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Time-Saving (& Tasty) Pack-Ahead Lunches

With fall just around the corner, my social media feed is filled with seasonal posts: fall décor, friends grabbing their first pumpkin spice lattes of the season (let’s not talk about the sugar count), and the obligatory first-day-of-school photos.

Many of us are getting back into the swing of a school routine, and may spend ample amounts of time planning our children’s lunches — but neglect to give thought to sprucing up our own midday meal. This time of year is also a great time to reset your lunches, too, whether or not you have little ones. Check out my three tips to make packing a healthy lunch easier. I’ll even toss you a few of my favorite make-ahead lunch recipes that I hope will inspire you to think outside of your traditional lunchbox.

Lunchtime Tips

Meet all your food groups

If lunch is not the main meal you look forward to, try to change that mindset. Lunch should be a great example of your healthy way of eating because it fuels the second half of your day. It should deliver a palm-sized serving of protein (two servings for men), at least 1 to 2 cups of veggies, a serving of healthy fat (possibly avocado and a healthy dressing on your veggies), and a small amount of healthy carbs (think Greek yogurt or a piece of fruit) to give you the fuel you need for your afternoons. A well-packed lunch can even help you to eliminate the need for your afternoon cup of coffee. 

Upgrade your lunchbox

Lunch is way more fun to pack when you have the right type of lunchbox to carry it in. Invest in a lunchbox that has the space you need and will fit the containers you like to use. I have a lunch bag which allows me to use a combination of containers, as well as my favorite glass containers. If you’re looking for a lunchbox or bag, make sure it has a place to put freezer packs to keep your lunch cold and allow for easy access to nourishment throughout your workday. Bonus: Use your own utensils and cloth napkin. It makes your lunches feel a bit more formal and it’s environmentally friendly, too.  

Plan, Shop, Prep

Eating away from home can be a challenge sometimes, and planning ahead is half the battle. Think through what foods you’ll need to purchase for your lunch in the week ahead and be sure everything makes it on your grocery list. Be sure to carve out some time after you grocery shop to prep your foods. Prep your protein ahead and chop your veggies. Place your foods in ready-to-pack, single servings to expedite your lunch-packing process. Carve out time each night to ensure all components of your lunch are ready to grab and go in the morning. This makes it easier to avoid leaving the house without your lunch.  

Make-Ahead Lunches  

Skillet Cheeseburger Salad

This is a personal favorite. I love a good bun-less burger. The recipe makes four servings, so not only do these burgers make a wonderful, easy weeknight meal, they also reheat fabulously and make a great cheeseburger salad. Note: this recipe can be modified to be D.TOXSM-friendly by omitting the cheese and using olive oil, salt and pepper as your salad dressing option. This one is kid-friendly, too, so have some fun with it.

Servings: 4



  • 1 1/3 lb. grass-fed ground beef, divided into 1/3-lb. portions
  • 4 slices cheese (creamy Havarti works great)
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Ground pepper, to taste


  • 6 cups greens (I like butter lettuce and chopped cabbage blends for this salad)
  • 1–2 Tbsp. natural ketchup
  • 1–2 Tbsp. yellow mustard


  1. Heat a 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Skillet is ready to use when droplets of water bounce off skillet surface.
  2. Divide ground beef into 1/3-pound portions and form into large, thin burger patties; pre-cooked patty thickness should be less than ¼ inch.
  3. Season both sides of each patty with sea salt and pepper.
  4. Cook the patty on each side for three minutes on medium-high heat. Remove from heat and place in single-serve portion containers with one slice of cheese on top.
  5. For an easy lunch, reheat and place on top of 1 ½ cups greens with ketchup and mustard as dressing.

Nutrition info (per serving)

Calories: 404 Fat: 24 Carbs: 6 Fiber: 2 Sugar: 2 Protein: 37


Thanksgiving Meatballs

Having fun with your food is important, and I used my creativity with this recipe. Who wouldn’t love a bite that tasted like all of your favorite Thanksgiving flavors? This meatball does just that. It’s also D.TOX-friendly for those who are working on their clean eating. And it’s also another kid-approved recipe. Pair these meatballs with carrots, celery and hummus for a well-rounded lunch reminiscent of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Servings: 4 (makes 12 meatballs total)


  • 1 lb. ground turkey  
  • ½ cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 cup wild rice or quinoa, cooked
  • 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp. garlic salt
  • ½ tsp. red pepper flakes
  • ½ scoop Berry Life Greens


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Spray a large baking sheet with coconut oil spray and set aside.
  3. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly.
  4. Form into two-inch balls and place evenly spaced on baking sheet.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes.
  6. Remove and place meatballs in sets of three in glass containers.
  7. Reheat and enjoy!

Nutrition info (per serving)

Calories: 310 Fat: 12 Carbs: 15 Fiber: 2 Sugar: 2 Protein: 33


Taco Salad

This is a great option for anyone trying to make healthier lunches and in need of a new salad to liven up their veggies. This recipe is also D.TOX-friendly and provides a meat-free option (vegetarian- and vegan-friendly) that’s packed with fiber and healthy fats to keep you satisfied all afternoon long.

Servings: 2


  • 1 large heirloom tomato, chopped
  • 1 ripe avocado, cubed
  • 1 cup canned chickpeas, drained
  • ½ small purple onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ lime, juiced (use just the juice)
  • Sea salt and ground pepper, to taste


  1. Add ingredients in a large mixing bowl; stir until combined.
  2. Portion into 1 ½-cup servings. Chill until served. Serve alone or on top of a bed of spinach.

Nutrition info (per serving)

Calories: 123 Fat: 6 Carbs: 11 Fiber: 6 Sugar: 3 Protein: 4


I hope you enjoy these fresh ideas on how to make your lunch ahead. Happy, healthy eating! 


Julie Brown

MS, RD, CSSD, PN2 Life Time National Nutrition Program Coordinator


This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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