Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Oh Sundays: Our Lunch Cooking Strategy

OK, now prepared to be really astounded. Not only do we eat the same meal all week for our dinner, we actually have eaten the same EXACT meal for lunch 75-80% of ALL weekdays for the past several years (i.e. pre-kids and I think even pre-marriage, I remember us working on making these lunches in our own respective apartments and driving them over to each others' place!)

This is our lunch:

Grilled chicken salad: Chicken rubbed with G's special spice blend & cooked on the grill (we used to cook on a pan when we lived in an apartment, but this is WAY easier), romaine hearts chopped up and spun in the salad spinner, red bell peppers, shredded carrots or celery pieces, feta cheese (a more recent addition that we now cannot live without), cherry tomatoes (when in season, no gross winter tomatoes!), and chickpeas. The salads are pre-made on Sunday and put into those square ziplock plastic containers (yes they stay fresh until Friday). We put our dressing of choice in 2 oz tupperware containers directly in there too. There is a separate little container with crunchies as needed (croutons, toasted nuts). 

Before we get groceries we run through our schedule and decide how many salads we want that week. The default is 4, so we have 1 day to eat something different. Some weeks we have lunch meetings or special occasions and we only take 3 salads.  G makes the salads---he has it down to an exact science and the whole process takes less than an hour including the chicken prep.

I eat mine with Blue Cheese dressing. I also have 2 fruits to go with it and some water. It is extremely filling volume-wise and the low-carb nature keeps me from the post-lunch crash. This was actually why we started eating this....G always got sleepy after his sandwich for lunch, and we were also jumping on the low-carb bandwagon that was so popular at the time.

If we travel or somehow can't make the lunches on the weekend, we just buy food all week and it sucks. There were occasional times when we've been tired of the salads & we alternate other meals (chunky curry chicken salad with bread; tofu/veggie stir fry with quinoa) but that hasn't happened in a couple of years. When I was pregnant with B I could not stand the thought of chicken or salad or anything other than white carbs so I ate white pasta salad---basically pasta with salad dressing and minimal veggies that I also couldn't stand the thought of).  I've given the salads away when I haven't felt like eating them and all my friends think they are delish.

The boys also have a boring lunch routine. This is their 3 meal rotation---one meal per week, Monday-Thursday (on Friday they get pizza at school for $1 a slice).

Week 1: Veggie Hummus Sandwich---one cup peas (or other), one cup chickpeas, 1 T tahini, lemon & salt to taste. Spread on one slice of bread and fold/cut as needed.

Week 2: Veggie Chicken Salad---one poached chicken breast, 1 cup lima beans/peas or one avacado, mayo/yogurt, salt to taste all blended to smoothness. Spread on one slice bread.

Week 3: Pasta & Chicken---whole grain or veggie pasta with cubes of grilled chicken breast tossed with pasta sauce (tomato sauce +/- alfredo)

Other than the Friday pizza, we have to provide ALL meals/snacks so they each get about 6-7 containers of stuff every day. It is my job to make their lunches every evening. If I have time I do it before they all get home for the evening (after walking the dog, checking the mail, starting to heat up dinner). Otherwise I do it after they go to bed. Everything goes in take-and-toss containers such that our dishwasher top rack is ALWAYS full.

1: main lunch
2: veggie (steamed baby carrots, peas, green beans, edamame, broccoli---one veggie per week)--B eats his, L doesn't
3: fruit # 1 (banana, clementine, kiwi, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, mango, pomogranate, pear, apple, apricot, peach, plum, nectarine are all options depending on the season) most need to be peeled or cut.
4: fruit # 2
5: Fruit #3 for B, yogurt for L
6: cheese stick (whole for B, cut into tiny pieces for L)
7: snack (goldfish, pretzels, etc...)

We also throw fruit leather and Lara bars into their bag for emergency travel snacks (usually needed on the way home)

Next we'll talk about breakfast---and I'll need your advice because we're at a loss.


  1. That is awesome! Will keep in mind. Our day care here provides food (healthy, organic- likely better than what I would have time to pack) but I'm not sure about the place we are considering in Miami.

  2. I love what you make for the boy's lunches. Maybe we will try something similar.

    One thought -- not sure if you've tried it with the pasta + chicken you serve, but Dyls also likes green pesto. Maybe the boys would like it too? We also sometimes do plain pasta with cheese, but then she might not eat the chicken. Daycare sometimes does ground turkey instead of chicken which also seems popular.

    Other quickies in our arsenal:
    - steamed cauliflower
    - boiled eggs +/- mayo or tomato sauce (these also seem to keep forever)
    - we get a lot of pre-chopped fruit and berries (black+and rasp) at the store. We still have to chop it smaller, but it cuts prep time about in 1/2.

  3. Oh man, that salad sounds magnificent. I love a good salad with lots of protein-y goodness. It really stays fresh all week? REALLY? Can G start making some for me as well? I'll take hardboiled egg instead of chicken, and I'll go with blue cheese as well. Mmmmm!

    I have high fiber cereal every damn morning, and have second breakfast when I get to work. I have a fridge in my office, and keep a big container of yogurt in it, which I mix with granola and some jam (to make it like fruit yogurt). Every damn workday...

  4. This is a great series of posts--thanks for sharing. I struggle with meal-planning a great deal and have yet to figure out how to make something work. But after reading about your dinner routine, I've been thinking of trying something similar. Like Esperanza, my concern was that we take leftovers for our lunches, but if I plan lunches differently, then maybe we can streamline dinners into one repeated meal after all. I'm not a salad person (yet I'm a long-time vegetarian...strange, but true), but I love brown rice combined with protein/veg. In fact, for many years when I lived on my own, I ate the same exact meal of brown rice and veggie patty for dinner and often, also for lunch. I have no trouble at all with repetitive meals as long as the vegetable/fruit part is varied. I can't do the brown rice meal for dinners because the kids aren't as crazy about it as I am (oh, I've tried!). But maybe that's my lunch answer?

    Somehow, breakfasts feel easy for us. I offer yogurt and sometimes bagel/cream cheese or Kas.hi breakfast bars (I find them icky, but the kids love them). If those fail, I go to pbj sandwiches, which always go over well and are essentially protein/fiber/fruit in a perfect combo. Other than these options, I have no other breakfast ideas, so I'm glad the kids like them. On weekends we do scrambled eggs with cheese, but I can't get myself organized to make them during the weekdays. Mornings are hectic unless I get up super early and to be honest, I'm choosing sleep over organization at the moment.

  5. Another creature of habit :-) I usually eat the same lunch every day, and I pack almost the same lunch for my son until he begged for no more sandwiches. I keep the fruit and snack the same but vary the protein, and that seems to work.