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Minimal Ingredients, Multiple Lunches: Meal Prep 101

Photo: Tammy Ljungblad/Getty Images

Anyone can meal prep. Okay, okay, maybe the I have month's worth of freezer meals, ready to go sort of meal prep is only for the freakishly organized, but anyone can meal prep to a reasonable degree with our simple method. Break free from a long streak of sad desk lunches by strategically purchasing a handful of practical foods each week so that you have exactly what you need to create different, delicious meals. 

When thinking about “meal prep," most people’s minds revert to an image of plastic container after plastic container, each filled with chopped grilled chicken and vegetables.

Yeah, we’ve all seen those Pinterest pins.

Even though that method probably works, some of us don’t want to eat the same thing every. single. day. I'm here to say that meal prep isn’t just for the type-A overly-organized, the diet obsessed, and those who are super into eating grilled chicken every day. Believe it or not, there is a happy medium between not planning at all… and making and freezing all of your food for the month in one day (people actually do pull that off).

The trick is to take one week at a time and come up with anywhere from 5-10 items that you can use to create multiple meals in conjunction with what you already have in your kitchen. That's right, you can say goodbye to sad desk lunches forever simply by thinking ahead.  

When buying minimal ingredients, some overlap is unavoidable, but you can package your food in different ways to create tasty dishes. I usually pick a “theme” of some sort, so that I know the items that I buy will taste good together. Here are three example shopping lists with potential lunch combinations:

Shopping List #1

Buy

  • Whole-wheat tortillas/wraps
  • Chickpeas
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Feta cheese
  • Rotisserie chicken 
  • Bell peppers

Make

  • Spinach Salad with Chickpeas, Chopped Tomato, and Feta 
  • Hummus Wrap (homemade hummus + bell pepper + spinach in a tortilla)
  • Chicken Fajitas (stir-fry chicken and bell pepper with cumin and chili powder + tortilla)
  • Healthy “Pizza” (toasted tortilla crust + homemade hummus + sliced tomato + feta + spinach)
  • Nachos (sliced and toasted tortilla + shredded chicken + feta cheese + chopped tomato)
  • Spinach and Feta Quesadilla (wilted spinach + feta + chopped tomatoes folded into a tortilla and pan fried)
  • Mediterranean bowl (chick peas + spinach + tomatoes + feta + peppers + shredded chicken)

Shopping List #2

Buy:

  • Eggs
  • Avocado
  • Deli turkey
  • Bread
  • Arugula
  • Provolone cheese
  • Optional: grapes, sunflower seeds

Make:

  • Turkey Sandwich (turkey + provolone + arugula + bread)
  • Arugula Salad with Avocado and Turkey (arugula + avocado + Dijon mustard vinaigrette + sunflower seeds)
  • Egg Salad over Arugula (avocado egg salad + arugula)
  • Egg and Avocado Sandwich (avocado + boild egg + arugula + toasted bread)
  • Turkey Roll Ups (rolled turkey + provolone cheese)
  • Arugula Salad with Soft Boiled Eggs (arugula + soft boiled eggs)
  • Avocado Toast (mashed avocado + sunflower seeds + toast)

Shopping List #3

Buy:

  • Steam in a bag broccoli
  • Cheddar Cheese
  • Potato (2 sweet or Russet)
  • Rotisserie chicken
  • Quinoa

Make:

  • Chicken with a Side of Broccoli (chicken + steamed broccoli)
  • Broccoli and Cheese-Stuffed Potato (steamed broccoli + potato + melted cheese)
  • Chicken and Cheese-Stuffed Potato (shredded chicken + cheese + potato)
  • Cheesy Chicken with Quinoa (quinoa + shredded chicken + cheese)
  • Quinoa, Chicken, and Broccoli Bake ( combine cooked qunioa + chicken + broccoli + cheese and broil)
  • Quinoa “Stir Fry” with Chicken, Broccoli (stir fried chicken + broccoli + quinoa)

Obviously, you should feel free to add extra ingredients to your list, such as a side of fruit, more vegetables, or seasonings. The point is to make the most out of a few items that you have intentionally chosen for your beautiful lunch creations.