Super-Easy Meal-Prep Shortcuts for Making Healthy Lunches in 20 Minutes or Less

By: Carolyn A. Hodges, R.D.

With the help of a few healthy grocery-store shortcuts, you can meal-prep a week's worth of lunches in as little as 15 minutes.

There's a reason meal-prepping is so popular these days—it's one of the easiest ways to save time during the busy week while keeping up with healthy eating habits. If the thought of meal-prepping evokes images of spending half your weekend in the kitchen, we're here to convince you otherwise. With help from a few healthy grocery-store convenience items—like preprepped veggies, cooked grains, healthy frozen foods and bottled dressing—you can meal-prep a week's worth of lunches in as little as 15 minutes.

Healthy Convenience Items = Fast Meal Prep

Take advantage of precut ingredients from the produce section (think spiralized zucchini noodles or bagged greens) to cut down on prep time. Opt for parcooked whole grains or swap in microwavable brown rice or quinoa pouches. Add protein with store-bought rotisserie chicken, frozen cooked shrimp or low-sodium canned beans. If you go for items like frozen meatballs, bottled salad dressing or jarred pasta sauce, compare nutrition labels and ingredient lists and go for the option with less sodium, added sugars and partially hydrogenated oils.

Follow This Formula to Build Quick Lunches in 20 Minutes or Less

ultra easy prep zoodles meat

1. Start with 1 or more servings of vegetables.

Easy Ideas: Prewashed leafy greens; spiralized veggie noodles; steam-in-bag green beans; frozen riced cauliflower; sliced vegetables from the salad bar

2. Add in 1 serving of fiber-rich carbohydrates.

Easy Ideas: Precooked packages of brown rice, quinoa or couscous; seeded crackers; whole-wheat bread, pita or tortillas; canned low-sodium beans

3. Include 1 serving of lean protein.

Easy Ideas: Rotisserie chicken or cooked chicken breast from the deli section; baked, ready-to-eat tofu; hard-boiled eggs; canned tuna or salmon; precooked chicken sausage; canned low-sodium beans; prepared hummus; frozen edamame

4. Top it off with 1 serving of healthy fats.

Easy Ideas: Avocado; nuts or seeds; store-bought salad dressing (made with olive oil, canola oil or avocado oil); prepared pesto; olives

 

How to Meal-Prep a Week's Worth of Lunches Fast

We've outlined the steps to help you prep and pack three different extra-easy lunches for the week in as little as 15 minutes.

How to Meal-Prep Plant-Power Buddha Bowls

ew ultra easy buddha

Ready in: 15 minutes

These nutrient-packed vegan bowls come together in 15 minutes with the help of a few grocery-store shortcuts, like prewashed baby kale, microwavable quinoa and precooked beets. Mix store-bought hummus with fresh lemon juice for a quick dressing.

Step 1: Microwave the quinoa.

Prepare an 8-ounce package of microwavable quinoa according to package directions; set aside to cool.

Step 2: Make the dressing.

Combine ½ cup store-bought hummus and 2 Tbsp. lemon juice to make a dressing. Thin to desired consistency with water. Divide the dressing among 4 small single-serving containers with lids and refrigerate.

Step 3: Slice the beets and avocado; thaw the edamame.

Slice 8 ounces of refrigerated cooked beets and 1 medium avocado; set aside. Follow package instructions to defrost 1 cup of frozen edamame in the microwave.

Step 4: Assemble the lunch containers

Divide the contents of a 5-ounce container of prewashed baby kale among 4 single-serving containers with lids. To each container, add ½ cup cooked quinoa, ½ cup sliced beets, ¼ cup edamame, ¼ of the avocado and 1 Tbsp. sunflower seeds. Seal the containers and refrigerate until ready to eat. Dress with the hummus dressing just before serving.

How to Meal-Prep Zucchini Noodles with Chicken Sausage and Pesto

ew ultra easy zoodles

Ready in: 15 minutes

Save yourself major prep time by using premade zucchini noodles from the produce section. Canned beans and precooked chicken sausage (which heats in about 5 minutes) add protein, while store-bought pesto serves as a source of healthy fats.

Step 1: Brown the chicken sausage.

Slice 6 ounces of chicken sausage (about 2 links) into 1/2-inch pieces. Sauté in 2 tsp. olive oil over medium heat until browned and heated through, about 5 minutes; set aside.

Step 2: Rinse the beans.

Rinse a 14-ounce can of no-salt-added cannellini beans; set aside.

Step 3: Slice the jarred roasted red peppers.

Drain and rinse a 7-ounce jar of roasted red peppers; slice and set aside.

Step 4: Assemble the lunch containers.

Divide 1 pound of premade zucchini noodles among 4 lunch containers. There should be about 2 cups zoodles in each container. Top each portion of zucchini noodles with an equal amount of the sausage, beans and roasted red peppers and add 2 Tbsp. pesto to each. Seal the containers and refrigerate until ready to eat.

Note: To reheat, vent lid and microwave on High until the sausage is steaming and the zucchini noodles are tender, 2½ to 3 minutes.

How to Meal-Prep Falafel Bowls with Tahini Sauce

ew ultra easy falafel

Ready in: 20 minutes

These quick Mediterranean-inspired bowls come together in 20 minutes, thanks to healthy convenience items including frozen falafel and steam-in-bag fresh green beans. Whisk together the simple Tahini Sauce with Lemon & Garlic while the other ingredients cook.

Step 1: Prepare the falafel.

Prepare 8 frozen falafel balls or patties according to package directions; set aside to cool.

Step 2: Make the couscous.

Prepare precooked couscous according to package directions (or try our recipe for Easy Whole-Wheat Couscous). Fluff with fork; set aside.

Step 3: Steam the green beans.

Prepare 1 pound of fresh steam-in-bag green beans according to package directions; set aside.

Step 4: Make the Tahini Sauce with Lemon & Garlic.

Whisk together ingredients for Tahini Sauce with Lemon & Garlic. Divide among 4 small single-serving containers with lids and refrigerate.

Step 5: Assemble the lunch containers.

Divide the green beans among 4 single-serving containers with lids. Top each with ½ cup cooked couscous, 2 falafel balls (or patties), 1 Tbsp. Kalamata olives and 1 Tbsp. crumbled feta cheese. Seal the containers and refrigerate for up to 4 days. Dress with 2 Tbsp. Tahini Sauce with Lemon & Garlic after reheating.

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