Let's create a 5-6 week Salad Guide, with plans and grocery lists
August 4, 2017 10:47 AM   Subscribe

I'm starting to bring food to work! Yay! However, I have limited bandwidth and would like to automate the planning aspect. My goal is to generate a 5-6 week rotation of salad greens and toppings, with associated grocery list and prep plan, that will make efficient use of ingredients. I would like this to be self-contained and not rely on us having particular leftovers on any given week. "Throw in whatever you have in the fridge" is exactly what I want to avoid.


- The point of having a 5-6 week plan is to create major variety between weeks. Chickpeas one week, black beans another; maybe one week is taco-ish flavors and another is.... something else? This is what we're building. So, minor variations day to day within a week, and change it up completely the next week, on a several-week global rotation. I'm thinking of literally printing these pages out and putting them in a folder, so I can brainlessly add the correct stuff to our weekly grocery list.

- "Self-contained" combined with "Will make efficient use of ingredients" is perhaps the challenging part of this. I'd prefer not to eat exactly the same combination of things every day, but they can be similar within a week - I don't want 5 different recipes with a lot of unrelated prep and nightly hassle. For example, if I open a can of beans, I would like to actually use up the can of beans. If I need to buy a pack of 4 pork chops and freeze two of them for a later rotation, that's fine too. But I would like to prevent "open perishable item, use one teaspoon, discard remainder" to the extent that that's possible. We always have eggs, and can stock non-perishables.

- I'm happy to do a modest amount of advance prep, especially on Sunday. However, I'd like the night-before prep and cleanup to (ideally) fit in the time it takes my kid to change clothes and brush his teeth. For the nightly stuff, I'm thinking more "throw handful of shredded cheese in tupperware" than "poach a chicken breast".

- I'm looking for entree salads here. Filling, balanced, healthy. Up the veggie intake, limit processed crap, not be starving 2 hours later.

Thanks, y'all! Let's salad!
posted by telepanda to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
I've been eating off of Mark Bittman's "101 Simple Salads for the Season" for quite a while. It's a bit of an intimidating list at first, but a quick run through it will let you flag the ones that look especially appealing, and it's easy to make them more substantial. I regularly make several of these as entrees.
posted by informavore at 11:01 AM on August 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

My lunchtime workflow relies on one thing - I have to have sauces and vinaigrettes on hand.

I started with store bought but have gotten to the point where I can whip together 6-8 vinaigrettes from memory and once a month do up a sauce (barbecue, pesto, etc.) in a big enough batch to can and have for a couple of months. This way I have 4-5 sauces on hand at any given point for variety because the batches can be staggered.

Sundays I throw chicken breasts for three days and one other protein (red meat or fish, whatever was on sale) into the oven. Seasoned with salt and pepper - that's it. I then chop carrots, mushrooms, peppers, cheese, cranberries, green beans (we get a CSA delivery every two weeks so often a seasonal will show up in the mix) and portion them into containers with vinaigrettes on the side.

When the meats are done, I chop them up and weigh them out to ensure I have the right amounts. I then take each day's meat, throw it with a sauce that matches (chicken with everything, fish with pesto or lemon pepper, etc.) and put that in a second container. This container gets heated up in the microwave at work and, if the flavours mix, tossed on to the salad. If they don't mix, I eat it on the side.

Total prep time is about 30 minutes on Sunday night and 2 hours once a month to make a sauce. Veggies and vinaigrettes can be prepared while the proteins are in the oven, streamlining the time impact. You need 15 containers - 5 for proteins, 5 for salad, and 5 tiny ones for vinaigrettes.

Often times I do this at the same time as Sunday night dinner which limits the time impact on my life even further.
posted by notorious medium at 11:04 AM on August 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

I have recommended this cookbook before, I am recommending it yet again - the Moosewood daily special cookbook is nothing but soups and salads, and I have used it EXACTLY in the way you describe: I make a couple batches of salads each weeken and leave them in the fridge, then packing lunch each day for work is simply a matter of "pull out two random containers from fridge, scoop some of the contents into lunchbox, close lunchbox." They have both side-salads and main-dish salads of all sorts, and most recipes even suggest pairings with other salads in the book. They also point out which salads are good for storing in the fridge. One of my favorites from the book is something I am eating for lunch RIGHT this EXACT minute.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:17 AM on August 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Italian Week: mozerella, cherry toms, cubed salami, basil, olives, chopped artichoke hearts.

Greek Week: cubed feta, chopped cucumbers, chickpeas, mint.

Caesar Salad Week: poached cubed chicken breasts, bagged mixed salad, flaked parm cheese (you can freeze it, it keeps forever.)

