I've won the breakfast battle, but I haven't won the brown bag war.
January 15, 2010 11:52 AM   Subscribe

Cook-once-a-week round 2: What low-GI, high-protein food can I cook on Sunday night and then reheat for lunch/dinner Mon-Fri?

2 weeks ago I asked this question about packing breakfast. The responses were super-helpful. I had greek yogurt, instant oatmeal, and egg muffins every day this week, and I'm looking forward to trying some of the other suggestions in the weeks to come.

I realized though that I slanted my question too much toward breakfast, and most of the suggested foods (besides chili) were typical breakfast fare. Really though, I want to learn how to cook 4-5 days worth of lunch as well, and get out of the habit of eating out all the time (I estimate I spent about $10,000 at restaurants in 2009. No joke).

So, I'll rephrase my question a bit and ask again. What can I make and pack for lunch that meets the follow criteria:
  • Can be made at least 1 day, and ideally up to 5 days in advance
  • Can be prepared in roughly 2 hours or less (I decided I'm willing to spend more time cooking)
  • Involves no additional preparation on the day that it's eaten (other than microwaving or other simple things that can be done in an office)
  • Has a medium-to-low glycemic index (GI)
  • Has about 20% calories from protein (roughly 5g of protein per 100 calories, a little less is ok, more is great)
  • Doesn't taste awful
  • Contains no artificial sweeteners
  • Is not a sandwich (I eat sandwiches, I'm just sick of them)
I am looking for a variety of recipes with step-by-step instructions. I have no food allergies, and very few things that I truly dislike. I am willing to make just about any one-time purchase to facilitate my goals (extra cooking equipment, special lunch bag, etc), as I know I'll save money in the long run.

Idea's I've had so far:
  • Meatloaf
  • Japanese Curry
  • Low-fat colby cheese and hard salami on crackers
  • Chili / Bean Soups (suggested in the breakfast thread)
Please help me add to this list! Alternatively, if you know of a blog or something that specializes in recipes of this type and includes nutritional info in their recipes, that would also be super helpful. Thanks MeFites.
posted by Vorteks to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 154 users marked this as a favorite
I make Chili but use ground turkey or chicken to reduce the fat content.

1 lb ground chicken/turkey
1 can of tomatoes including juice
1 can black beans
1 package of chili seasoning
1 can of tomato paste

- can add onions and peppers (but I hate them)

simmer 20 min
posted by jmmpangaea at 11:59 AM on January 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Boeuf Bourguignon
Coq au Vin

I have no clue about the GI of these recipes. As far as calories from protein, these are meat stews, so choose leaner meat and limit the starches of your sides. Less potato and more broccoli.
posted by rocketpup at 12:05 PM on January 15, 2010

The World’s Most Difficult Roasted Chicken Recipe (scroll past rant for recipe.)
posted by sanko at 12:15 PM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I used to make piles of burritos and calzones for myself and freeze them for lunches. I haven't tried doing the same thing with samosas but I assume it would work fine. The hardest part there would be keeping the GI down. I sometimes make up huge batches of burrito filling and freeze them in muffin tins, which works great.

The google keyword you may be looking for is "Once a Month Cooking". I imagine adding "low carb" might also be in order.
posted by contrarian at 12:15 PM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Addictive Sweet Potato Burritos sound weird, but are very tasty, easy to make, can be frozen and heated as needed, and are very close to meeting your nutritional needs. Switch to whole wheat tortillas and low fat cheese and you're there. You can use canned refried beans (black are good) rather than whole beans to make it even easier.
posted by Dojie at 12:20 PM on January 15, 2010 [8 favorites]

Salisbury Steak, with your own mushroom gravy. You can make as much as you want, then freeze and reheat portions as you need them.
posted by LN at 12:27 PM on January 15, 2010

Best answer: I'd suggest getting a crock pot, if you don't already have one. Ours was $40 and I'm sure we've gotten our money back on that purchase already. The prep time is minimal (cut up stuff, dump it in) and you can make a lot all at once.

