How to Meal-Prep a Week of Diabetes-Friendly Lunches for Work
If you've ever stared into the depths of your fridge on a Monday morning wondering what you can throw into a cooler for lunch, we have two words for you—meal prep. By prepping a week's worth of grab-and-go lunches in advance (on Sunday, for example), you'll skip the morning scramble and set yourself up for a week of healthy eating. Assembling meals ahead of time also puts you in control of portion sizes and ingredients, which can be beneficial if you're managing a health condition—like type 2 diabetes—or trying to lose weight.
To simplify meal prep, we've outlined an easy formula to build lunches that are balanced with carbohydrates, lean proteins and healthy fats. These guidelines are helpful for those who are monitoring their carbohydrate intake or anyone looking to eat healthier. We've also included three different recipes and step-by-step plans to prep a week's worth of lunches. Each recipe makes four lunches that are perfect for packing up for work. Choose from Brussels Sprouts Salad with Crunchy Chickpeas, Indian Grain Bowls with Chicken & Vegetables and Chipotle-Lime Cauliflower Taco Bowls.
Formula to Build Diabetes-Friendly Lunches for Work
Use this formula as a guide to help you assemble healthy diabetes-friendly lunches for the week ahead. We recommend including 30 to 45 grams of carbohydrates at lunch—in addition to lean protein and healthy fat—to help keep blood sugar stable throughout the afternoon.
1. Start with 1 to 2 servings of lower-carbohydrate vegetables
In addition to providing beneficial nutrients like vitamin C, folate and potassium, vegetables bulk up your lunch bowl with fiber. Meals and snacks high in fiber can help you feel fuller longer, and the soluble fiber found in the skin and flesh of many vegetables may help to reduce blood cholesterol.
1 serving = 2 cups raw salad greens, kale or cabbage; 1 cup raw cucumber, bell peppers, tomatoes or carrot; 1 cup cooked zucchini, cauliflower or broccoli
2. Include 1 to 2 servings of nutrient-dense complex carbohydrates
Like most vegetables, certain complex carbohydrates like whole grains and legumes are good sources of fiber. Fiber can slow the digestion and absorption of your meal, which may help to keep blood sugar stable through the afternoon.
1 serving = ½ cup cooked grains like brown rice, farro, bulgur or quinoa; ½ cup cooked beans or lentils; 1 cup cooked sweet potato (with skin) or winter squash
3. Incorporate 1 to 2 servings of lean protein
Consuming enough protein at lunch may help to minimize blood sugar spikes and increase satiety. To keep saturated fat low, stick with heart-healthy proteins like boneless, skinless chicken breast, tuna or salmon, canned beans and tofu. Keep in mind that most plant-based proteins, like canned beans, contain carbohydrates and will contribute to the total carb count of a meal (for example, ½ cup canned beans contains about 20 grams of carbohydrates).
1 serving = 3 oz. chicken or fish; 1 egg; ½ cup tofu; ½ cup edamame; ½ cup cooked beans or lentils; 2 tablespoons hummus
4. Add in 1 serving of healthy fat
Like eating protein, consuming a serving of healthy fat at lunch adds flavor and can help to keep you satisfied. Take advantage of unsaturated fats' heart-healthy benefits by focusing on sources like olive oil, avocado, walnuts, and seeds like sesame or chia.
1 serving = 2 Tbsp. chia seeds; ¼ avocado; about 12 walnut halves; 1 Tbsp. olive oil
How to Prepare a Week's Worth of Diabetes-Friendly Work Lunches
You'll be the envy of the office with these anything-but-boring lunches that can be prepped up to four days in advance. Each recipe contains an average of 37 grams of carbohydrates per serving and enough fiber and protein to keep blood sugar stable and hunger at bay all afternoon.
Store these healthy lunches in an air-tight meal-prep container to keep fresh (To buy: amazon.com, $30 for 5). Store any dressings or dips separately in a leak-proof container (To buy: amazon.com, $11.50 for 8) and wait to add till ready to eat to prevent wilting.
Brussels Sprouts Salad with Crunchy Chickpeas
To cut down on prep time we're using preshredded Brussels sprouts from the produce department and store-bought roasted chickpeas (look for these in the healthy snack or nut aisles of your grocery store) in these hearty vegan salad bowls. Stash the chickpeas in your desk for the week and add them just before serving to keep them crispy.
