Top 7 ‘Make-Ahead’ Lunches

Top 7 ‘Make-Ahead’ Lunches

Top 7 ‘Make-Ahead’ Lunches

Now that we are back-to-school or back from holidays, it is time to hunker down with preparing “make-ahead” lunches. In part one, we explored the three ways to master “make-ahead” lunches by prioritizing planning, stocking up on lunchbox essentials and considering a mental shift from performance to consistency. This makes the lunch-making process less daunting and a more sustainable habit. In today’s blog, I will share when to prepare lunches, the 1, 2, 3 lunch-box formula and finally my Top 7 “Make-Ahead” Lunches.


When Do I “Make-Ahead?”

Avoid making or packing lunches in the morning. Your future-self will always thank you. For most, the mornings are one of the busiest times of the day. Why compound this by adding another task, especially one as important as packing lunches? Plus, when we are rushed, we are more inclined to skip breakfast (see here why it’s the most important meal of the day). Start your day off on a less hurried and stressful note by packing lunches ahead.



Try setting aside time either the night before or on the weekend, to prepare lunches and snacks. You can even set a timer and give yourself only 15-20 minutes to see how much you can get done in that time. The consistency of packing your lunch ahead is more important than the performance of packing the “perfect lunch.” Remember, eating a packed lunch will (almost) always beat the nutrition of buying your lunch.


Lunch #Tip: Ask for help! Many hands make light work. Kids can build valuable food skills + learn to prioritize #nutrition. Click To Tweet


1, 2, 3 Lunch-Box Formula!


A balanced lunch requires three components:

  1. Carbohydrate – These provide you with your “energy” source. Carbohydrates are actually our body’s preferred source of fuel. Therefore, both adults and children need to have carbs in their lunches. If you heard that carbs are bad/unhealthy, they are not. Please read my blog entitled, In Defence of Carbs: Stop the Hating.

Examples: Fruits, whole grains or breads, legumes/beans, milk and starchy veggies like potatoes, peas, corn.

grains ingredients


  1. Protein – After we have our source of energy (carbohydrate) in our lunch, we now need our protein. This is important for muscle growth and recovery. Protein also slows digestion, which helps us feel full longer. Read here on protein and how much we require.

Examples: Meats, fish, beans, tofu, nuts/seeds, dairy or milk-alternatives.


Find out how to balance your lunch! Three component, this #dietitian recommends to keep you feeling full 4 longer! #nutrition Click To Tweet


  1. Veggies – A lunch is not complete without veggies! These provide you with additional vitamins and minerals along with fibre to keep you feeling full. A previous study found that an astounding 87% of people do not meet their veggie recommendations.

Preparing veggies in advance allows you to add them to lunches without the added stress of having to cut them in the morning. Veggies can be added as an ingredient to meals such as sauces or stir-fry’s or in a small container on the side with a dip (if desired).

"Make-ahead" lunches


Andrea’s 7 Make-Ahead Lunches

  1. Mexican Buddha Bowl

Buddha bowls are all the rage these days. They also are ideal make-ahead meals! I wrote about them in my Cottage Meals blog. If you are unfamiliar with a Buddha bowl, it’s basically a grain (like rice, quinoa, barley, bulgur, corn), a green (spinach, kale, or any other veggie) and a bean (often vegetarian so you could use chickpeas, black beans, lentils, etc). However, don’t feel restricted by this rhyme, I often think of a Buddha bowl as a grain, a protein and veggie(s). There is no wrong way to build a Buddha bowl.  Simply combine ingredients, use up what you have on hand and then add some flavour boosters like herbs, avocado, cheese and a simple dressing.

"Make-ahead" lunches

Carb – Quinoa/rice/bulgur. Black beans

Protein – Black beans, plain yogurt, cheese

Veggies – Lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, etc.


  1. Hummus Bento Box

I love a quick assembly-style lunch because it offers flexibility to use ingredients on hand. You’re essentially throwing in a carb, protein and veggie. Bento lunches are also great for leftovers where you combine ingredients like rice, chicken and veggies.


