We all know that packing a lunch is the wise, grownup thing to do—it’s healthier and more affordable than that meat-stack sandwich from the deli (and really, who has time to wait in line for one of those designer chopped salads). But it’s tricky right?
It takes a bit of foresight to master a week of homemade healthy lunches. First, there’s the grocery shopping. Even if you’re proactive and snag all the supplies over the weekend, it’s hard to prepare for the food fatigue you may feel midweek. My tactic is to stick with mix-and-match meals you can cook ahead and enjoy over multiple days in different ways.
The best portable lunch bases, in my humble opinion: Easy-to-prepare pantry staples, like hearty grains. The tasty dose of complex carbohydrates provides a fabulous energy boost and—bonus!—it’ll keep you fuller longer.
Browse the grocery aisle for you favorite whole grains (think barley, quinoa, brown rice) or try this simple recipe for customizable farro salad. I love farro because it’s loaded with more protein and fiber than other grains, plus it’s surprisingly lower in calories. Another virtue: Farro rarely gets mushy! After a few days in the fridge, it still maintains its firm, seed-like shape (making it perfect for a leftover-centric meal such as this).
Simmer a big batch of farro whenever you have free time, then divide it into individual portions—it only takes 20 minutes. Plain cooked farro will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days. You can even freeze it for up to 3 months (just defrost in the microwave as needed). I like to use sandwich-size resealable plastic bags for easy rationing. When you’re ready to pack it up, toss the baggie with your choice of ingredients and you’re good to go.
This farro salad stays fresh and crunchy with English cucumbers, chickpeas (for extra protein), parmesan cheese and a tangy sherry vinaigrette. Feeling inspired? Get creative! Mix in a few extra spring veggies or your choice of nuts, cheese, beans, etc. The important task is that you keep things simple for yourself. Do that and you might just master this whole DIY lunch thing once-and-for-all!
CHICKPEA-CUCUMBER FARRO SALAD
MAKES: 6 servings
FOR THE FARRO
6 cups water or lower-sodium chicken broth
1 to 2 teaspoons salt
3 cups farro (about 1 pound bag)
FOR THE SALAD
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 cloves garlic 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 medium English cucumber, chopped
1 cup parsley leaves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1. Make the farro: Bring the water and salt to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Meanwhile, rinse the farro under cold running water.
2. Stir rinsed farro into boiling water and cook, without stirring, until tender, about 20 minutes; drain. Transfer half of the farro to resealable plastic bags and refrigerate for another use. Transfer the remaining farro to a large bowl.
3. Make the salad: Put the sherry and garlic in a small bowl; set aside 10 minutes to infuse. Remove the garlic; set aside. Slowly whisk the olive oil into the vinegar until combined. Finely grate the reserved garlic into the dressing, if desired. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Add the chickpeas, cucumber, parsley and dressing to the bowl with the farro. Toss to combine. Season with more salt and pepper, if desired. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.