At this moment, I'm eating this bean concoction:

1 bag (a pound, I think) of mixed beans; often sold as 16 bean soup starter or something
Put beans in pot with water at least 3" above the level of the beans. Soak overnight (they will grow as they rehydrate, so make sure the pot is big enough).

In the morning, drain beans, put in crock pot with whatever else you might like and cover with fresh water (maybe 3" from the top edge of the crock pot). This version has 1 onion cut into big chunks, 1-2 hot peppers, 2-3 Tablespoons of chili powder, 1 Tablespoon of garlic powder (or garlic salt), 1 can tomatoes w/ peppers, and some leftover pork butt from the previous crock pot meal. You could also go with ham or no meat. I've also used hot salsa instead of canned tomatoes when that was on hand. Put the crock pot on low and it will be done when you get home.

The crock pot is very forgiving about flavors and amounts of things, so I often find myself just throwing in other things I think might taste ok. The salsa was an experiment, but it worked just fine. Once I wanted the beans thicker, so I removed the crock pot lid for about 30 minutes to let water evaporate and ended up with a thicker chili/stew.

+ beans are cheap and low GI
+ good protein
+ easy leftovers. I use 2 cup rubbermaid containers for lunch-sized portions. I fill them up and leave them on the counter for a bit to cool down before putting in the fridge or freezer. I usually freeze them because it's easier to transport a frozen block of chili to work than worry about possible leaks. I just leave it on my desk and it's mostly thawed when I'm ready to eat it.
+ not too boring--can do with chicken or add veggies or whatever else and it still tastes pretty good

- might have to buy a crock pot
posted by BlooPen at 12:27 PM on January 15, 2010 [5 favorites]

Couple of ideas: get a crockpot or slow cooker. They're around $20 and you can make 4-5 servings' worth of your food of choice. I use mine for beef stew, pot roast, and carnitas mostly - the basic methodology is put your veggies in on the bottom, your meat on top, season as desired, and put in a cup or so of liquid (wine, stock, water, combo of all three, whatever).

And my old standby: grill or saute 5 chicken breasts. Buy bagged salad mix. You know the rest. Not very exciting, I know, but gets you through the week.
posted by chez shoes at 12:30 PM on January 15, 2010

Response by poster: To clarify about the low GI, I'm not necessarily asking for foods with a very low GI, I just want to avoid things that have a ton of simple carbs or sugars in them - things like potato chips, white bread, most mac & cheese recipes, etc. Let's say that for lunch a GI of less than 70 is OK. If you don't know what the glycemic index is, then don't worry about it, I'd like to hear your suggestion anyway. Better too many ideas than too few!

P.S. It is killing me that I can't correct the incorrect apostrophe in "idea's" in my question. :-)
posted by Vorteks at 12:30 PM on January 15, 2010

Best answer: Quiches, frittatas and vegetable pies would fit the bill nicely. This one has a potato crust, for more nutrients. You might up the number of eggs in the filling, or just add a couple of whites, to increase the protein, as there's not much holding it together. It's delicious, though.
posted by palliser at 12:31 PM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Lentil stew! The beauty part is that lentils are more than 20% protein anyway, so any additional protein is a bonus. I like using paneer, but basically any type of meat works too. I've made this with chicken, pork, lamb and beef and it always turns out well. Brown the meat in a frying pan before you add it though.

I don't have a hard and fast recipe, but I've yet to screw this up. Lentils are a pretty fault tolerant thing to cook. I'll give an example below:

Add two pounds of rinsed dry brown lentils to a fairly big pot (at least 10qts, and bigger is better) and add water until the depth of the lentils in the pot are about equal to the water sitting over them. Boil. You can add stock at this point, if desired. If not, add a teaspoon of salt.

