Make-ahead lunch ideas?

I'd love some fresh ideas for tasty, not-too-complicated brown-bag lunches. My dream would be to whip up a big batch of something on Sunday and then be able to bring that something to work until at least Thursday. (Is this a crazy dream?) I have a couple of go-tos but would love to find more that truly work with people's busy schedules.

Suzanne D'Amato


E E. September 11, 2018
I just had one more idea. I just spotted Daniel Boulud's stuffed tomatoes. What if you stuffed a couple of tomatoes, some squash, maybe a pepper or even an onion. And then have a stuffed vegetable every day?
hardlikearmour September 11, 2018
Not exactly your dream, but could be a good option:
Rachelwrites September 10, 2018
I like to make a quiche with whatever vegetables are in season. It's good cold too.
E E. September 10, 2018
You wouldn't want to do it every week, but how about a big pot of minestrone? Use some pancetta with celery, onion, and carrot for the base: hydrate dried mushrooms and throw in the liquid and you don't need to make stock. Toss in extra vegetables during the week if you like. Oh, and a little bit of parmaesan rind. Maybe a splash of red wine.
Another idea might be to bake six chicken thighs or three whole breasts (I think the thighs are better at staying moist.) Space them on a big rimmed baking sheet with lots of room in between. Maybe two of them get dabbed with a good hoisin sauce, two get some thyme or tarragon or rosemary under their skin, two get some garlic. Or, heck, just do one version. And that becomes either a salad base with greens, or lettuce and greens.
To celebrate the last days of summer, how about a batch of little potatoes in a homage to Julia Child's potato salad: garlic, salt, pepper, lots of olive oil. Then some ripe tomatoes, blanched green beans, scallions or onions, olives, etc.
Suzanne D. September 10, 2018
Love all of these ideas. I have some parmesan rinds saved up for minestrone soup!
PHIL September 10, 2018
If you want to think components, here is how I go about it. I make lunch for me, my wife and son (24 yrs). Usually I will make protein or 2 , say grilled chicken and turkey meatballs, a few veggies, say grilled/roasted zucchini & broccoli or salad and a starch, sweet potato and brown rice. I change up the seasoning each week, Asian / Mexican / Italian /Greek. They can pick what they want in the morning. You could also make a wrap or sandwich out of the components to mix it up. Good Luck!
Amanda H. September 10, 2018
This time of year, I like to load up on peppers, eggplant, and corn at the greenmarket and make ratatouille/succotash variations for lunches. This weekend, I simmered/braised a bunch of thinly sliced yellow peppers in olive oil and garlic. When they were almost done, I added corn (cut from the cobs) and sliced yellow wax beans. And I made a whole lot so I could use it through the week. Today, I packed it with sliced coppa and bread, and a peach for dessert. Another day, I might toss it with farro or couscous, some cherry tomatoes, and basil. We're having chicken for dinner on Wednesday so on Thursday, I'll probably add the leftover chicken and sprinkle it with aged sherry vinegar. Hope this is helpful!
MMH September 10, 2018
If you roast 2 chickens for Sunday dinner (why not as long as the oven is hot), you will have endless possibilities throughout the week.
Pegeen September 10, 2018
I often make a basic bean salad and add proteins to it from the night before. I happen to like chickpeas, kidney beans and cannellini beans mixed with fresh corn, diced red and green peppers, and diced red onion. You can freeze that basic mix in a ziploc bag.
In the morning, I portion some into a container and add a protein: chicken or fish from the night before, or canned tuna. You could add croutons or rice. Or herbs - cilantro, parsley, etc. I stir it up with some vinaigrette then so it's absorbed by lunch time. (I don't like adding the vinaigrette to the bean base as I don't want them soggy from marinating in the same vinaigrette for days.)
Hope this helps. Cheer!
Suzanne D. September 10, 2018
Oh, this is a great idea. I love my bean salads, but they can get soggy after a day or two.
Pegeen September 10, 2018
Suzanne - Yes, storing/freezing the beans without dressing works. Now that fall is approaching I'd also make extra winter squash (or any roasted vegetables) the night before, to add to the bean mix in the morning. With a nice cider vinaigrette!
PHIL September 10, 2018
I guess I am one of the 6 guys CV mentions....
BerryBaby September 10, 2018
I'm one of the 60+ age group. Think there are a handful of us.
PHIL September 10, 2018
I like to make some pasta and sauce with meatballs. Keep the pasta separate, this way you can do red sauce one day, maybe some pesto another day etc.. If you roasted a chicken you can put some chicken and the juices and veggies on top of the pasta.
grill up some lamb burgers and bring some feta, salad and pita. what do you mostly eat now?
Suzanne D. September 10, 2018
I think I've been focusing too much on trying to make one dish, start to finish, so I can just eat it again and again. It feels "easier" to me, but I'd probably benefit from thinking more in terms of components. Thank you for this.
Ttrockwood September 10, 2018
This is not especially exciting but every sunday i cook a batch of quinoa and i make a huge two bunch size batch of basic massaged kale salad. The kale salad is definitely better the next day and just as good on Thursday. Then the night before i pack my lunch salad with some of the kale and whatever is on hand that sounds good- usually some raw veggies, maybe some leftover baked tofu from dinner or marinated chickpeas, olives or roasted bell peppers, usually a handful of salted nuts/seeds, and if it still looks skimpy a good scoop of the quinoa. I’ve added anything from leftover chinese delivery bok choy and tofu to cornbread croutons to dolmas and babaganoush. Whatever.
I just keep a jar of salad dressing (basic dijon vinegrette i bring each monday) at work so if it needs some i’ll add a bit when eating it.
What i add changes day to day so it feels different enough for me, and I’m full but not dozing at my desk full.

