Healthy, low-carb work lunches that I can refrigerate for the week
July 2, 2015 9:19 AM   Subscribe

For weight, money, convenience, and taste reasons I want make pre-portioned lunches for the week on Sundays, bring them all to work on Mondays, and keep them in the work refrigerator all week. I need some ideas for low-carb, healthy meals that won’t get soggy or stale being in the refrigerator for 5 or so days.

No dietary restrictions, but I generally tend not to cook much meat at home. I’d like to do a new food every week so I never get sick of it, unlike the vegetarian sushi and cold edamame that I’ve been buying every day for ages. I also live alone, so meals that don't require lots of one-time-use elements would be great too. I have a microwave at work, so I can utilize that to heat things up if necessary, but I’m also open to cold lunches.

I tend to eat quickly which makes me overeat, so bonus points for meals that have lots of little parts or have elements that are eaten separately - i.e. edamame that forces me to eat it pod by pod.
posted by gregoryg to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 123 users marked this as a favorite
Grain/protein/veg salads, lightly dressed, tend to keep well, and there are many good combinations-- I do a lot of quinoa or rice, then can add cubed tofu, cheese, beans, nuts, etc. for protein, and any diced hearty veg will keep well for a few days. You could also deconstruct these and do them bento box style, separating the elements, for variety.

Pot of soup or chili gets me through the week in the winter.

No weekend prep time: single-serve tuna and a whole avocado.

To curb the scarfing factor: pistachios in shells and crudites as a side, fruit you have to peel or section for dessert.
posted by kapers at 9:29 AM on July 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I get single portion items like hardboiled eggs (before I realized I was sensitive to them) and 1 oz cheese thingies in different flavors (cheddar, pepper jack, string), and I also get packages of good meats like Applegate (I think, I know it's Apple something and almost everyone carries it) turkey or chicken and separate it out into single serving sizes in snack size baggies. I do the same with baby carrots and sugar snap peas, and I'll slice up a cucumber or two and separate it into single servings in snack baggies. Then I stick it all into a lunch bag that I put in the office refrigerator. I know basically that I'm going to have one protein and one veg about 3 times a day, and I consider which combo I'll have as I saunter down the hall to the kitchen. It sounds boring and maybe it is, but oh boy it is so damn effective for weight control. On the one hand, you're eating several times a day so you curb the hunger; on the other hand, you have healthy bits to eat if you get cravings between "meals" so you're not grabbing the M&Ms off your secretary's desk.
posted by janey47 at 9:38 AM on July 2, 2015 [10 favorites]

A big tofu stir-fry, with hardier vegetables like broccoli and pepper.
posted by metasarah at 10:01 AM on July 2, 2015

I have not tried this myself, but a friend of mine makes salads for the week in quart-sized mason jars according to the heavily Pinterested "Mason Jar Salad" concept. What it boils down to is that you put the dressing in first, then all the stuff that won't be ruined by salad dressing, then put the greens on top. When it comes time for lunch, you shake the whole thing up and dump it into a bowl, and voila, salad. She makes all her salads on Sunday and says they're as fresh on Friday as they are on Monday.
posted by KathrynT at 10:03 AM on July 2, 2015 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I do the mason jar salad thing and it works well. Some of my favorite ones are (list reflects layers in the jar):

Spinach and beets:
goat cheese crumbles
candied nuts (walnuts highly recommended)
roasted sweet potatoes
roasted beets
basic vinaigrette with shallots

chick peas
greek dressing

lettuce (add a little cilantro here, so good)
black beans
ranch dressing

The southwestern has the shortest shelf life and the roasted beet the longest in my experience. I assemble all of them on Sunday and leave them in a bag in the work fridge. I make my own dressing so I can do small batches and have more control over the flavor.
posted by Saminal at 10:14 AM on July 2, 2015 [35 favorites]

Best answer: Obviously, grain or tofu don't work amazingly well for low-carb. Salads work, but there's some tricks to them and low-carb can be a little tricky.

