We get it—summer is short and you may be less motivated to spend your weekends holed up in the kitchen meal prepping. But before you let it take a back seat during the summer months, know that there is an easier way to get your meal prepping done. Here we lay out our tips for simplifying meal-prep, so can still enjoy the convenience of having meals ready-to-eat during the busy workweek without feeling like you're sacrificing precious time better spent outside of the kitchen. Follow our easy prep tips and try one of the three light and fresh meal-prep lunch recipes below, complete with step-by-step plans to make a week's worth of lunches in 30 minutes or less.
Take full advantage of one of summer's greatest perks—the produce—while you can! Shop your farmers' market or the local features at your grocery store, and plan lunches around what looks good that week. Seasonal produce like tomatoes, greens and fresh herbs are often abundant (and cheaper) during the summer months.
Summer produce is flavorful and delicious, so plan to enjoy it raw or simply prepared in salads and bowls. Prepping cold lunches usually requires less cooking up-front, which cuts down on time spent in the kitchen during precious summer weekends. And packing a cold lunch means you can skip the office microwave line and take your lunch outside to enjoy al fresco!
Leftover grilled chicken or seafood, like salmon or shrimp, works great as lunch leftovers and can be eaten cold in green salads, pasta salads or grain bowls. The next time you fire up the grill, cook a couple of extra chicken breasts or salmon fillets to have on hand for easy lunches.
Whether you toss them with greens, grains or beans, fresh herbs like basil, mint and parsley are one of the easiest ways to add big flavor fast. And because they're so abundant during the summer months, double down by using them in dressings and sauces to brighten up salads or bowls just before serving.
Related: Guide to Cooking with Fresh Herbs
The warmer summer months often have us craving lighter meals, but balance is key to helping us feel satisfied all afternoon. As a general guide, plan on 1 to 2 servings of vegetables, 1 to 2 servings of protein, a serving of fiber-rich carbohydrates and a serving of healthy fat at lunch.
Related: 3 Ways to Healthy Portions
Follow these simple steps to meal-prep and pack three different lunches that are perfect for the summer months. These recipes are quick and easy, so you'll be in and out of the kitchen in about 30 minutes or less.
Pasta salad is a classic summer side dish, but adding protein (leftover grilled chicken is perfect here) and extra greens like spinach makes it a super-satisfying lunch. Top it with our bright and tangy Basil Vinaigrette just before serving.
Cook 3 cups of whole-grain pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse well under cold running water. Drain again; set aside.
Cut a pint of cherry tomatoes in half; set aside. Dice 8 ounces of cooked chicken breast into bite-size pieces.
Make the Basil Vinaigrette. You'll need ½ cup of it, or 2 tablespoons for each lunch serving. Divide the vinaigrette among 4 small single-serving lidded containers. Save any remaining vinaigrette to use later in the week.
Divide a 5-ounce package of prewashed baby spinach (about 4 lightly packed cups) among 4 single-serving lunch containers. Top each with 1 cup cooked pasta, ½ cup tomatoes, ½ cup chicken and ¼ cup mozzarella balls. Cover and refrigerate until ready to eat.
Make good use of summer's finest produce in this chopped meal-prep version of our Rainbow Veggie Spring Roll Bowl. We've swapped the rice noodles for quick-cooking bulgur, but quinoa or rice works too. Feel free to add chopped cooked chicken, shrimp or tofu for extra protein.
Combine 1 cup bulgur and 1½ cups water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until the bulgur is tender and the liquid has been absorbed, 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Thinly slice a small head of napa cabbage (you'll need 4 cups). Toss with 2 tablespoons chopped mint and 2 tablespoons chopped basil; set aside.
Chop 1 red bell pepper, 1 yellow bell pepper, 4 medium peeled carrots, 1 medium cucumber and 1 cup cooked whole beets (canned is fine); set aside.
Combine ½ cup smooth natural peanut butter, ¼ cup reduced-sodium soy sauce, ¼ cup water, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon honey and 1 minced garlic clove in a small dish; whisk until smooth. Divide the sauce among 4 small single-serving lidded containers.
Divide the cabbage slaw among 4 single-serving containers. Top each with ½ cup cooked bulgur and equal parts chopped bell peppers, carrots, cucumber and beets. Top each with ½ tablespoon sesame seeds. Cover and refrigerate until ready to eat. Top with peanut sauce just before eating.
Traditional lettuce wraps call for a warm filling, but we're keeping things cool for summer with a cold plant-based bean salad filling loaded with fresh herbs, plus a little quinoa for extra protein. We recommend storing the different components of this dish separately and assembling your meal-prep lunch the night before. This ensures the lettuce leaves will be as crisp as possible when you go to eat.
Prepare a batch of Basic Quinoa (or microwave an 8-ounce pouch of instant quinoa to cut down on prep time). Set the quinoa aside to cool in a lidded container. Once cool, refrigerate until ready to assemble the lunch bowls.
Make the Moroccan Kidney Bean & Chickpea Salad but omit the mint for now. Place the bean salad in a lidded container and refrigerate until ready to assemble the lunch bowls.
Wash and dry the lettuce. Separate the leaves; you'll need 12 lettuce cups for this recipe. Hold in the refrigerator until ready to build the bowls.
To prepare 1 serving of lettuce wraps: Place 3 lettuce leaves in a single-serving lidded container. Top each leaf with 2 tablespoons quinoa and ⅓ cup bean salad. Sprinkle with mint. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day.
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