Meal planning. It’s something I actually look forward to! I create dinner menus and do our grocery shopping every two weeks, and I always look forward to trying something new off of Pinterest or from a favorite foodie blog. While dinner meal planning is my strong suit, I have fallen short in the past when it comes to planning out lunches for myself.
My husband is the kind of person who could pretty much eat a sandwich with Cheez-Its everyday for lunch for the rest of his life and be perfectly okay with it. Sometimes we throw in some cans of soup, frozen burritos or leftovers, but he is primarily a sandwich guy, and well, I’m not. Every once in a while a sandwich sounds good, but I can’t do that every day. I’m a firm believer in leftovers whenever possible, but there are in-between times when I’m left with this uncertainty of what I’ll do about lunch. I don’t want to get lunch out all the time because that can get expensive and I’d rather save my “eating out” funds for sharing with the family, so I’ve tried to be better about planning lunch options for myself. For some reason, I never forget sandwich supplies, soups or burritos for the hubs, or all of my daughter’s favorite fruits and yogurt, but I almost always forget about myself.
When it comes down to it, I’ve discovered that I need a rotation of lunch items that are easy to prepare in advance or to keep at work for the week, with the intention of leftovers at least twice a week. My all-time favorite working mom, prepare-in-advance lunch is salad in a jar! I’m sure some of you have seen this on Pinterest. I am an avid user of this concept and have been doing it for a few years now, and I wanted to share some tips I’ve learned along the way.
Make these on Sunday night and only prepare three at a time. While you can make five days’ worth, I have found that I inevitably will have a leftovers night, or a day where I don’t want salad for lunch and may want that sandwich, so then a jar ends up going to waste into the weekend. If I only prepare three, I’m more likely to eat them all. If you find that you only want salad for the week, then go for five! They will keep until Friday just fine.
Step One: Measure your dressing. Salad dressing is what can quickly kill the “healthy rating” of your salad. Using too much tends to be most people’s downfall. I measure two tablespoons into the bottom of my jar first, before adding anything else. The point of this is you want the dressing and your greens (added last) to be far away from each other to prevent a soggy mess. I always use a vinaigrette, whether it be Greek (my favorite), Italian or a simple balsamic blend.
Step Two: Be generous with your protein. I always add my protein on top of my dressing so it has a chance to marinate in the dressing. You have a lot of options for this – from chicken or tuna to beans. Sometimes I use a large can of chicken and split it between the three jars, or I’ll boil some chicken breasts and shred them. Be generous with your protein so you’re not as hungry later. Using only veggies will likely leave you feeling very hungry and imbalanced within an hour. If you’re vegetarian, load up on the beans! Chick peas are wonderful in salad and are a great protein+carb replacement. I split one can between three jars. I also use shelled edamame a lot. If you’d like to get a little more carb in there, quinoa is a fantastic texture added to salad. This would be the place to do it.
Step Three: Load up with favorite veggies and dairy (optional). I literally use an entire roma tomato (sometimes 1.5) in each jar. I also tend to use things like cucumber, bell pepper, banana pepper, mushrooms, sugar snap peas, etc. Use whatever you like and load up! To limit waste, I try to split one large bell pepper between the three jars, half a cucumber between the three, etc. My goal is to leave just enough left over to use the next week without any waste beyond that. I also enjoy some feta or goat cheese in the salad. So good!
Step Four: Add your greens last! I love a good spring mix or just baby spinach, but the one thing I have to warn you to never, ever, EVER use is kale. I love kale, so this warning has nothing to do with that and everything to do with the fact that kale naturally has a high sulfur content, meaning it has a horrid reaction to the metal lid in your jar… ahem. Your co-workers will hate you. Let me just put it that way. If you’d like to find out what decaying body or a microwaved wet tennis shoe smells like (all the lovely descriptive terms my co-workers used), just put kale in your jar. Go for it. Open up Pandora’s box and just wait for it…
Step Five: Shake it up! Don’t do this until it’s time to eat. I grab my jar, turn it upside down and shake it like crazy so the dressing lightly coats everything in the jar. Then I open it up, dump it onto a plate at my desk and chow.
I love doing salad in a jar because they are so versatile and so easy to prepare in an assembly line within 30 minutes on a Sunday night. I love a good Greek salad, or sometimes one with a little Mexican flair. Change it up a bit and see what combinations you like the most. As long as you prepare them in advance (Sunday night always works for me), you’ll have your working mom lunches taken care of in no time. Just grab one in the morning as you dart out the door.
What about you, moms? What are some of your favorite salad options?