Let’s Lunch! Smart Meal Prep Tips & Recipes #ReynoldsHeatandEat

Lunch, you gotta eat it no matter where you are – home, work, school, errands, gym, airplane. The issues getting in the way of my healthy lunch life are meeting up with friends who don’t have the same concerns about eating “food for function” as I do, finishing a workout that went well past noon and being so hangry that I could eat the entire Shake Shack on my way home, or being stuck on travel and having the only option be airport food. Note – I have a $25 Gift Card Giveaway at bottom of post. 

Lunch Meal Prep

However, I’ve found that with a little bit of front in effort I can prep my lunches in nice little containers for the week on Sunday – the payoff is obviously a healthier meal with ingredients approved by me, less crazy mornings gathering my grub up, and saving money – yes, saving money is good! It means I can pay all the high dollar fees for getting to and entering the races I love doing.

Meal Prepping Tips & Recipes for Lunch!

These are some basic tips that I use every week when putting together my meals and packing them up in to-go containers . If you’re a pro meal prepper, these tips may sound simple. But, if you’re new to the game of big batch cooking and assembly line prep, these useful ideas will help you get started!

Prep your protein.  The slow cooker and grill are my two go-to ways to prepare large batches of beef, chicken and pork for lunches (and dinners) through the week.   On Sunday morning, it’s so easy to stick huge roast or brisket in the Crock Pot and then walk away to enjoy the day. I use darn-big slow cooker (8-qt) so that I can make the most meat possible and have even been known to have two going at the same time! For the grill, Costco-sized trays of chicken or steaks not only are more economical to buy, but will hook you up for the entire week or month – depending on your family size. For fish, fill a rimmed, oiled baking sheet with your favorite filets or one huge piece of salmon and bake in the oven ‘til done!

Get your whole grains, beans & legumes going.  Brown rice, quinoa, and ancient grains hold up really well to making ahead of time and reheating later. Often, I find that pasta gets mushy during its second showing- not always though, whole wheat pasta holds up pretty well.  Use a large stock pot or rice cooker to get the job done efficiently – mine has a 20 quart capacity!   Another benefit of cooking a week’s worth of grains at once, less mess to clean up.

Switch up the sauces & mix-ins.  Often eating meal-prepped lunches can seem monotonous, choking down the same bland thing day after day. However, adding a small serving of sauce or handful of mix-ins is an easy way to transform the same old lunchbox staples into a wider range of flavorful meals – try pestos, Asian-inspired sauces, marinaras, salsas and so on! Even some fresh, no preservative salad dressings make a good option on hot and cold dishes. As for mix-ins, the little “extras” I rotate through include nuts, seeds, cheeses and dried fruits.

Use the right container.  If taking a salad for work, a large mason jar can be layered with ingredients. Keep the dressing on the bottom and delicate ingredients up higher, leaving a little headroom at the top so that you can shake it up right before eating.  I also like to take my soup in a mason jar, placing a layer of plastic wrap over the opening and under the lid to both help prevent leaking during transport and to serve as a splatter guard when reheating in the microwave – you don’t want to put that metal lid in there!  Hot meals can be reheated in a variety of containers, but I am partial to the Reynolds™ Disposable Heat & Eat containers  (more deets below)– they hold a generous portion, are a great alternative to plastic and can be tossed in the trash so no messy containers to take home.  Store small portions of dressings, nuts, and cheese in baby mason jars, cleaned baby food jars, small plastic containers or snack-sized zip-bags.

Know your food safety rules.  When meal prepping for a week of lunches, remember most pre-cooked proteins and grains will only stay fresh for about 3 to 4 days in the fridge—I prep for Monday through Thursday and then do actually treat myself to lunch out on Friday! You can also prep your “plated” meal, or bigger bags of “ingredients” for assembly later, cool and place into appropriate freezer-storage containers – in the freezer, you can keep the quality for about 6 months.   I refer to this handbook of food storage safety tips from Real Simple magazine often.  If you can’t keep your lunch in the fridge at work, make sure you’re using icepacks than keep your food chilled until chow time.

Reynolds Heat and EAt disposable containers

As I mentioned, I am digging these Reynolds™ Disposable Heat & Eat containers (I purchased mine at Walmart on the food storage aisle where you find foil, plastic bag, wax paper, etc.).  Available in two sizes, these toss-away lunch tubs are a great alternative to plastic and are made with plant fibers.  The clear lids allow you to see what you’re grabbing from the fridge, but need to be set aside during the reheating process. Reynolds Heat & Eat disposable container at Walmart

Reynolds Heat & Eat disposable ContainersCheck these out for yourself by picking up a pack of new Reynolds™ Disposable Heat & Eat Containers at your local Walmart – found on the food storage aisle. They are very reasonably priced and you can even save an additional $1.00 on one pack of Reynolds™ Disposable Heat & Eat containers with this coupon.

Here are some recipes to get you going:

roasted-tomatoes-in-turmeric-sauce“Go for the Gold” Turmeric Hummus  can be tossed with pasta or zucchini noodles for a healthy option to a creamy sauce – another perk is that there is also added protein.