What I did was usually a combination of:
- hard boiled eggs
- make a bunch of egg-frittata thingies in silicone muffin cups. Works really well!
- pulled pork with a low-sugar sauce, and creamy coleslaw. I find coleslaw is hardy enough that it doesn't go soggy right away.
- crispy bacon and guacamole. Dip the bacon into the guac - it's great.
- cheese cubed up with sausage - get some reasonably nice cheese and some different sausages and you have a surprising world of variety here
- spaghetti squash + pesto and chicken
- make a bunch of little ground beef patties with chopped up veggies and egg to bind it all together, and bake/fry a whole bunch up. I'm paranoid, but realistically they should keep well. (I have an aversion to eating meat more than two days old, but that's me being nuts.)
- if you're feeling up to it (it's a bit messy and would involve looking like a weirdo with a dozen eggs in the work fridge) - the 1 minute flax muffin is surprisingly awesome. Look it up, but it's something like a few tablespoons of ground flax, an egg, some baking powder, and a bit of flavouring - you nuke it in a mug for a minute, and you get a surprisingly bread-like, but low-carb 'muffin'. I prefer it with a bunch of almond butter, but it's cool with cream cheese too.

I also have a stash of pepperettes and tuna cans that are reasonably low-carb for in-office snacking. Low-carb is actually pretty great (I never had the weird 3pm nappies I get when I'm eating 'regular') but it deeeefinitely takes getting used to dragging stuff from home. I tend to try and bring leftovers from my previous dinner when I can.
posted by aggyface at 10:14 AM on July 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Great suggestions so far, guys! Keep 'em coming. I do want to note that "low carb" doesn't mean "no carb," I was just trying to filter things that went too far in the bread/pasta/potato direction.
posted by gregoryg at 11:01 AM on July 2, 2015

I make up a week's worth of hummus and eat a glop of it for lunch every day with an apple.
posted by emilyw at 11:07 AM on July 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I keep a jar of peanut butter and a bag of apples in my desk at work. It's hard to eat either of those quickly. This is my snack when I remember to bring a lunch, and my lunch when I forget to do lunch.

Lunch is usually one tupperware (the medium screw-on lid type) of a hearty salad, one of cut up fruit. I do the salads as a batch on Sunday, and cut up the fruit with dinner (I usually have a side of fruit or have fruit as a late snack, which makes this easy.) If I want a hot lunch, I make tofu stir fry for dinner on Sunday and portion that out. Spiralized zukes with sauce keep pretty well, too, and can freeze/defrost OK. Any of your crunchy toppings will get damp in the fridge, so keep your crouton-type-things at work (I take a huge bag of provisions for the week on Monday because I can't remember every component every day, but again, YMMV) or make up portions on Sunday. I think my favorite is greens, peppers, broccoli, cheddar cubes, and lemon-tahini dressing with a peaches and blueberries companion, string cheese, almonds, and four Oreos (exactly four. They are Foureos.) For hot lunch, tofu in chili-garlic sauce with peppers, broccoli, onions, bok choy, and sliced almonds with a pears and apples companion.

Sometimes I do a batch of three lunches on Sunday and do another batch of three on Wednesday with dinner (I work six days) to break it up a little.

My only other original suggestion is to make four of the same thing and one Special Treat Lunch to have at the end of the week or whenever you can't face the same damn thing again.
posted by blnkfrnk at 11:33 AM on July 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

My sensibilities are offended by mason jar salads (and the clink of metal on glass pushes me to weeping misophonia episodes), but you can buy two bags of salad (4 lunches) and a bottle of dressing (weeks) and bring add-ons like chopped up chicken* and boiled egg and sesame seeds or pepitas etc.

Bring a big bowl to make mixing easy, wash it and leave it in your desk every day, and chopsticks to stop you from bolting your food.

*and/or ground beef or Beyond Meat or deli turkey or whatever.

I always kept a couple of dressings in the work fridge, plus a bottle of sriracha.

I also made big mostly-vegetable casseroles, like a lasagny-y flavored zucchini and eggplant thing, or cauliflower-roni and cheese, to keep in the freezer for rotating into my unfrozen lunch selections.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:08 PM on July 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Here is the giant pho bowl I kept at work for salad until I either left it in the kitchen and someone decided it was fair game or someone straight out stole it out of my desk.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:14 PM on July 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Rice paper wrapped cold 'spring rolls' - not deep fried or cooked. You can fill them with pre-chopped salads, or homemade, add in whatever proteins you like (eggs, fish, meat, cheese, etc.) and bring along some sort of a dipping sauce. I like a spicy garlicky sauce. They're easy to make, albeit a bit fiddly the first few times.

