A meal-prep for beginners recipe that meal-prep pros will love, too. Inspired by the health-focused delis on the rise that offer hearty, wholesome lunch kits for adults, complete with snacks on the side. This is a fresh, flavourful dish for work or home that can be meal-prepped in under an hour on Sunday, and enjoyed throughout the week. Simply cook, assemble, and grab while heading out the door.
For the past year or so, I’ve been writing a cookbook all about lunch. It’s called Modern Lunch, and it’s packed with essential meal-prep tips (plus lunch for home, weekends, special occasions, and much more). It’s not coming out until next year (early 2019), so I thought I’d get some meal-prep lunch inspiration to you a bit sooner.
I treasure my Sunday meal-prep sessions, often turning to my first cookbook Whole Bowls for grain, protein, dressing/sauce, and vegetable inspirations. I like to swap this and that, using what I love, crave, and have on hand. A recipe that allows me to draw outside the lines is my kind of recipe!
And, prepping ahead means we get to enjoy healthy, homemade lunches and dinners throughout the week, which saves money and feels really great. It’s a little gift to yourself, but making your own lunch with care and intention doesn’t mean spending hours every day doing so. I devote 2 hours max, which gets me through most of the week. If I have to, I’ll do a few small tasks during the week, or double a veg, protein, or grain dish I’m already cooking for dinner. I’ll even meal-prep breakfast, making my Bircher Muesli Overnight Oats. Dinner staples, like sauces, grains for grain bowls, hummus, and marinated and roasted proteins can also be meal-prepped. If it can be made-ahead, I will make it ahead!
I’m not exaggerating when I say that meal-prep has changed the way I cook, eat, and live. Once you get in the rhythm, you’ll wonder how you ever did without those meal-prep days. And guys, even my dad practices meal-prep (even though he probably doesn’t call it that). He texts me about the big-batch recipes he’s tried, like a Paleo meatloaf from Nom Nom Paleo’s cookbook, butternut squash soup, slow-cooker stews, and more. Meal-prep is for all ages, whether you go to work (my boyfriend), work from home (me), go to school (my sister), or are living your best life in retirement (my dad).
Harboiled eggs are easy enough for protein (my “recipe” is below), as are already cooked proteins such as canned beans, hummus, cheese, halloumi (seen here, which needs little more than a 5-minute sear in a nonstick skillet while the rest of your meal cooks), last night’s roast chicken, tofu, tempeh, and more.
Make your vegetarian meal-prep dish into vegan meal-prep dish with a simple change of protein. Make your chicken meal-prep dish into a salmon meal-prep dish by swapping the two. Make it spicy. Make it a salad. Make it a bowl. Make it enchiladas. Make it yours. Anything goes (just look at these inspiring meal-prep ideas on Instagram).
If you’re new to meal prep, start small: 1 grain or noodle, 2 vegetables (roasted/cooked or raw/salad, or a combination), 1 to 2 proteins, a dip, and a sauce/dressing. Meal-prep moments are also the ideal time to chop fresh veggies for dipping; just be sure to store them in water so they stay crisp. Soups, stews, curries, one-pot, sheet-pan, slow-cooker, and Instant Pot meals are fabulous meal-prep lunches and dinners, too. And don’t forget the snacks.
Meal-Prep Sweet Potato, Quinoa, and Greens with Halloumi (Bowl Option)
The beauty of this meal-prep recipe is that you can make it your own. For instance, replace one or both of the packages of halloumi with extra-firm tofu (drizzle generously with some tamari or soy sauce, or season with salt). Alternatively, cook only 1 (250 g) package of halloumi and add 1 (14 oz) can black beans (drained, rinsed) to the sweet potato mixture; or pair 1 (250 g) package of halloumi with leftover cooked meat, poultry (sweet potato and chicken meal-prep recipes are some of my favourites as they’re incredibly filling), or fish; or replace the halloumi entirely with cooked chicken, fish, hummus, beef, marinated tempeh, feta, etc. For crunch, top your salad with the roasted almonds you packed, or sprinkle over some sunflower seeds before sealing up your container. Love spinach? Make this a sweet potato and quinoa with spinach recipe instead. As you can see, this is more of a guideline than anything; just following the portions and amounts I’ve laid out, and you’ll be good to go.