In the winter i make a huge pot of (hearty vegetarian) soup every weekend, a few portions go in the fridge and the rest in the freezer, so after a few weeks there’s a nice variety in my freezer. On those snowy icy cold days that i want more than miso broth to sip with my salad i’ll bring one of the freezer soups and either some bread or crackers to go with it.
Sam1148 September 9, 2018
One budget saving technique is make a Sunday bird. Either a roast chicken, or a poached chicken (whole).
To make a perfectly poached chicken. Use your largest stock pot with enough water to cover the bird and then some.
Bring the salted water to a boil. Then add the bird...cover it..bring back to a boil (with whatever aromatics you wish--lemon, onion, celery etc). Turn off the heat and walk away for one hour. When the bird is cool...go at it with your hands and package save the meat. From there you have the base for many lunches: Chicken chicken tetrazzini, Chicken Salad,Chicken Enchiladas, Chicken Tacos, Chicken Curry over rice, and many many soups...thai, gumbo, noodle..etc.
Remember to reduce the poaching liquid and add back in the picked over bones, the neck bone if available...and refresh with some new aromatics, and simmer for a few hours for great chicken stock. I put it in jars and cool a bit and then in the fridge where it will keep a week or more..(it forms a fat disk on top that helps preserve it...scoop that out before using). And there...that bird has given it's all.
The idea here is to have a lot of home made chicken meat you make Sunday to use for week day lunches.
BerryBaby September 10, 2018
I'm with Sam...chicken! On my fourth the day with my roasted chicken. Ways I've used chicken past and present enchilada, a fabulous chicken salad (I served it in stuffed tomatoes, hot dog buns I call 'chicken in a boat', stuffed it in cucumbers, shredded on salads, made soup,
Rollups, stuffed peppers, sliced it a little lemon pepper served with sliced tomatoes and favorite cheese...a light lunch. Many ways to use one chicken.
Suzanne D. September 10, 2018
So simple, but I love it—thank you for this.
Sam1148 September 9, 2018
I like the 'lunch in a jar' technique. I've found they'll last 3 to 4 days in the fridge, depending on the contents. So if you have beans at the bottom it will last longer as the beans just marinate in the dressing and that's fine for a few days.
Nancy September 9, 2018
Right. And I've seen online - but not yet spring for or used - inserts for canning jars to hold the dressing separately, until you want to eat the salad.

702551 September 9, 2018
Well, I know some people not be totally happy with my opinion, but no one can please everyone all the time.

However, my response does fall into the category of constructive criticism since I do offer some suggested starting points for research.

I know the Food52 management has acknowledged the lack of ethnic voices and has attempted to increase the range of voices.

That said, it should be clearly pointed out that this site reaches a far smaller geographic readership today that it did a year ago.

This site is non-compliant with the EU's GDPR 2016/679 since its implementation date in late May; since then Europeans have been unable to access this site. Thus, this site has a much more American-centric readership today.

Many of the older forum participants have moved elsewhere and there are probably just a half dozen male forum readers who participate in a regular basis.

Anyhow, Japanese bento ideas will have to be thoroughly researched by the OP and I think a library would be a better starting point than an anonymous Q&A forum for such endeavors. It is easy to pick up 8, 10, 20 cookbooks, flip through them in an hour and maybe walk away with some ideas how the diners in question might respond.

We know nothing about Suzanne's kids. Do they "eat everything" or do they have strong preferences? Does a small piece of fish, rice, pickled vegetables, etc. sound like a delicious lunch? Or are they subsisting on a regular diet of PB&J or ham-and-cheese sandwiches with the occasional apple in lieu of a cookie?

Since they are in season, I have been making cucumber asazuke on a regular basis. It lasts about 2-3 days before the quality declines precipitously. How about horenso ohitashi (spinach with a light dashi-soy sauce dressing)? Very refreshing, a Japanese classic, but is your typical American kid going to dig seeing this in their lunch?

Anyhow, these are all answers that only the OP can answer for her target audience (her kids).

All I know is that the breadth of lunch items across this planet offers a huge variety compared to the typical institutional American school lunch.

I will also point out that the USA has one of the lowest life expectancy of major industrialized nations (Japan has one of the highest) and childhood obesity is a serious threat to this nation's overall health.

Just from that, it seems like *NOT* serving typical American lunch foods would be a positive step in having healthy kids.