For storage, portion them into reusable containers (or, I suppose, sandwich bags or whatever). There are lots of recipes out there to give you some starter ideas - here's one. The trick to not having the rice paper 'melt' is to let the finished, wrapped rolls 'air dry' for a bit of time before you package them. It cuts down the extra moisture.
posted by VioletU at 1:46 PM on July 2, 2015

How about a Quiche? Or a Lasagna?
posted by leslievictoria at 4:47 PM on July 2, 2015

Bean burritos! (I don't eat low carb, but you can get low carb tortillas or wraps, right?) Can of black beans, drained and rinsed, some chopped onions and garlic sauteed in olive oil (optional), jar of salsa of the heat of your choosing, shredded cheese, salt, pepper, taco seasonings (also optional). Cook beans and salsa together until hot, smash with potato masher or spoon until a consistency that you like, add cheese, stir. Spoon onto tortillas, roll, wrap in plastic or wax paper. FREEZE. Double this is you like a LOT of burritos. Take as many as you want to work. Microwave. Dip in sour cream or more salsa or hot sauce or guacamole.

You could totally experiment with different beans, salsas, whatever.
posted by Aquifer at 5:37 PM on July 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

Two thoughts:

Trader Joe's, if you can access one easily, is your friend. You can buy quality frozen meals for ~$2-4 a piece (although high in sodium, of course), as well as bags of tasty frozen fruit, veg, meat, various pastas and sides that are pre-made and just need to be microwaved and mixed and matched to make whole meals.

My go-to lunch solution that is high in protein and veggies and requires some time but not much thought at all is as follows:

1. Get a big bowl and start defrosting some bags of frozen veggies in the microwave. I usually do a pound of chopped spinach, a pound of tri-color bell peppers, and a pound of seasoned roasted potatoes (all from Trader Joe's, total cost ~$6)

2. Get some onions sauteeing in two pans in some butter or olive oil. I actually like to use a one-pound container of TJ's mirepoix (onion, carrot, celery mix, cost ~$3). Adding a pound of mushrooms is good, too!

3. Start adding the veggies to one of the pans. I usually brown the potatoes first, then add the spinach, then the peppers

4. While the veggies are getting happy, crack open a dozen eggs in a mixing bowl. Add milk, salt, pepper, cheese if you like, and beat 'em up

5. In the 2nd pan, scramble the eggs. I like to do a soft scramble on low heat so they're creamy

6. Combine and scoop into containers, and voila!

For ~$15, you have at least 5 hearty lunches that are high in protein, reheat well in the microwave, and gives you about 5 pounds of veggies. I usually pack snacks as well, like apples, fruit cups, raisin boxes, Kashi bars, etc. If you can get a couple of skillets going on your stovetop at once, this'll cook up a lot faster, especially since you can be sauteeing some things while you're defrosting other things in the microwave.
posted by the thought-fox at 9:03 AM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I keep a tub of salad greens and a dozen eggs in my office fridge, then bring in leftover meats and veggies throughout the week. It's ridiculously easy to poach an egg in the microwave, and poached egg + salad = fancy delicious lunch.
posted by cyndigo at 12:01 PM on July 3, 2015

Cabbage soup...I will use 4 cups of veg boullion, 1/2 chopped cabbage, 2 large carrots, 4 stalks of celery, 1/2 onion, 1 bag of frozen okra, and 28 oz can of crushed tomato...salt and pepper to taste.
Bring to a boil and then simmer for an hour...easy and low carb, very tastey.
posted by irish01 at 5:25 PM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Not wanting to dump pumice mine fire ash on the parade, but a) is the fridge at work big enough to accommodate your week's worth of lunches? and b) do you trust the people you work with not to mess with your lunches, throw them away, or just plain old go ahead and eat them?
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:41 PM on July 5, 2015

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