I don't know what your definition of healthy is; is Pasta Salad Week okay?
posted by DarlingBri at 12:57 PM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Here's what works for me. I keep on hand an excellent salad dressing and a base assortment, refreshed weekly, of salad greens -- whatever catches my eye in terms of red leaf, romaine, spinach, tasty herbs like parsley and cilantro, cabbage, or whatever. Then there are my standard salad additions, which I also refresh weekly: cucumber and/or zucchini, sliced sweet onion, cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced carrots. Then there are the things I pick up on the weekly shopping trip if they look good or are in season to throw in, like broccoli or fresh corn or red peppers or fruit.

I keep my green stuff in my crisper drawer, each item in green salad bags like these (they really work) and with a bluapple (also really works) in the drawer too. I make my salads fresh by hauling out my bags, then tearing and slicing into a bowl, then dressing. My bottom layers are the greens, my upper layers are the standard and non standard additions.

Other staples on hand which I sometimes add to salad are no salt canned beans, no salt nuts and seeds, and shredded fish.
posted by bearwife at 12:58 PM on August 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

This isn't a complete answer, but here are my two favorite, easy salad-like foods for work:
1. tortilla + cheese + spinach -- toss tortilla + cheese into toaster oven at work, then toss spinach on melty cheese + toasted tortilla, nom nom nom
2. spinach + boiled beet bites + blue cheese = nom nom nom

Both are pretty thin for an full meal, but you can add some meat to #1 and toast it with the cheese and tortilla. I've done this with lunch meats a few times, and I enjoyed it. On #2, this basic version was inspired by a fancier salad with a vinagrette and roasted pine nuts, which would provide some protein.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:40 PM on August 4, 2017

Here are some weekly themes you could use:

"Thai": cilantro, green onions, shredded carrots, jalapenos, peanuts, peanut sauce (soy sauce, peanut butter, grated ginger, garlic, salt, thinned with warm water)

"Mexican": pico de gallo (tomatoes, red onion, cilantro, garlic, salt, lime juice), canned corn, black beans, avocado, cilantro

"French": boiled egg, blanched green beans, slivered almonds, olives, classic vinaigrette

"Japanese": cucumber, nori flakes, radish slices, sesame seeds, edamame, rice, sesame-ginger vinaigrette
posted by woodvine at 8:12 PM on August 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

I love the ideas above (especially the different tasty dressings). Here's how I do mine:

1-2 leaf base (eg romaine lettuce + baby kale)

2-3 protein - these are fully baked and chopped up Sunday afternoon. I usually mix it up with beans/tofu + meat.

4-5 basic veggies - tomato, cucumber, corn, broccoli, peppers

2-3 additional veggies - this depends on season and what I haven't had in a while. Eg new potatoes, squash, asparagus, bok choi, avocado, carrots, etc.

1-2 grains - brown rice, quinoa, etc

2-4 extras - nuts, seeds, fruit (fresh or dried), tortilla/croutons, pickles, olives, etc

From here, I create a salad every day using 4-5 veg per day, plus 1 from each additional category, though I tend to grab 2+ items from the "extras" category. This way I can create a new salad all the time and not feel like I have to stick to a certain preset plan I may not be in the mood for. I pre-chop and cook up most everything on Sunday, so all I have to do is pull out a bunch of containers to mix and match. (I've also taken to creating rice and pasta bowls for dinner using this method).
posted by A hidden well at 8:58 PM on August 4, 2017

I do salad in a jar for two of us; three each per week. I'd get bored with salad every day, so this is built-in variety. Salad in a jar relies on clever stacking to keep fresh; I do them Sunday night and they are still decent Friday at lunch (they make it through Wednesday without showing any age usually). It's a bulk process, and I can now go from a clean kitchen to a clean kitchen with six salads in the fridge in about an hour; it was closer to 90 minutes when I started. I expect scaling it up would not add all that much time.

This may or may not fit with your prep time, but here's roughly the plan and at least a vague quantity guide:
Start with six 1L/1 qt Ziploc screw-top containers. Put 1 1/2-3 tbsp dressing in the bottom of each; more for thick dressing like ranch.
I then chop and add something like the following, in more-or-less this order:
2 peppers, different colours
1 long English cucumber, the seedy part in the middle scraped away (quarter lengthwise then scrape with spoon)
4 or so Roma tomatoes (or similar volume of larger tomatoes), chopped, then spun in the salad spinner to remove excess juice
a handful of mushrooms
a dozen green beans
3 green onions, green parts only
-- insert proteins, dried things etc --
one whole Romaine lettuce heart

The most important thing with the salad in a jar is to prep such that anything that is touching the dressing would be good if it sits in dressing for a week (i.e. any vegetable commonly pickled or in a marinated salad), followed by anything drippy or moist, followed by the stuff that needs to stay dry (proteins, leaves). The first two veggies for me are basically mandatory and go in everything; the other stuff is more flexible. So I might do one salad with a vinaigrette, no mushrooms or onions; a second with a vaguely Asian dressing (which could be the vinaigrette plus soy and some grated ginger), hold the tomatoes; and, a third salad with Greek dressing and a buttload of tomatoes/peppers/cukes and some red onion (rinsed in the salad spinner to make less acrid).