Step 1: Divide greens into containers
Divide 1 (9- to 10-ounce) package shredded or shaved Brussels sprouts among 4 single-serving containers with lids. Add 1 cup chopped kale to each container.
Step 2: Make tahini sauce
Stir 3 tablespoons tahini, 3 tablespoons warm water, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 grated garlic clove and ¼ teaspoon salt together in a small bowl. Divide the sauce among 4 small lidded containers (about 2 tablespoons each).
Step 3: Seal and store containers
Seal the salad and sauce containers and refrigerate up to 4 days. Just before serving, drizzle the salad with tahini sauce and toss well to coat. Top with ¼ cup roasted chickpeas with sea salt and ¼ medium avocado, chopped.
Indian Grain Bowls with Chicken & Vegetables
Here we're using bulgur wheat because it cooks up quickly (perfect for fast meal-prep) and is higher in fiber than rice, but feel free to swap in any whole grain you prefer. To balance the heat of the Cilantro Chutney, dress these bowls with extra fresh lime juice just before serving.
Step 1: Cook bulgur
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. Spread the bulgur on a sheet pan to cool before assembling lunch containers.
Step 2: Prepare chicken
Position rack in upper third of oven and preheat broiler. Coat a broiler pan with cooking spray. Place 1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts on the prepared pan and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon garam masala and ½ teaspoon salt. Broil until no longer pink in the center and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 165°F, 4 to 8 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a clean cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes, then slice.
Step 3: Chop vegetables
Chop 1 red bell pepper and ½ large English cucumber (you'll need about 1 cup of each). Slice 1 cup cherry tomatoes in half. Toss the vegetables together in a medium bowl and set aside.
Step 4: Make chutney
Prepare a batch of Cilantro Chutney (you'll be using ½ cup for lunches this week). Transfer 2 tablespoons chutney into each of 4 small lidded containers and refrigerate for up to 4 days.
Step 5: Assemble lunch containers
Divide the cooled bulgur among 4 single-serving containers (about 1/2 cup each). Top each with one-fourth of the chicken, one-fourth of the vegetables and a lime wedge. Seal and refrigerate for up to 4 days. Top with freshly squeezed lime juice and cilantro chutney just before serving.
Chipotle-Lime Cauliflower Taco Bowls
A bold smoky marinade elevates roasted cauliflower in this meal-prep version of our popular Chipotle-Lime Cauliflower Tacos recipe. To cut down on prep time, look for precut cauliflower in the produce department. You can also save time with microwaveable quinoa pouches (you'll need one 8-ounce pouch for this recipe).
Step 1: Roast vegetables
Preheat oven to 450°F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil. Combine ¼ cup lime juice, 1 to 2 chopped chipotles in adobo sauce (or to taste), 1 tablespoon honey, 2 cloves garlic and ½ teaspoon salt in a blender. Process until mostly smooth. Cut 1 small head cauliflower into bite-size pieces and place in a large bowl; add the sauce and stir to coat. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle with ½ cup sliced red onion. Roast, stirring once, until the cauliflower is tender and browned in spots, 18 to 20 minutes. Set aside to cool before assembling containers.
Step 2: Cook quinoa
Cook a batch of Basic Quinoa. You'll need 2 cups for this week's lunches, or ½ cup for each serving. Spread the quinoa on a sheet pan to cool before assembling containers.
Step 3: Cut cabbage and lime
Thinly slice a quarter of a small red cabbage (you'll need 1 cup total). Cut a small lime into 4 wedges. Divide the cabbage among 4 containers and add a lime wedge to each. Refrigerate for up to 4 days.
Step 4: Assemble lunch containers
Divide the quinoa among 4 single-serving containers (about 1/2 cup each). Top each with one-fourth of the roasted cauliflower and red onion, ¼ cup canned no-salt-added black beans (rinsed) and 2 tablespoons crumbled queso fresco. Seal the containers and refrigerate for up to 4 days. To reheat 1 container, vent the lid and microwave on High until steaming, 2½ to 3 minutes. Top with ¼ cup cabbage, freshly squeezed lime juice and ¼ medium avocado (sliced).