Make ahead lunches

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Make ahead lunches have made sticking to my diet during the working week quite manageable and have played a big part of eating the right foods consistently.

Stepping out into the CBD to find something suitable to buy is not only tiresome with the heaving throngs, but if I’m having a lousy day at work it is tempting to buy something to eat that I definitely shouldn’t be eating. And it gets expensive as well.

That said, if you’re in the Brisbane CBD, I can’t share the love enough for The Cutting Board, who have superb salads, steamed vegetables, meat and fish, and on days when I’ve been completely disorganised, they have filled the gap rather nicely.

A second option, should you be down the other end of the city doing serious business shopping in Queen’s Plaza, Roll’d does Vietnamese street food including salads that are just meat and salad, no noodles.

Anyway. Enough of that! This is all about being organised and getting those make ahead lunches sorted to bring in from home.


A salad or vegetable base

I make these up in one go on a Sunday. It takes 10 minutes at the most. I use the hardier vegetables and salads as softer foods like cut tomato, cucumber, mushrooms, beetroot, corn or beansprouts wouldn’t last as well and no-one likes a soggy salad.

Plus I don’t like cucumber.

I don’t like capsicum either but if you do, it would be good to add in – it’s hardy stuff.

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I want my make ahead lunches to be around 300 calories. These salad and vegetable bases are around 50 calories, probably.

If you’re wondering how I make the vegetable spaghetti spirals, head over here.

I’m too lazy (and really, life’s too short) to weigh and calculate the exact number of calories in these water based foods, so I just roll with 50 calories as a good estimate.


Vegetable spirals

These are the base for my healthy chicken mince spaghetti, which is stored away in the freezer in 240 calorie portions. I put this in the fridge the night before so by the time it comes to microwaving my lunch at work, it’s defrosted.

You can defrost from frozen as well of course, but it’s easier to have it defrosted so that you can tip the mince over the vegetable spirals and microwave them together, as this cooks the vegetable spirals at the same time the mince is heating.

If you fancy it, you could add parmesan or feta to this dish (though I don’t eat these myself at the moment), and if you really wanted to add a bit more to it all, you could make a side salad to go with your spaghetti.

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Salads

I have some standard combinations that I get together to go with my salads. I’m looking to add around 250 calories of protein and fat to make up my 300 calorie lunch.

Two things I do religiously every Sunday night is boil eggs and poach chicken breasts.

If nothing else is organised, these foods fill the gaps and keep everything on track until I can get sorted, even if it means boiled eggs for breakfast and buying a salad from a cafe or the supermarket to have with the poached chicken.

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This is what I have on hand for my lunches this week:

  • Large hard boiled eggs (70 calories)
  • Poached chicken breasts, half is around 150g raw (160 calories)
  • Tuna slices in springwater 125g (100 calories)
  • Tuna slices in olive oil 125g (140 calories)
  • Avocado, medium size (160 calories for half, 80 for a quarter)

The combinations I’ll be making up will be any of:

  • Chicken breast, boiled egg (230 calories)
  • Chicken breast, quarter of avocado (240 calories)
  • Chicken breast, quarter of avocado, boiled egg (300 calories)
  • Tuna in springwater,  half an avocado (265 calories)
  • Tuna in olive oil, boiled egg (210 calories)
  • Tuna in springwater, two boiled eggs (220 calories)
  • Tuna in springwater, one boiled egg, quarter of avocado (250 calories)

They’re not all 250 calories exactly. But it all evens out over time.

I don’t count these out each day, I know the calories of the eggs, chicken and avocado after doing this for so long (and whatever kind and amount of tuna you get, it’s on the packet), so I can rapidly assemble what I fancy for the day in the right amounts without thinking too hard about it.

Truly helpful hint: after you’ve boiled your eggs, draw cheery faces on them. Cracking your boiled egg at work, only to discover that it’s a raw egg, is quite messy. #personalexperience

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Not all calories are created equal

I aim for a balance of protein and fat on top of the salad and vegetables. The combination helps keeps the hunger at bay.

My Mum is prone to a tiny tin of  tuna and big green salad and wonders why she is starving at 4:00pm (and can be found in our family cafe having coffee and ‘just a little something’). I keep telling her to double the tuna and add a boiled egg! #parents

The protein (a reasonable amount) and the fat (from egg yolk, avocado or the olive oil in the tuna), work together and really do keep you full until to the next meal.


Don’t eat dry salad

Really, just don’t.  Shoveling down dry salad is not fun. Like chewing grass. It’s not a sustainable strategy.

Chop up the egg and mash it in a  bit, smoosh the avocado into everything or mix the tuna in thoroughly.


Dressings

If I have it on hand, I have any of lemon juice, lime juice, balsamic or apple cider vinegar, the latter of which are easily kept in a desk drawer. #mustdothat


Organisation helps the mind

Make ahead lunches ensure I’m organised, but even more than that, they really help with my mindset.

If I have the lunches sorted, food for other meals in the fridge and the gym clothes washed and packed into the car, I feel ahead of the game before I’ve even begun and am mentally prepared to do what it takes to keep on my program and move towards my weight loss and fitness goals.

It sets my mind up for success. Which matters a lot in this game.

On the occasional weeks where I’m not organised and start the week in a flurry, it makes for frenetic days where this healthy living thing can easily start to feel like a whole lot of hard and annoying work.

I hope I’ve not made my make ahead lunches sound more complicated than they actually are with all the talk of calories and food types!

I promise that it really is quite straightforward. But like any diet hack, I think it’s about repeatedly doing it over time and developing the habit.

For me, this habit is now firmly entrenched in my Sunday evenings.


How do you organise healthy lunches for work or home each week?

Hacks and hints most welcome!

  • Carolyn
  • Bellybreathsofhappyness

    Hey Emma. I do pretty much the same but add some roast veg to my lunches. I usually mix up a tray of sweet potato, fennel, baby capsicums and red onion. Just a little spray of coconut oil spray and baked nice and golden. I find with this I don’t need any dressing. Lots of flavour too. Fx

    • The roast vegetables sound like a lovely addition! I’m going to try this out – always looking for ways to make lunch a little more interesting. Thanks Fiona!