Not Sad Desk Lunch

15 Make-Ahead Lunches That’ll Be the Envy of the Office

Quick and easy recipes for preppers and non-preppers alike.

June 24, 2019
Photo by Bobbi Lin

I have great respect for Sunday preppers—people who divide big batches of vegetables, protein, and grains into perfect lunchtime portions a week at a time. But as much as I love the idea of using one day to take care of multiple meals, my commitment-phobic heart says “nah.”

Instead, I lean on two to three make-ahead dishes a week. It's still prepping, but bite-sized, night-before endeavors. In addition to picking sturdy meals that will last a day or two (or three), just enough time for me to not get bored of them, I seek out simpler recipes—so my work-weary brain won’t balk and I won't lose steam before it's all done.

Here, I’ve gathered 15 of my favorites that’ll have you thanking yourself come Monday at 12pm—and all your coworkers (even those Sunday preppers) eyeing your plate.

Charred Broccoli & Lentil Salad

Charring vegetables is where it's at these days. These thin pieces of broccoli get charred and crispy and nestle up perfectly with the lentils. I cut the recipe in half and still had enough to make a week of meals—and it’s even better once the flavors have had a chance to meld.

Chile-Roasted Chicken and Sweet Potatoes with Cilantro Rice

For a picture-perfect rice bowl, this recipe is pretty simple: Roast some chicken and sweet potatoes with chile and spices, cook up some lovely, herbaceous cilantro rice while you roast, and top it all off with a nice dollop of lime-sour cream.

Curried Chickpea Sandwich

This 15-minute recipe calls for greens and tomato, but it can be as dressed-up or as simple as you like. Other great add-ins: grated carrot, pickled jalapeños, olives, and/or pepperoncini. More often then not I'll have it stuffed into a pita, but I also like it open-faced on toast, with crackers, or plunked atop mixed greens. The chickpea spread keeps in the fridge for up to three days, so you have a few chances to experiment.

Indian Peanutty Noodles

The real star of this noodle salad is the chutney: A simple blend of raw peanuts, cumin, and red chile powder. The chutney's sweet creaminess cuts through the savory pungency of the soy sauce–laden noodles. You can use your favorite noodles (I go with udon or sometimes soba), and add whatever vegetables you have on hand.

Freekeh Salad With Feta & Mint

Freekeh is a whole grain that I love with my whole heart—it cooks in just 30 minutes and keeps a great bite (no mush!). This fresh fennel and mint combination is the perfect base for grilled chicken or fish; you could also top it with avocado or even an apple for a creamy or crisp contrast.

No-Mayo Peperonata Pasta Salad

A brilliant pasta salad recipe even mayo-haters (me) will love! Salad smartypants EmilyC starts with a classic peperonata—the combination of sweet peppers, onions, and tomatoes—and then adds creamy mozzarella, slivered almonds, and tons of basil to freshly boiled pasta. Don't skimp on the capers because they're the best part.

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Spiced Lentil Salad & Lemon-Tahini Dressing

Make this recipe once and you're nearly set for the whole week. It’s important to cook the lentils just right; since all lentils cook differently, taste them for doneness as they're cooking. The lentils should hold their shape well, but also be tender.

Curried Egg Salad + Pickled Red Onion Smørrebrød

Give your traditional egg salad a kick of warming spices and the bite of pickled red onion. Then, to really make the dish really come to life, add a sprinkle of cilantro. Bring the egg salad and bread to work separately, then assemble them together before you're ready to eat.

Chimichurri Chickpeas

Another great chickpea option. When you’re facing a hot, hazy, humid summer night, call on this 10-minute salad. It's as easy as chopping a bunch of tomatoes and crumbling some feta. Then bring it to work with a loaf of bread and you're all set.

Burmese Chicken Salad

Cilantro, fish sauce, and lime really make this chicken salad sing. Squish it between two slices of bread for a hearty lunch, or serve it over greens or with a side of rice. Want more of a crunch? Toss in some diced cucumbers.

Soba with Parsley-Pea Pesto & Kale

A vegan pesto that’s a love letter to peas. But don’t worry about it feeling flat. "The lemon brightens the pesto, the soba adds an earthiness, and the balsamic vinegar and kale bring a depth to the dish,” wrote recipe tester Elizabeth.

White Bean & Tuna Salad with Hard-Boiled Eggs & Dukkah

Only you will know that this salad comes together in just a few twists of the can opener. Play around with the herbs and spices if you like. Add a hardboiled egg or two to luxe it up even more.

Crispy Chickpea Fattoush With Asparagus & Radishes

This is a springtime riff on fattoush with crispy chickpeas, asparagus, and radish, but once you know the basic formula (crispy pita + vegetables + herbs + dressing), you can mold and shape it into whatever you’re craving in the moment.

Curried Smoked Turkey Salad

A Food52 favorite from the early days. Amanda Hesser used to inhale this smoky salad during Tuesday photo shoots in her apartment. Now, it’s your turn.

Easy Broccoli Salad With Cheese

Raw broccoli, chopped dates, sour cherries, crumbled goat cheese, and walnuts come together to make the ultimate in salads that hold up. Toss it with the goat cheesy-lemony dressing and you're in lunchtime heaven.

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Katie is a food writer and editor who loves cheesy puns and cheesy cheese.