Carb – Whole grain naan bread cut into wedges. Grapes

Protein – Hummus, hard-boiled egg or yogurt

Veggies – Cut up cucumbers, baby carrots


"Make-ahead" lunches


Make-Ahead Tips: Use a bento lunch box or small containers to portion your hummus and/or dressing. I also recommend trying pesto added to the top of hummus. Eggs can be hard-boiled in advance in roughly 10 minutes on the stove and last in the fridge for seven days. Cut your veggies in advance.


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  1. Easiest Greek Lentil Salad

This recipe is a go-to for my family; it is delicious and keeps for leftovers during a busy week. Lentils are loaded with nutrition like fibre and protein to keep you feeling full. This is also a great option if you are into Meatless Mondays.

"make-ahead" lunch

Carb – Lentils

Protein – Lentils (1/2 cup lentils has 9 grams of protein). Feta cheese has protein

Veggies – Cherry tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, onions, olives. Can add raw veggies on side

Make-Ahead Tips: Rinse and drain canned lentils the night before. Add chopped veggies and this is a two-ingredient marinade using olive oil and vinegar.


  1. Slap it on a Sandwich or Wrap

Sandwiches can be boring but they certainly don’t have to be. Switch out the bread for a tortilla, pita rounds or whole grain crackers. Right now, I’m loving sprouted grain breads, like Dave’s Killer Bread or Silver Hills 20 Grain Train. Not to mention the fillings can be as simple as adding sliced turkey, ham or chicken or doing a 2-minute tuna salad, chicken or egg salad.


Carb – Whole grain breads (looking for high fibre and protein-rich)

Protein – Meats like turkey, ham, roast chicken breast, cheese slice. Egg salad, chicken salad, tuna salad.

Veggies – Add veggies to the filing and/r on the side. Cherry tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, onions, olives. Choose your preference for adding to the salad or can add raw on the side.



  1. Leftover Speedy Naan Pizza

Making twice as much does not take twice as much time. Therefore, if you planning ahead for leftovers to use for lunches, make double the pizza. Applying the same 1, 2, 3 lunch formula allows you to hit your balanced meal, which will help you in feeling full for longer. Balancing meals also allows your child to focus better in school and cut down on sugar cravings or extra snacking.



Carb – Whole grain naan, could do fruit for additional carb

Protein – Toppings such as, meats ham, roast chicken, spicy salami (this Italian’s favourite) and cheese. Yogurt on side.

Veggies – Can have as topping or on the side. Add veggies to the filing and/or on side. Cherry tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, onions, olives. Choose your preference for adding to the salad or can add raw on the side.


  1. Mediterranean Quinoa & Lentil Salad

Many of our clients are into batch cooking to prep for a busy week ahead. Making a batch of whole grains (like quinoa, rice or bulgur) on Sunday allows you to create a cold salad to add for lunches. I love this Mediterranean Quinoa & Lentil Salad because it offers flexibility to use up ingredients on hand.



Carb – Quinoa and lentils

Protein – Quinoa and lentils for vegetarian protein along with feta cheese

Veggies – Veggies included in the cold salad or can be added on the side


  1. Hot Leftovers

During the fall and winter, many enjoy heating up leftovers for lunch. This is also a way to save time as you are preparing twice as much for dinner (without double the effort.)


Here are some of my favourite meals for hot lunch leftovers:


Stuffed Peppers

Indian Dhal Soup

Shrimp & Tofu Green Thai Curry

Rosemary Roasted Chickpeas

Spicy Sausage Penne

Caribbean Coconut Black Bean Rice

Savoury Pumpkin Chili {one-pot meal)


Save time & stress with Andrea's Top 7 Make-Ahead Lunches! #Recipes included! Click To Tweet


Bottom Line:

Making lunches ahead for work or school is powerful healthy eating habit. It puts you in the driver’s seat of your nutrition and places your health as a high priority. Be sure to make lunches the night before to avoid the morning mayhem. Also balancing your lunch will give you adequate energy and cut sugar/snack cravings later in the day. Last, be sure to try some of my Top 7 “Make-Ahead” Lunches.

make-ahead lunch

Now it’s your turn! How do you tackle lunches during the busy work-week? Do you have go-to “make-ahead” lunch options? Have you tried any of the Dietetic Directions recommendations?

Andrea D'Ambrosio dietitian Dietetic Directions