’t become “that” person with a super fragrant lunches.
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