Between my tween, my teen and myself, we go through a lot of food. When you add in the fact that the tween is a dancer who sometimes has full days of rehearsals and performances and the teen is a runner who logs 4 to 6 miles most days, you can get an idea of how much fuel my kids need.
Lots of activity means needing lots of food.
So whenever I can, I try to make things easier — batch cooking on weekends, for instance, or freezing portions of meals for easy defrosting.
When it comes to lunches, we all like to pack ours, and we all like variety. That’s how I came up with this method of lunch meal planning. I make three easy recipes and transform them into five distinct lunches. Best of all, the five lunches are cooked and assembled in less than an hour. So if you can find an hour on the weekend, you can make these.
If you are feeding just yourself, this is lunch for a week. If you, like me, are feeding a few people, this gives you five meals to share over a few days.
Each of the recipes in this column — Garlic Herb Marinated Chicken, Roasted Broccoli with Garlic, and Sauteed Carrots and Shallots — are good on their own. You could make these three recipes together and have one nice meal.
But mixing them up in different ways transforms these dishes into unique lunches perfect for busy folks who are tired of spending too much on takeout for lunch.
How to use this meal plan
Start by making your shopping list. You’ll need a pound of chicken breasts, a nice round head of fresh broccoli, some carrots and shallots, as well as a cup of quinoa and some pantry ingredients you may already have — namely garlic, white wine vinegar, dried thyme and rosemary and olive oil, as well as salt and pepper. You’ll also need a few extras for the lunches like lettuce, a cucumber, barbecue sauce, a small head of endive, a bit of shredded cheddar, chicken broth, roasted red peppers and a couple of Kalamata olives.
This is all very flexible though. If you don’t like endive, choose another lettuce with firm leaves such as Boston or even iceberg. If you don’t eat cheese, skip it. You could even replace the chicken with firm tofu and the chicken broth with vegetable broth to transform these into vegan recipes.
Next, carve out some time to do this. All three recipes — including marinating time — can be accomplished in about an hour. Personally, I like to marinate the chicken for longer, so I typically will start marinating the chicken after grocery shopping in the morning and then cook everything in the late afternoon or evening.
In addition to these three recipes, you’ll also need to cook ½ cup of quinoa.
To prep these for lunches, you will also need five containers for packing the meals in. I use 4-cup Pyrex containers for most lunches. The glass is durable and reliable and cleans easily. Old takeout containers work too (for some meals). But use whatever you like to pack your lunches in.
What are the lunches?
These three recipes will be used to create five lunches. Again, these lunches are flexible. I don’t provide amounts for lettuce, for instance, because you should use as much as you like. Feel free to even switch up ingredients in these — trade the cucumbers for cherry tomatoes, for instance.
— Green Salad with Chicken: In a bowl with a tight-fitting lid, add lettuce, ¼ of the chicken, ⅓ of the broccoli, cucumbers and a container of vinaigrette.
— Chicken Quinoa Bowl: In a bowl with a tight-fitting lid, layer ½ of the quinoa, cucumbers, ¼ of the carrots, ⅓ of the broccoli and a container of vinaigrette.
— Barbecue Chicken Lettuce Wraps: For this one, I like to use a rectangular container such as an old takeout container. To three small containers with lids, add barbecue sauce, cheddar and ¼ of the carrots. Lay sliced chicken and endive leaves in the container too. At lunch, these items will all be combined in the endive leaves and eaten like mini lettuce wraps.
— Easy Chicken Soup: To a bowl with a secure, tight-fitting lid, add ¼ of the chicken, ¼ of the carrots, about 1 cup of chicken broth and some flavor enhancers such as rosemary, salt and fresh parsley or baby spinach. Heat this up before eating. Or heat it up in the morning and transfer it to a thermos container for transporting.
— Mediterranean Roasted Broccoli Bowl: To a bowl with a tight-fitting lid, add ½ of the quinoa, ⅓ of the broccoli, ¼ of the carrots, roasted red peppers and kalamata olives. I like to eat this cold.
These are the recipes that make these dishes come together.
Garlic Herb Marinated Chicken
1 pound chicken breasts
¼ cup white wine vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried basil
½ tsp dried rosemary
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
1. Cut 3 ¼-inch deep slits in the top of each chicken breast. Place into a resealable container. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, basil, rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper. Pour over the chicken. Cover and marinate for at least 30 minutes (a few hours is better though).
2. Heat a skillet over medium heat on the stove. Once hot, spray with cooking oil spray and add the chicken to the pan, discarding any excess marinade. Cook, flipping once or twice, until no pink remains inside — about 8 minutes per side.
3. Remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes before slicing thinly.
Roasted Broccoli with Garlic
4 cups fresh broccoli florets (chopped stems can be included too)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray the broccoli on a parchment-lined baking sheet or in a glass baking dish.
2. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with garlic, salt and pepper. Stir well to combine.
3. Bake for 15-20 minutes, stirring once, until the broccoli is browned and tender.
Sauteed Carrots and Shallots
1 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, peeled, halved and sliced
2 cups diced carrots
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Add the oil to a large skillet and heat over medium heat until warm. Add the shallots and carrots. Season gently with salt and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened — about 10 to 12 minutes.
2. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper, as desired.