25 Nutritious Lunch Meal Prep Recipes You Can Make Ahead

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Carving time out of your weekend for lunch meal prep can help save you money and calories.
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When you're busy, a nutritious lunch can be hard to come by. But that's where meal planning and prepping come in.


"The ultimate goal for many with meal or food prep is to have food ready to go when hunger hits," Hillary Pride, RDN, CPT, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "Some common barriers to weight-management success can be skipping meals, restricting foods and not choosing foods that provide fullness and satisfaction."

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When you don't have a variety of healthy choices on hand, it's tempting to skip meals or tell yourself you'll "grab something later." And, far too often, that "something" ends up being fast food or ultra-processed foods.

Making your lunch ahead of time doesn't just help you avoid that pitfall: It can also save you time and money — and reduce the stress associated with deciding what to eat or rushing through meal prep, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

3 Benefits of Meal Prepping Lunch

Meal prepping any meal ahead of time can be a huge help to staying on track with balanced and healthy eating. Here are a few benefits to meal prepping lunches.


1. You'll Save Time

Tired of waking up in a frenzy morning after morning wondering what to make ahead for lunch? Meal prepping takes the guess work out of it. Simply grab your prepared lunch and head out the door.

2. You'll Save Money

Chances are, when you don't have a packed lunch prepared, you'll be more likely to spend money eating out. Preparing a lunch at home typically costs a fraction of the amount you'd spend on a restaurant lunch.


3. You Control the Ingredients

Having a healthy and balanced meal at your fingertips is one sure way to avoid the temptation of tasty but less nutritious foods like chicken tenders and fries. While there's nothing wrong with treating yourself here and there, consistently making your own lunch will help you stick to your diet goals over the long run — and allows you to control how much salt, sugar and fat goes into your dish.


3 Tips for Successful Lunch Meal Prep

Meal prepping might seem overwhelming at first, but it becomes much easier once you make it a habit. As you get used to prepping lunches for the week ahead, you'll start to note what you like to eat, and your daily menu (and nutrition) will become more consistent.


The old saying "practice makes perfect" definitely applies to meal prepping. To help you get started, registered dietitian Anika Christ, RD, an online coach with Life Time, offers these helpful tips:


  1. Invest in Mason jars or glass containers.‌ "I like [making] Crock-Pot chili on Sunday and filling five Mason jars for lunches at work for the upcoming week," she says. "It makes packing my lunch easy and doable each morning, and I don't run out of lunches during the workweek."
  2. Wash and cut produce in advance.‌ You're more likely to eat fruits and veggies when they're washed, cut and ready to eat. "Store your produce in clear containers on the top shelf of your refrigerator," Christ says. "That way, you'll see them when you open the door, and they won't get lost in the produce drawer."
  3. Don't try to prep for the whole week at once.‌ Instead of diving in headfirst, aim to make three healthy lunches at a pop. You can pick a second day in the week to prep the rest.


Now, get cooking with these tasty ideas for weekday lunches you can easily store or travel with.

Lunch Meal Prep Recipes

1. Easy Tuna Salad

Making a large batch of tuna salad allows you to mix and match your lunches however you please.

"Canned tuna is an inexpensive way to get in extra lean protein," says Chicago-based registered dietitian May Zhu, RDN, LDN, of Nutrition Happens. And because it can typically be kept in the fridge for 4 to 5 days, it makes for a great meal-prep option during the week. Enjoy it on sprouted whole-grain bread, a bed of lettuce or even apple wedges.



Get the Easy Tuna Salad recipe and nutrition info from Salt and Lavender.

2. Easy Chicken Chili

Chili is a one-pot meal full of protein, healthy fats and fiber.

To lighten up this stew, consider replacing the cream cheese with Greek yogurt. "It keeps the creaminess while boosting the protein and lowering the overall fat content," Zhu says.

Get the Easy Chicken Chili recipe and nutrition info from Natasha's Kitchen.

3. Korean-Inspired Ground Beef Bowls

Making these Asian-inspired dishes takes less than 20 minutes.

"Beef is an excellent source of protein and contains 10 essential nutrients that support our metabolism, including B vitamins, zinc and iron," Zhu says. You can add your favorite veggies and swap the cauliflower rice for brown rice or whole-wheat noodles.

Get the Korean-Inspired Beef Bowls recipe and nutrition info from Lexi's Clean Kitchen.

4. Spicy Chickpea Quinoa Bowl

These gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan bowls are practically foolproof.

Stock your pantry with prep-friendly ingredients like chickpeas. "They contain both protein and fiber, which work together to slow down digestion and promote fullness," Zhu says. Pairing them with another source of plant-based protein — like the quinoa in this recipe — helps keep you feeling full longer.


