3 Things You Must Do to Plan Delicious Lunches at Home

As more Americans find themselves working remotely, lunches are increasingly being moved from fancy restaurants or office cafeterias to the kitchen counter. Though eating lunch at home can be a smart way to save money and calories, it's easy to get stuck in a rut. Short on time and ideas, you might be eating PB&Js more often than you'd care to admit! 

If you're ready to stop rummaging and start fixing lunches worth sitting down for, check out these tips that will transform your lunchtime routine. With a thoughtful plan, well-stocked kitchen and a few time-saving tricks, you can once again look forward to your lunch break!

1. Success starts with your plan.

The first step to eating well during the week is creating a solid meal plan. A meal plan that includes foods you enjoy and the nutrients you need will help you stay on track with your goals without having to resign yourself to takeout.
  • Be intentional and set a menu that fits your schedule, matches your goals, and includes foods you'll enjoy. Drawing a blank? Consider following healthy cooking bloggers on social media for constant food inspiration!
  • When planning lunches in particular, don't be tempted to skimp on food groups! It's best to include at least three different food groups at each meal to help ensure you have a healthy balance of nutrients.
  • When making your shopping list, don't forget to figure out how much you need. For example, if you're trying to eat at least five servings of fruits and veggies each day, tossing a few apples and oranges in the cart won't cut it! Do a little math and make sure you're buying enough to cover your needs for the whole week. 
  • Look for ways to incorporate leftovers. Time is at a premium come lunchtime and leftovers are a great way to take full advantage of your previous efforts in the kitchen.

2. Stock up on the right stuff.

Plan in hand, it's time to go grocery shopping! Having a well-stocked kitchen is key in ensuring you have the ingredients on hand to properly fuel your body.  
  • To avoid questionable impulse purchases, stick to your list as much as possible and don't go shopping on an empty stomach. It's okay to have a realistic combination of fresh foods you'll cook yourself and a few healthier convenience items for hectic days.
  • Line your shelves with complex carbohydrates that will take you the extra mile. Though the refined stuff is fine on occasion, whole-grain options will give you the lasting energy you need to soar through the day and can be used in countless ways! 
  • Canned beans are the unsung hero when it comes to pantry protein, dishing up an average of eight or more grams per serving. Smash a few with salsa to make a delicious black bean burrito or whip up an Italian-inspired chickpea and tuna salad with herbs for a meal that will keep you satisfied until dinnertime.
  • Bored with your pantry staples? Go Mediterranean! Marinated veggies like artichoke hearts, pickled asparagus, stuffed olives and fire-roasted peppers can take salads and pasta dishes from basic to amazing. For extra protein, add a dollop of Greek yogurt on top!
  • Keep a stash of flavorful dips and spread such as roasted red pepper hummus or creamy tzatziki on hand to elevate your plate. For a few extra calories (watch your portion sizes!) and no extra effort, you can transform that turkey and Swiss sandwich into something special.
  • Don't forget to stock up your freezer! Picked at their peak, frozen fruits and veggies offer both convenience and excellent nutritional quality. Whether steamed in the microwave or thrown into a smoothie, frozen options are a great way to boost your intake of these health-protective heavy hitters.
  • The frozen aisle is also a great place to pick up par-cooked whole grains for those days when you don't have a minute to spare. Look for plain varieties and watch out for added sauces and seasoning blends that can add huge amounts of sodium and extra calories.

3. Lunch prep for the win!

The perfect menu? Check. Fully-stocked kitchen? Check. Now it's time to get a head start and do a little meal prep for the week ahead! 
  • Do you buy bushels of veggies only to see them wilt and wither before you get around to eating them? Instead of relegating these treasures to the back of the fridge, wash and prep your vegetables right away so that they're ready to enjoy at a moment's notice.
  • Batch cooking is a fantastic way to save time and money in the kitchen. Grilling kabobs for dinner? Throw on a few extra to toss on a salad later in the week. Roasting a chicken? Double down and you'll have leftovers for sandwiches. In other words, cook once and eat twice!
  • While you're at it, now would be a great time to roast up a pan of vegetables for the week. Colorful combinations such as peppers and onions are wonderfully versatile, whether you like them rolled up in fajitas with leftover chicken or piled onto a lean roast beef sandwich, Philly-style. If you're vegetarian, they're delicious wrapped with hummus and feta cheese in a whole-wheat pita. The possibilities are endless!
  • Looking for a one-pot wonder that's perfect for a satisfying lunch? You can't go wrong with a homemade soup loaded with veggies, lean protein and whole grains. From curried lentil to bold minestrone, soup delivers nutrition in every bite and extra servings can be stashed in the freezer for future lunches.
Remember that eating while working from home is all about being intentional. The more you're able to prep and stick to your lunchtime plan, the less likely you'll be to skip the meal or let the pantry tempt you into snacking throughout the entire workday. With the right nutritious and balanced lunch, you'll feel energized, satiated and determined to knock out all your deadlines!