Midday meals are about to get a lot easier.

By Karla Walsh
July 15, 2020
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Like many things in 2020, getting ready for school is looking a bit different this year. But one thing stays the same: The need for quick and healthy lunches your little scholars will *actually* eat. Sure, you could stick with the tried-and-true PB&J, but why not treat them to a homemade meal (and sneak in some extra veggies and vitamins at the same time)? Shop and prep on Sunday and you’ll have a week's-worth of nutritious, tasty, and affordable meals that require just a bit of assembly day-of. Stock up on some containers to store smartly, then study up on the meal plan and shopping list that will make A+ weekday lunches easier than ever before.

Spicy Buffalo Tacos
Credit: Jason Donnelly

Prep-Ahead Lunch Ideas That Make the Most of Your Time

This kid-friendly lunch menu centers around a few main dishes, paired with a simple whole piece of fruit for a sweet treat and to cover as many of the food groups as possible. Many of these ingredients overlap to cut down on shopping time and food waste. You will still have some odds and ends to toss into dinner recipes, so keep that in mind as you fill your cart and plan your dinners, too.

Apples and bananas are just possible fruit options, you could just as easily swap in other hand fruits such as oranges, peaches, plums, grapes, or whatever fruit will actually be eaten.

What to Prep When, Plus How to Pack and Store the Lunch Recipes

First up: Wash and dry the apples and store them in your refrigerator crisper drawer, then place the bananas in a fruit basket or on a banana hanger ($12, Target). Side dishes. Check. Now get out your food storage containers ($20, Target).

Next up, rinse the kale and romaine, then wrap the romaine in paper towels and store it in a zip-top bag to use as the base of Thursday’s taco salads. Keep that kale handy for the tacos.

Then it’s time to turn to the three main recipes. Begin with the Spicy Beef Tacos so they can simmer in the slow cooker ($30, Target) as you complete the other two meals. Store the tortillas in the refrigerator until Monday (you’ll have some left for another taco night down the road).

Second on the entrée front, mix and bake the Chicken-Zucchini Meatballs. Once done, pack three meatballs and ½ cup of the jarred marinara sauce in separate storage containers. One you’ll reheat and stuff inside a toasted whole-wheat hoagie bun, and the other you’ll toss with pasta.

Boil water and boil as much of that box of pasta as you’d like to meal prep. You’ll need 2 ounces (one-eighth of the box) for one lunch. Once cooked to al dente, store this pasta in a storage container. Pop all of these meatball and pasta containers in the fridge until it’s time to reheat them in the microwave day-of. Freeze any extra meatballs to incorporate into dinners at a later date.

Last up: Tortellini time! The Hot and Saucy Tortellini takes less than 30 minutes, so you can actually probably sneak it in as the meatballs bake (the timing works out perfectly to make this semi-homemade stuffed pasta lunch while the chicken meatballs crisp up in the oven). Boil the tortellini and cook the ground beef, then add the marinara sauce, salsa, and cilantro. Portion into four containers and freeze any you won’t use in the first three days of the week. Meal prep. Check.

The day-of, here’s all that’s left to do.

  • Monday: Reheat the Spicy Beef Taco meat in the microwave until warm, stirring every 30 seconds, and warm a couple tortillas.
  • Tuesday: Reheat one container of Hot and Saucy Tortellini in the microwave at 70% power until warm, about 4 minutes.
  • Wednesday: Toast one hoagie bun and reheat one container of Chicken Zucchini Meatballs in the microwave until warm. 
  • Thursday: Reheat the Spicy Beef Taco meat in the microwave until warm, stirring every 30 seconds, and spoon over a bed of torn romaine leaves just before eating. If desired, top with additional salsa and shredded cheese.
  • Friday: Reheat one container of Chicken Zucchini Meatballs and one container of the pre-cooked pasta in the microwave until warm.

Your Weekly Lunch Prep Recipe Shopping List

Besides olive oil and a few spice cabinet mainstays, here’s what you’ll need to make these easy prep-ahead lunches. (Shh...we won’t tell the kids that nearly half of it lives in the produce section!) 

Print the list below, use our free printable shopping list template and write it down, or bring it with you tech-style by copying and pasting this ingredient list and emailing it to yourself. To make the most of your time, we’ve listed it in the way many supermarkets are organized so you can start at produce and work your way to the freezer aisles, then head to the checkout and get on your way.

  • 3 apples
  • 2 bananas
  • 1 bunch of kale
  • 2 heads romaine lettuce
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 4 roma tomatoes
  • 1 bunch green onions
  • 2 fresh poblano chile peppers
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 head of garlic
  • Fresh parsley
  • Fresh cilantro
  • 1 package 8-inches flour tortillas
  • 1 package of whole-wheat hoagie rolls
  • 1 16-ounce box of desired pasta
  • 8 ounces dried cheese-filled tortellini 
  • 1 24-ounce jar tomato-basil pasta sauce 
  • Small container of panko bread crumbs
  • 1 16-ounce bottle salsa 
  • 1 15-ounce can dark red kidney beans
  • 1 15-ounce can reduced-sodium black beans
  • 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 10-ounce can diced tomatoes with green chiles, undrained
  • 1 bag shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 4 ounces Parmesan cheese
  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 24 ounces lean ground beef

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