Get the Spicy Chickpea Quinoa Bowl recipe and nutrition info from Eat Yourself Skinny.

5. Instant Pot Chicken Taco Bowls

Enjoy these bowls with lean, shredded chicken breast or ground turkey.

"This taco-bowl recipe contains a well-balanced trio of protein, fiber and healthy fats," Zhu says. That combination of nutrients helps stabilize blood sugar and energy levels — meaning you'll be able to say bye-bye to feeling drowsy in the middle of your workday.

Get the Instant Pot Chicken Taco Bowls recipe and nutrition info from I Heart Naptime.

6. Quick and Easy Vegan Pasta Salad

This pasta salad is a great one-batch meal for the entire family — kids included.

Pasta salads are a great option when you need to pack a cold lunch. They're also a great way to add a variety of vegetables to your diet, Zhu says. If you want to bump up the protein and fiber in this salad, consider using a legume-based pasta such as Banza ($3.19, Amazon).

Get the Quick and Easy Vegan Pasta Salad recipe and nutrition info from The Simple Veganista.

7. Sticky Ginger Soy-Glazed Chicken

Chicken served with flavor-packed garlic noodles and savory broccoli never disappoints.

"This is a great example of how frozen vegetables can be included into meal prep," Zhu says. "Frozen veggies are usually more affordable and just as nutritious as fresh vegetables." If you're looking to lower the carb content in this recipe, swap the noodles for zucchini spirals or cauliflower rice.


Get the Sticky Ginger Soy-Glazed Chicken recipe and nutrition info from Budget Bytes.

8. Roasted Vegetable Couscous

Add your favorite protein to this veggie-and-couscous mix to keep midday hunger at bay.

"This recipe contains an impressive 35 grams of protein per serving to help keep you full and satisfied between meals," says registered dietitian Andrea Mathis, RDN. "To help boost the fiber content, consider using whole-grain couscous, which can help keep your blood sugar levels stable and lower cholesterol, too."

Get the Roasted Vegetable Couscous recipe and nutrition info from Budget Bytes.

9. Egg Salad Sandwich

Enjoy this egg salad as a sandwich, salad or with veggies for a well-balanced lunch.

When you're short on time, this quick and tasty recipe comes in handy. "Eggs are a great source of vitamin A, vitamin B12 and selenium, which helps to keep our immune system healthy," Mathis says. To lower the fat and calories in this recipe, swap Greek yogurt for the mayo.

Get the Egg Salad Sandwich recipe and nutrition info from The Cookie Rookie.

10. Lebanese-Inspired Quinoa Salad

This protein-rich, grain-based salad is a great option when you want to skip the lettuce.

Thanks to the chicken and quinoa, this salad is full of protein. "Quinoa is high in protein and one of the few plant-based foods that contain all nine essential amino acids," Mathis says.

Get the Lebanese-Inspired Quinoa Salad recipe and nutrition info from The Lemon Bowl.

11. Spicy Black-Eyed Pea Nourish Bowls

This meatless plant-based bowl is sure to keep you full for hours.

This lunchtime dish is full of protein and fiber, thanks to its inclusion of black-eyed peas and sweet potatoes. "Black-eyed peas are also high in other nutrients such as folate, copper and thiamine," Mathis says. "And just one sweet potato gives you 400 percent of the vitamin A you need each day."

Get the Spicy Black-Eyed Pea Nourish Bowls recipe and nutrition info from Minimalist Baker.

12. Fire-Roasted Tortellini Minestrone Soup

Soups are a great option for meal-prep days, as they're quick to make and result in several servings.

"This recipe is a healthier take on traditional minestrone soup," Mathis says. "It's packed with vegetables like spinach and zucchini, which contain pantothenic acid and folate — both of which are essential [B vitamins] for overall health."

Get the Fire-Roasted Tortellini Minestrone Soup recipe and nutrition info from Little Spice Jar.

13. Chopped Thai-Inspired Salad With Peanut Dressing

To keep greens from wilting, place a paper towel under the lid to absorb extra moisture.

"Peanuts and peanut butter help to provide this recipe with a source of healthy fats and protein," Mathis says. Even though they're calorie-dense, peanuts are nutrient-rich and low in carbohydrates, she says.

Get the Chopped Thai-Inspired Salad with Peanut Dressing recipe and nutrition info from Little Spice Jar.

14. Egg Roll in a Bowl

Skip the takeout: This make-ahead dish has all your favorite flavors — without the extra fat, calories and sodium.

Ingredients like ginger give this recipe lots of flavor without adding calories. "Ginger has been used to aid in digestion, reduce nausea and help with symptoms of the common cold," Mathis says. If you want to make this recipe vegetarian, replace the meat with tofu or eggs.