Anyhow, thanks for letting me share some thoughts about this.

Disclaimer: I do not have children of my own so take this with a very large grain of salt (or something healthier).

Lori T. September 9, 2018
Insults aside, the suggestion to look at bento ideas is a solid one. I have copies of Makiko Ito's two books, Just Bento, and they are life savers packed with ideas of lunch ideas and recipes, with options. Not all of it is Japanese, or even Oriental either. I pack four lunches to go on a daily basis, M-F, and 2-3 for the weekend days. What I don't do is pack lunches in the mornings- they are all packed the night before. There isn't enough coffee in the universe to make morning lunch packing possible. I also don't do huge batches of anything for a coming week, because my guys would revolt if faced with that prospect. If you make out a weekly menu, you can use that to pre-plan the lunchbox contents, using what you have already planned to cook. If you are making chicken for dinner, for instance, it's easy to toss in an extra piece or two. I also find it helpful to have a stash of various grains, precooked, in the freezer. Currently, the family favorite is something called an onigirazu- sort of a seaweed wrapped rice sandwich. The filling options are pretty varied, and you don't even have to use white rice- you can use mixed grains, or brown varieties if you prefer. If it can go inbetween two slices of bread, it can go in an onigirazu. Maybe not peanut butter and jelly- but otherwise your choices are pretty wide. Just because you make chicken on Monday, you don't have to eat chicken for Tuesday's lunch. But you can still cook an extra piece for Wednesday, if you plan ahead for it. I do Spanish omelet type things, in silicone muffin liners, but aside from the egg and potato, the meat and veggies vary. One time it may be bits of ham left from Sunday, with the spoonful of peas and carrots left after dinner. Another time it might be smoked sausage, with that odd bit of bell pepper and the green onion tops I didn't need for supper. Lunch can also be a crudite type arrangement of cheese cubes, veggies, crackers, rolls of deli meat, and perhaps some hummus, with thermos of soup. A lot depends on if you want to eat primarily salads all week, or if you have access to a microwave or fridge. Honestly, get the recipe books, and go from there.
Suzanne D. September 10, 2018
"There isn't enough coffee in the universe to make morning lunch packing possible" true. Thank you for these thoughtful suggestions, Lori.
Suzanne D. September 9, 2018
Thank you for the ideas, Nancy. Appreciate the fashion analogy! Risotto sounds pretty much perfect for the NYC weather today.
702551 September 9, 2018
You should consider looking elsewhere for new inspiration. The forum community is a pretty narrow demographic of mostly privileged white American women between 25-45.

I suggest you research Japanese bentos or lunches for schoolchildren around the world. I've seen several online articles about the latter in the past, it is quite impressive what children across the globe receive as institutional lunches compared to American kids.

The Japanese are experts are food preservation, both for short term as well as long term and have been doing things like making miso for 700+ years. Heck, their convenience store food blows door on the stuff you can find here in America. Would you ever grab something at the neighborhood 7-Eleven for your kid's lunch? In Japan, there is nothing wrong with this.

Do not ignore the opportunity to broaden your horizons by going outside of the Starbucks pumpkin spice latte American experience.

Best of luck.
Nancy September 9, 2018
Suzanne, this question seems to have too many focusses (foci?) to answer well.
Also, the site already has >1800 lunch recipes, and I don't know how many articles about "not sad lunch."
So, what different, that's not already on the site, are you seeking?
Is this for you and/or other busy people schedules, for you personally and/or for editorial use?
Opinions on whether to do a single big batch on the weekend and eat it four days running, M-Th, or not?
Please also tell us a couple examples what you have tried and liked, so we know what not to repeat, and to not be off base.
Suzanne D. September 9, 2018
Oh, it's just for me personally—as I contemplate this Sunday morning's grocery run and think, what should I make for this week? I'd love some new inspiration. I've done chicken salad, chickpea salad, white bean salad, sandwiches, last night's dinner turned into lunch...I'm curious if anyone has anything out there that they esp love to make in a big batch. What I've found doesn't work so well for me is trying to make a brand-new lunch each morning. But I'm kind of over my current go-tos.
Nancy September 9, 2018
OK...that gives me, anyway, some direction.
But my middle way (not a new meal every day, not the same thing every day) is to make a base I like (I'm thinking carbs here, but if you don't eat them, think something else, like a single base vegetable or meat) and then vary the accessories.
So the carb is the LBD of lunch, and your various meats or vegetables or dressings are the shoes, purse etc.
Some examples.
Kasha varnishkes (buckwheat, pasta, cabbage), then topped with beef, chicken or egg.
Polenta or grits, then topped with fried chicken or cold cuts.
Risotto with cheese, then topped with various steamed vegetables.
Steamed barley, topped with nuts, fruits, maybe a yogurt dressing.
White or sweet potatoes, steamed or roasted or mashed. Topped with beef, poached or hard cooked eggs, green salad, red salad, etc.
Or my latest find, a recipe for apples stuffed with ground beef, onion & walnuts. Can also be made with soy protein for the vegans or for variety.
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