Serves 4 to 5 (enough meal-prep lunches for the week, depending on your serving size)
Total Time: 45 minutes
Make-Ahead: 5 days (undressed)
Sweet Potato, Quinoa, and Greens with Halloumi
½ cup quinoa
1 cup water
4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 Tbsp coconut oil or olive oil, plus more for halloumi
¼ tsp salt
2 heads baby gem lettuce or 1 head romaine lettuce, shredded
5 cups (handfuls) loosely packed baby arugula or loosely packed baby kale or loosely packed baby spinach
2 (250 g) pkgs halloumi, cut crosswise into ¼-inch slabs, or cooked chicken, chickpeas, etc. (see more ideas in the header above)
6 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 Tbsp lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for serving
1 Tbsp dijon mustard
1 Tbsp honey or maple syrup
½ clove garlic, grated or minced
½ tsp salt, more to taste
ground black pepper, to taste
4 to 5 harboiled eggs (see How to Make Hardboiled Eggs below)
4 to 5 apples (for a snack, optional)
1 cup roasted almonds or trail mix (for a snack or to top your meal, optional)
Sweet Potato, Quinoa, and Greens with Halloumi
- Preheat oven to 375ºF. On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss sweet potatoes with 1 Tbsp coconut oil or olive oil and 1/8 tsp salt. Roast for 30 to 35 minutes, until tender when pierced with a sharp knife and beginning to brown. Meanwhile, cook the quinoa.
- For the quinoa, in a medium saucepan, bring quinoa and water to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and steam for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork, and set aside to cool uncovered for about 5 minutes.
- When sweet potatoes are finished roasting, gently toss with quinoa. Set aside to cool for 5 minutes before mixing in the lettuce and arugula or kale or spinach.
- To fry the halloumi, heat a non-stick pan over medium-high heat and coat with a touch of additional coconut oil or olive oil. Sear 1 package of halloumi on the first side for 3 to 5 minutes until golden brown in a few spots, then flip, and cook on second side for 2 to 3 minutes longer, until golden brown. Transfer halloumi to a plate and fry the next package. Set aside while you make the dressing.
- Whisk all vinaigrette ingredients in a medium bowl until combined, or add to a small glass jar, seal, and shake until combined.
Assembling Your Quinoa Sweet Potato Meal-Prep Lunch
- Add sweet potato and quinoa mixture to each bento box or container, and top with halloumi, egg (peeled or unpeeled; or pack unpeeled egg on the side), and lemon, or add these to a separate compartment. Pack vinaigrette in a small airtight container or jar and pack within your bento box or container or on the side. Season with additional salt, if desired. Seal and refrigerate until ready to take, along with apples and almonds or trail mix (pack in a little baggie or portion of your container if it has room), if desired. Keep chilled in your office refrigerator or in a cooler pack in your lunch bag. To serve, season with lemon, drizzle and mix with vinaigrette, and enjoy.
Assembling Your Quinoa Sweet Potato Bowl
- Toss one serving of sweet potato and quinoa mixture with vinaigrette, to coat. Peel one egg, slice in half, and add on top along with a few slices of halloumi. Chop up almonds or leave whole and scatter overtop of your bowl, season with additional salt, if desired, and enjoy. You can make this version up to 1 day in advance, if packing.
How to Make Hardboiled Eggs
- To a large pot or medium saucepan, add as many eggs as you can fit snuggly into a single bottom layer and cover with at least 2-inches of water. Bring to a boil, cover, and remove from heat. Let eggs stand, covered, for 10 to 12 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water, and refrigerate until ready to use. Keep them in their shell for easy transport and optimal freshness, and peel just before eating. Recycle an empty egg carton and label it “HB” with a permanent maker, and keep your hardboiled eggs in that–there’s no confusion when you open the refrigerator this way.