Get the Egg Roll in a Bowl recipe and nutrition info from Well Plated.

15. The Ultimate Vegetarian Burrito

Double this recipe and freeze half of the batch for your future self.

Vitamin C-rich bell peppers help your body absorb the non-heme (plant-derived) iron in the beans, making this recipe a winner, says registered dietitian Nicole Rodriguez, RDN. Feel free to swap brown rice for the white, and a lettuce wrap or whole-grain tortilla for the regular one.

Get the Ultimate Vegetarian Burrito recipe and nutrition info from Dishing Out Health.

16. Asian-Inspired Miso Chicken Salad

This nutritious salad is full of fresh ingredients and flavor.

"Unless you're going low-carb, consider adding a whole grain to this salad," Rodriguez says, to help fill you up. Farro, brown rice and quinoa would all be nutrient-dense choices.

Get the Asian-Inspired Miso Chicken Salad recipe and nutrition info from Lively Table.

17. Lemon Garlic Shrimp and Zucchini Noodles

If you don't have shrimp in your fridge or freezer, use a lean protein such as ground turkey, chicken or fish.

"This low-calorie recipe is perfect for a lunch or light dinner," Mathis says. "The zucchini noodles offer a low-carb option and provide a good source of vitamin A, which is an essential fat-soluble vitamin."

Get the Lemon Garlic Shrimp and Zucchini Noodles recipe‌ ‌and nutrition info from The Wholesome Dish.

18. Curry Chicken Salad

The Greek yogurt in this recipe keeps the fat content down and the protein content up.

This chicken salad is loaded with fruits and veggies like grapes and red bell pepper. "Both of these foods provide a great source of antioxidants, which helps [support] the immune system and protect against oxidative stress," Mathis says.

Get the Curry Chicken Salad recipe and nutrition info from Love and Zest.

19. Instant Pot Chana Dal

Pair this curry with cauliflower rice or serve it on a bed of green vegetables for a well-balanced meal.

"Chana Dal, also known as split chickpeas, is a staple in Indian and South Asian cuisine," Mathis says. "It's highly nutritious and contains a good source of protein, dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals." This meal-prep idea is also ideal for vegetarians or those looking to limit their meat intake.

Get the Instant Pot Chana Dal recipe and nutrition info from My Heart Beets.

20. Salmon Sushi Bowls

This sushi dish contains a whopping 40 grams of protein per serving.

The salmon and avocado in this sushi bowl not only provide healthy fats, but also boost fiber — both of which help fill you up, Mathis says.

Get the Salmon Sushi Bowls recipe and nutrition info from Dishing Out Health.

21. Kale and Sweet Potato Brown Rice Bowls

These bowls are a great meal-prep idea for fall and winter because they include seasonal produce.

These nourishing bowls are great for those on a vegan or gluten-free diet. "Kale and sweet potatoes are both highly nutritious foods," Mathis says. "Kale is rich in vitamin K, calcium, potassium and manganese, and sweet potatoes are abundant in vitamins A, C, B6 and E."

Get the Kale and Sweet Potato Brown Rice Bowls recipe and nutrition info from Eating Bird Food.

22. Chunky Pea and Leek Soup With Poached Eggs

Low-calorie leeks add tons of flavor to this soup and are a good source of fiber.

Thanks to the eggs, this vegetable-filled soup is protein-rich. To make this recipe more meal prep-friendly, consider using hard-boiled eggs instead of poached.

Get the Chunky Pea and Leek Soup With Poached Eggs recipe and nutrition info from A Beautiful Plate.

23. Vegan Meatball Sub

Serve this vegan sub with a green salad and veggies for a well-balanced meal.

Although this sub is a great source of vitamin A and calcium, Mathis suggests cutting back on some of the salt by "using a low-sodium marinara sauce and reducing the amount of vegan mozzarella cheese." You can also freeze these after prepping them.

Get the Vegan Meatball Sub recipe and nutrition info from Namely Marly.

24. Lentil Salad

Meal prep this salad as a side dish or main course.

Lentils are a superstar food that can be a great part of any diet, especially plant-based. "Lentils are a great source of dietary fiber, offering approximately 16 grams per cup," Mathis says. "That helps support digestive health."

Get the Lentil Salad recipe and nutrition info from Tastes Better from Scratch.

25. Spicy Tuna Pasta Salad

You can add as many vegetables as you'd like to this pasta salad.

"This tuna pasta salad is an excellent source of high-quality protein, thanks to the tuna," Mathis says. "Tuna contains up to 20 grams of protein per 3-ounce serving." Consider using a whole-grain or legume-based pasta to lower the calorie and carb content of this dish.

Get the Spicy Tuna Pasta Salad recipe and nutrition info from The Recipe Well.




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