For proteins, the easiest is to cook extra of a salad-appropriate protein for Sunday supper. (This also helps us buy larger bulk packs of meat.) For something neutral like chicken breast using the above plan, I might toss them all on the grill, with one getting salt and pepper, one getting some sort of Asian-based sauce and one with Greek seasoning mix along with whatever's being cooked for supper. Cheese is also great, Greek salads often just get a ton of feta (~100g/salad) and that's it.

During prep, you save loads of time if you have a garbage bowl/pail on the counter, open to receive the bounty of vegetable trimmings. I also recommend YouTubing knife skills for frequently prepared vegetables.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 12:40 AM on August 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

Tofu week:

Press, cube, marinate, and bake or fry tofu until it's dry. (I use soy sauce and vinegar as a marinade.)

Eat with:

Lettuce, tomato, cucumber, peppers with vinaigrette
Broccoli, peanuts, scallions, peppers with peanut dressing
Spinach, sunflower seeds, sprouts, and dried cranberries with orange dressing
Rice, green beans, cashews with sesame oil and soy sauce
Lettuce, olives, tomatoes, peppers, feta with Greek dressing
posted by metasarah at 9:10 AM on August 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I wash salad greens on Sunday and spin them and split them between five tupperwares for the five weekday lunches. Each morning I tear up the leaves and cut up a tomato, a pepper, a cucumber (stuff loses vitamins if it sits too long in a cut-up state), and whatever else and throw it on the salad. What goes on the salad is whatever was at the farmers' market Saturday. At work is a jumbo bottle of olive oil and one of vinegar. I throw the salt and pepper on when I'm ready to eat the salad and sprinkle on some vinegar and stream in olive oil. The salad changes with the season, not with my ideas of what would be fun. There's no "week two of March is Mexicali Fiesta Week" for me because I just do not have it in me to prep on that scale, plus I'm eating exclusively out of the farmers' market, so it wouldn't work, anyway. I've eaten this way for years, and boredom with my lunchtime salad has not been an issue. If it were, it would be trumped by laziness by a factor of... immeasurable. It's like this: that is what there is to eat. So I eat it. I also have nuts and whatever fruit's in season, and one or two veggie saute thingies. (Throw onion in cast iron pan, cook, throw in vegetable, cook 'til soft, throw on some curry powder or garlic or something, heat 'til the flavors are all nicely melded, put in metal containers, throw on hot plate at work. Maybe once in a while there's some bacon in there.) And I carry sardines back and forth to work for weeks on end. Inevitably there comes a day when I want a little something extra, and I eat one of the cans of sardines.
posted by Don Pepino at 2:21 PM on August 5, 2017

I would totally have a "stinky cheese week" with blue cheese salads, roquefort, etc. You could do iceberg with tomatoes and bacon and bleu; apples/pecans/bleu cheese crumbles with a dijon vinagrette; pear & bleu; balsamic bleu ... be delicious!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:02 PM on August 5, 2017

if i were to do this, i would have the exact same thing 4/5 days of each week, with one day a week for eating out / ordering in / fast food for variety. or one day can be leftovers from the previous night's dinner if that works out for you.

so i would make one of these each sunday and portion it up.

meal salad: romaine, chicken chunks, cherry tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, parmesan, croutons, vinaigrette

no, i am in no way affiliated with smitten kitchen.
posted by katieanne at 2:29 PM on August 9, 2017

Sayeth Don Pepino:

(stuff loses vitamins if it sits too long in a cut-up state)

Is that true? It sounds like an old wives tale to me, but sometimes those are accurate.
posted by Groovymomma at 6:21 AM on August 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Source: I heard it somewhere roughly a thousand years ago? You're not supposed to buy those cut-up-already fruit salads from the grocery store because it is more noble and vitamin-positive to cut up your own cantaloupe. It would be kindof great if it turned out to be nonsense.

On the one hand,



but on the other hand,

I mean, anyway, how much vitamin loss to oxygenation are we talking about? Just at the cut surfaces, right, and vitamins deep within would be unaffected? So... probably relatively negligible? Maybe not worth freaking out over? Mostly I do it this way because they keep longer and better if they're whole because then they're relatively dry. Water is the true enemy. I had a sad mishap with a cucumber this week because I didn't dry them off before I flang them in a ziploc.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:07 AM on August 11, 2017

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