While this is all going on, chop whatever veggies you want to put in. Also, while all this is happening, I'll be frying one large onion or two medium onions coarsely chopped until reduced almost to a sauce, which I will add along with a 28oz can of diced tomatoes and a can of tomato paste. Also add 1/4 cup of olive oil. If you are adding meat, you should add it at this point. If the meat is fatty, reduce the oil you add.

For seasoning, I like to roast whole cumin and coriander until just browned and grind it up in a coffee grinder with the seeds from a few cardamom pods, whole peppercorns and a few dried seranno or cayenne peppers. Seasoning is a taste thing, but for this recipe, I like to have at least 1/3 cup of dry spice mix added to the stew, with about 35% of that cumin and 25% coriander.

After all this has been cooking for an hour or so, start sampling it to see how it can be tweaked. Add salt to taste, add something to acidulate it. Lemon juice is the classic way to do this, but lately I’ve been taken to using pomegranate molasses. Once again, add to taste. Let this mixture simmer for a long time. The longer it cooks, the softer the lentils get, and the more tender the meat will be, should there be any. Four hours on the stove is about optimal, but anything past 2 is good.

I make this roughly one Sunday a month, and it gives me lunches for the whole week.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 12:41 PM on January 15, 2010 [6 favorites]

Best answer: If you're gonna do a super-simple roast chicken, you may as well spend an extra second or two and do it Thomas Keller's way. Fucking amazing.
posted by eggplantplacebo at 12:45 PM on January 15, 2010 [6 favorites]

Best answer: It might help to think about what sorts of things don't reheat well, so that you can browse recipes and recognize the ones that won't work for you.

Crispy-skinned things, for example, (broiled chicken, deep fried whatever, and even pancakes) don't reheat well; the crispiness is lost, pretty much irrevocably, within minutes of their initial preparation, and microwaving once-crispy foods only makes them worse. An oven or toaster can work, but that may be more trouble than you want at reheating time.

Things that are best served rare (esp. fish) don't reheat well because they are easily overcooked during the reheating process.

On the bright side, things that have a fairly even distribution of moisture throughout, and that don't easily overcook, often reheat well. Chili, of course, but also soups, stews and curries, rice and some noodle dishes.
posted by jon1270 at 12:45 PM on January 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: @jon1270 - That's a very helpful answer. Thank you. I wonder though if it might be possible to cook certain things and then just eat them cold? Fish could be overcooked if you reheat it... but what if you don't? I'm not necessarily averse to eating things cold, but I am worried that some foods might be spoiled or covered in bacteria after a day or two, but I don't know for sure what sort of foods have that problem. I also don't know what foods might taste good cold even though they were originally hot... I guess I'm just pretty clueless in this area.
posted by Vorteks at 12:51 PM on January 15, 2010

It doesn't require any pre-cooking, but I've recently discovered the magic of the sweet potato. It's got the lowest GI of all the root veggies, and is awesome just simply microwaved for about 10 minutes then topped with a little butter and whatever seasoning you feel like. I'm a food wimp and usually just use seasoning salt or a little pepper, but the possibilities are endless. You might get dirty looks for commandeering the work microwave for 10+ minutes, however.
posted by cgg at 12:53 PM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Last Sunday, I oven-roasted a chicken.

I carved the breasts and put that meat in sandwiches.
I picked the thighs, and made two quarts of tortilla soup in the crock pot. (one of which went to the freezer.)
I shredded the rest of the meat, added some roasted hatch chiles, some cumin, and some salt, and had enough taco meat for about 12 chicken tacos.
I saved the bones for stock.

