Actually packing a lunch on a daily basis is a nice idea that typically goes from a mission on Monday to a failure by Friday. You start your week with the best of intentions: A trip to the grocery store, bags on bags of leafy greens, fresh produce, and lean proteins. Monday, you pack a nice, if somewhat meek salad and think I’m gonna save so much money and eat so healthy this week. But then you get to work and notice your office cafeteria is serving loaded baked potatoes. So you put that salad in the fridge and decide you’ll eat it tomorrow. By Friday your lunch packing intentions are nothing more than a distant memory, and you’ve completely forgotten about that sad salad in the fridge and all your other now wilted and slimy groceries. I don’t know about you, but this is my weekly dilemma.
Avoiding this scenario isn’t easy if you aren’t of the lunch packing nature. Even if you know that bringing food into work is the more affordable and healthier option, it can be hard to convince yourself to pack some food the night before, and even harder to remember to take it with you the next day. You need a few packing hacks to get you on the road to that lunch-from-home life. These eight tricks are easy-as-pie, kind of fun, and totally ingenious. Maybe you just need to start a lunch-bringing-club with your colleagues. Or maybe it’s time to consider finally signing up for that meal delivery service. Find out what lunch tips work best for you.
1. Invest in the right equipment.
If you have lousy food storage containers, you’re not going to want to use them to pack your lunch. Having the right equipment is the first change you need to make if you’re serious about switching up your lunch packing habits.
For salads, Mason jars work well because they allow you to keep your dressing separate from your dainty ingredients (like spinach and romaine lettuce), so you never accidentally end up with a wilty mess.
These BPA-free plastic, glass, and metal containers are also great for any number of meals. I personally like to use the ones that are styled more like bento-boxes, because they’re divided into sections. This allows me to compartmentalize my food, so that the flavors don’t end up all melding together—so my grapes don’t wind up covered in salmon teriyaki sauce. Plus they’re super cute.
2. Making a big dinner? Pack up your leftovers immediately!
One big dinnertime mistake we often make is not packing up leftovers. Just because you cooked a lot of food, doesn’t mean you have to eat it all. “I’ll often double a portion and pack up the extras right then so there’s no temptation for seconds,” Amy Gorin, M.S., R.D., owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition, tells SELF. Packing up your food immediately will also ensure everything stays super fresh. It’s a win-win.
3. Prep ingredients that are easy to mix-and-match.
This is a favorite trick of nutritionists. Lauren Minchen, M.P.H., R.D.N., C.D.N., owner of Lauren Minchen Nutrition and Golda Bar, will grill a bunch of chicken on the weekend and keep that in her fridge. She also likes to have canned fish and other already-prepped proteins on hand.
Other ingredients you can make ahead include chopped and cleaned fresh fruits (which are also easy to add to breakfast and eat for snacks), big portions of cooked whole grains like quinoa or farro, and large amounts of roasted vegetables. These are all ingredients that can be easily stored and added to salads, grain bowls, soups, and so much more.
4. Keep condiments at your desk.
If your favorite hot sauce is waiting for you at work, odds are you’re going to want to use it. Keeping ingredients you love at your desk will help you actually pack and bring a lunch. But this trick doesn’t just apply to condiments. Stash lemons in a drawer or olive oil on a shelf—maybe even make a big batch of whole grains at the beginning of the week to store in the office fridge.
5. Start a bring-your-lunch-to-work club with your colleagues.
They say misery loves company, so if packing lunch is one of your least favorite tasks, find someone at work who will do it with you. Maybe even get a whole lunch-bringing group together. Set cooking or ingredient restrictions—chicken on Monday, salad on Thursday, whatever you like. Even set up a swapping or sharing system. Think of it as a book club, but with food.
6. Sign up for a meal delivery service.
These services are all the rage right now for a reason. These companies eliminate all the annoying parts about cooking—grocery shopping, recipe prep and planning. They also deliver recipes with enough ingredients for two servings, which means automatic leftovers if you’re cooking for one.
7. Pack a meal you actually want to eat.
Sometimes that healthy meal you packed can be a little too…healthy. If you usually hate kale, but packed a kale salad because you think that’s what you should be eating, you’re still not going to want to eat it when push comes to shove. There is one incredibly easy way to keep your lunch choices in line with your tastes: At nighttime, while you’re packing, think to yourself, would I eat this right now? If the answer is no, it will probably still be no tomorrow.
8. Leave yourself a note so you don’t forget your food.
Phone, keys, wallet, anything else? Yes, your lunch! How many times have you packed a delicious rice bowl, only to realize halfway to work that you’ve completely forgotten it? For me, this is a constant issue, but there are ways to avoid it.
Gorin sets calendar reminders on her phone—do this when you finish packing your lunch so there’s no risk of forgetting. Minchen likes to write a note and keep it next to her purse, coffee maker, or fridge. Make sure it’s somewhere where you will be more likely to see it. Maybe that’s on your bedroom door, or even on your bathroom mirror.