 

 

Beef Blue Cheese Date Jar Salad is full of protein and Iron Super Iron Boosting Beef, Blue Cheese and Date Salad relies on pre-prepped sliced steak from the freezer (or freshly cooked) and layers up nicely in a jar for on-the-go lunching. I’ve even eaten this one in the car!

 

Maple Pecan Raisin Butternut Squash Quinoa - thefitfork.comMaple Pecan Butternut Quinoa is a delicious fall-inspired salad that can be taken to work or school and eaten warm or cold.  Here’s a little tip, double up when cooking the quinoa for this recipe and bag the rest in the freezer for easy dinners later.

 

Shrimp & Sugar Snap Pea SAlad with Lemon Gremolata easily packs into a lunchbox served cold.Shrimp & Snap Pea Pasta with Lemon Gremolata – This is another dish that is just as good cold as hot. If meal prepping for lunch, I always leave the delicate veggies raw so that when I reheat, they don’t become mushy!

 

 

 

 

15 minute Beef & Veggie Fried RiceBeef & Veggie Fried Rice: I typically use sirloin or flat iron steads for this one, but prepping to eat several days in a row, I will swap up the meats with chicken, shrimp or just simply extra scrambled eggs for protein variety.

 

Don’t forget to GET YOUR $1 OFF COUPON for Reynolds™ Disposable Heat & Eat containers!

walmart-25-giveawayEnter giveaway for a change to win a $25 Walmart Gift Card so you can try Reynolds™ Disposable Heat & Eat containers yourself! Ends 10/20/2016 at Midnight CT.

Enter via Rafflecopter app below:

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Rock a Lunchbox |Caramel Banana Protein Cereal Bars

Even though I try to eat with my health in mind, I don’t always say “no” to sweets – but I do try to clean them up a bit. For example, instead of a bowl full of cold, creamy ice cream topped with crumbled cookies, I eat plain Greek yogurt that I’ve sweetened with stevia and topped with a crunch protein-based chocolate cereal (Power Os from Love Grown Foods). I also top that with mini-chocolate chips, it’s my go-to bedtime snack – it’s still sweet, but more balanced with protein to boost my workout recovery and make muscles while I sleep!

Caramel Banana Protein Cereal Bars make a healthier lunch box treat.

I also like to implement my “protein-hacks” in my kid’s lunchbox desserts as well. A study has shown that children ages two to 18 years old get 40 percent of their daily calories from junk foods like sugary sodas and fruit drinks, cookies, donut, candy, fried foods and more – that’s unconscionable. Kids of all ages want sweets, I get it – believe me I GET IT! I would try and trade the raisins my health-nut mom would pack in my lunch for a friend’s Hostess Cupcake – she never would trade, but started bringing me an extra cupcake on the sly.

So, as a parent myself now for more than 18 years, I’ve allowed my kids to eat sweets so that they don’t feel deprived but talked about limits and the effects of eating too much “less than quality food” – but that a small amount also be fine occasionally in the context of an overall healthy lifestyle. I also like to make our cookies and cakes at home, so I know exactly what is going into the recipe and into our bodies – choosing more nutritious alternatives when possible. Like heart healthy fats, sugar swaps, no chemicals or preservatives, organic when possible – you get the drift.

Caramel Banana Mighty Cereal Bars made with Love Grown Mighty Flakes make a healthier lunch box treat.

Caramel Banana Cereal Bar Today I’m sharing a healthier version of classic crispy yet chewy cereal bars. They are perfect for lunch boxes, backpacks, after school snacks, picnics, and pot lucks and bake sales! I used less butter and marshmallows than the traditional “crispie” recipe and supplemented with a reduced-sugar caramel and dried fruit for sweetness. For long-lasting energy, I threw in some nuts and a bean-based cereal for extra protein. Enjoy!
Caramel Banana Cereal Bars using Reduced Fat Caramel from Litehouse Foods makes a healthier lunch box treat.

What was your favorite treat to find inside your lunchbox as a kid . . . or today? Please share in the comments below – XOXO, Jennifer

Caramel Banana Cereal Bar
Caramel Banana Protein Cereal Bars
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
18 servings 15 min
Cook Time
0 min
Servings Prep Time
18 servings 15 min
Cook Time
0 min
Caramel Banana Cereal Bar
Caramel Banana Protein Cereal Bars
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
18 servings 15 min
Cook Time
0 min
Servings Prep Time
18 servings 15 min
Cook Time
0 min
Ingredients
Servings: servings
Instructions
  1. Add banana chips and walnuts to medium bowl and lightly break up into coarse chunks with mallet or back of spoon.
  2. Add cereals to bowl with banana walnut mixture; toss to combine. Set aside. In large microwave-safe bowl, add marshmallows, caramel dip and butter. Microwave on 50% power for one minute, stir until creamy. Return to microwave and cook at 50% power for additional 1 minute; stir until creamy. If marshmallows aren’t completely incorporated, continue and stir in 20 second blasts.
  3. Add dry cereal mixture to caramel mixture and stir with spatula until everything well coated.
  4. Line 8” x 8” baking pan with wax paper or spray with oil.
  5. Press mixture down firmly into pan. Let cool for 5 minutes and then cut into 9 bars, or size of your preference.
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