Can't go wrong with a whole bird. Can eat for a week and then some off of that. Even longer, if you stretch it out with rice.
posted by kaseijin at 12:55 PM on January 15, 2010 [5 favorites]

Also - homemade hummus keeps for a ridiculous amount of time in the fridge.
posted by kaseijin at 12:57 PM on January 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Casseroles can be good. A simple casserole can be made with a package of ground turkey (cooked) and sliced vegetables. Any vegetables will do, but summer squash, carrots, celery, onions, green beans etc. are all great. You can add some starch if you want like cooked brown rice or quinoa or precooked pasta or you can skip it all together. I always like to add a little but of low fat cheese. How to spice it? Tex-Mex is simple. Add some chili powder to the meat when you cook it and some hot sauce to taste. I would probably include tomatoes of some form in the vegetables. Alternatively, go mushroom with lots of sliced mushrooms (or Betty Crocker style with a can of mushroom soup) salt and pepper, perhaps a bit of sage. Go Italian with some basil and tomatoes. There are many variations. Top the casserole with a little bit more cheese and cook at 350 until bubbling, about 45 minutes. Bring some salsa to put over the tex-mex one. These are great for emptying out the fridge as you can just use the vegetable etc. on hand. You don't even need the meat. If you use really wet vegetables like spinach and tomatoes you might want to precook them and drain the liquid or add a little flour to thicken up the juices, up to a 1/4 cup for a pretty wet casserole, but a tablespoon or two in most cases. With more rice and pasta in the dish this is less necessary as they will absorb some liquid. Anyway, if you don't want to wing it the internet is abound with recipes, but this is hard to screw up when you are just playing by ear.
posted by caddis at 1:12 PM on January 15, 2010

Best answer: I wonder though if it might be possible to cook certain things and then just eat them cold? Fish could be overcooked if you reheat it... but what if you don't?

Poached fish, especially salmon, is almost better cold than warm. Dill is a traditional spice to go with poached salmon. It should keep for at least three days after poaching, and I would eat it at five, but by then you might risk it drying out a little bit.
posted by caddis at 1:15 PM on January 15, 2010

Some cold gazpacho would go nicely with that cold poached salmon.
posted by caddis at 1:16 PM on January 15, 2010

Best answer: I'm a big fan of this Minestrone. I think it actually tastes better the next day, something about the flavors mixing while it sits in the fridge makes it really good. The really awesome thing about this recipe (other than the fact that it only takes about 25 minutes to make) is that I can add a ton of things to it. I like to add leftover roast chicken, and I have added fresh, canned, and frozen veggies of all sorts. I've also added summer sausage and ham (not at the same time). Pretty much whatever I have laying around. I also usually add some rice, either cooked or uncooked, brown or white. It's a really easy meal and it's a great way to use up leftovers. Even with just the basic recipe it is a very filling and satisfying soup.

I always make enough for leftovers, and so I know that it keeps in the fridge for at least a week.
posted by TooFewShoes at 3:51 PM on January 15, 2010

Best answer: Fajitas in a crockpot--I know, sounds unlikely but they are quite good, and you can portion them out, take a tortilla or two to work with a serving for lunch, maybe add sour cream and cheese for dinner.

Sweet Mustard Roast (gluten-free). Microwave some veggies (like the ones in the bags that steam) to go with it.

Three Bean Mexican Chili.

Taco Soup

posted by misha at 4:02 PM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just posted about our "week of beans," which is pretty representative of the way we eat. We typically cook up a pot of a key ingredient on Sunday night, and then use it in different dishes over the course of the week. Our grocery bill for a family of 2 is ~$40-$50 per week (booze excluded!), and we can't recall the last time we didn't take lunch to work. This is a really easy habit to establish once you start. Good luck!
posted by onepot at 5:58 PM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here is a recipe for crock pot pot roast that I've used time and again:

Cut up the following veggies into big chuncks and place in crock pot:

Carrots (I use about 6 or 7)
Onions (I use 1 large yellow and one sweet onion)

Place a 3--4 lb boneless chuck roast on top of the veggies. Lightly salt/pepper the meat

Pour 1--2 cans of whole tomatoes over meat and veggies (I include the liquid), and 1 can/bottle of beer.

If you like it spicy, also add a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (gives it a wonderful warm,spicy flavor)

Cover, cook on low for 8--9 hours.

I like to refrigerate this overnight because:
A) This roast tastes better the next day, as flavors have been given a chance to meld
B) The fat in the sauce will rise to the top and congeal--so it's easy to scoop this fat off before reheating.

Serve this with cornbread. If it is a bit too spicy, serve with a dollop of sour cream on top of the roast/stew.
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 7:15 PM on January 15, 2010 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I take lunch to work almost every day, usually by making a big dinner and eating the leftovers for a lunch or two. I find that squishy foods taste best warmed up -- think chili, spaghetti, soup, stew, casseroles, curry, etc.

Here are some of my favorite low-carb recipes that taste even better the next day:
Green chile chicken casserole (I make this with thin-sliced squash in place of the tortillas, to cut down on carbs, and it also makes it even more delicious)
Carne Adovada
Finnish cabbage rolls
Chicken paprikash
Indian cilantro chicken
Beef Stroganoff

Pretty much all of this stuff (except possibly the cabbage rolls) freezes well, so you can put up any extra and defrost it later, when you don't feel like cooking.
posted by vorfeed at 8:40 PM on January 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Boiled eggs. I'm thinking of next week's question: what can I prepare on a Sunday night, (low glycemic index, high protein) for snacking? Don't even have to reheat; dead simple to cook, amazing for snacking (dinner, lunch and breakfast too).
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 11:38 PM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

+1ing ''im brian's" crock pot roast -- very simple, very good. you can add potatoes, increase the amt of carrots if thats your cup of tea or add basically anything to it

simple to make, and very good.

oh yea, and you get a TON of food...
posted by knockoutking at 12:23 AM on January 18, 2010

Nthing beef stews, chilis, red beans and rice with sausage, stroganoff, soup, long-simmering things like that--jambalaya, gumbo, hoppin' john, etc. too. Lentils and beans are definitely your friends, so maybe take a cue from Indian, Ethiopian, and French for flavorful, reheatable lentil mashes or baked-lentil casserole deals (if you're super ambitious and/or not intimidated by the baggage of historical legacy, cassoulet is incredible and keeps very well). There are many variations on super fast soup involving flavorful greens and sausage or a bit of meat plus beans; my absolute favorite has escarole, crumbled, browned hot Italian sausage, cannellini beans, and leftover Parmesan rind. To die for, so good.

Baked macaroni and cheese, while hardly healthy, can be refried/baked/heated and is definitely good for keeping you going all day. To make it healthier, chunked broccoli is a good addition.

You can do crockpot chicken, pork, or beef; the meat becomes super tender, then you pull it apart and use through the week as filling for burritos/tacos/enchiladas, relatively low-carb, protein-packed stuff. Here is one recipe.

In another recent AskMe thread, special-k posted an amazing Sweet Potato Peanut Stew. I made it about a week ago and good golly it's delicious--oddly enough, it's similar in flavor to Vietnamese green curry coconut soup. Spicy and sweet and rich and warming to the core. It's even better the next day and the next; the heat smooths out and blends beautifully with the other flavors. I highly recommend it.

Another approach might be freezable finicky individual fried meat/protein things--croquettes, lean meatballs (Orangette's turkey meatballs blew me away; they are one of the most delicious things I've ever cooked), Kiev, Cordon Bleu. My parents were fond of doing this; once in a blue moon we'd hunker down for the afternoon and make zillions of little meatballs or croquettes and do the many separate steps and it'd be time-consuming but then we'd bag them individually or in sets of 4 and voila, instant last-minute dinner for those nights that take you by surprise. Just this week I made Japanese pumpkin croquettes, so you're not limited by meat; you could mash up sweet potatoes or pumpkin or other squash with some broth or stock, then add sauteed minced onion and whatever seasonings you fancy, roll into balls, and do the triple-station breading (flour, egg, panko/bread crumbs) and fry. If you make the Japanese version, the term you're looking for on Google is karokke and it involves soy sauce in the mixture and tonkatsu (yummm) for dipping.
posted by ifjuly at 9:49 AM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

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