Meal planning has always seemed to me to represent an aspirational level of Having Your Shit Togetherness. I assume that if I can streamline the whole eating process such that I can do grocery shopping and lunch packing from muscle memory, I’ll be left with more mental energy and money to dedicate to other pursuits. Unfortunately, most meal plans are intensely inflexible, assuming a certain singular dedication to following a strict schedule that can be intimidating—and easily undermined if you miss a single step.
So what we have here is an easier, more incremental introduction to meal planning, focused specifically on eating better office lunches. Our goals are to eliminate grocery shopping during the week, minimize mid-week cooking, and maximize the viable permutations of an accessible ingredient list so as to make the most of each item without eating the same thing every day. Oh, and to cook food that’ll make it easy to avoid ravenously defaulting to a Chipotle burrito midway through the afternoon.
To preclude falling into a rut (and to force a certain amount of vegetables into my diet), each menu will be based on seasonal produce, readily available right now at a farmer’s market or through a CSA. Buy it whenever, prep it Sunday, eat well all week (in theory). Let’s get to it.
Grocery store additions:
Ground sausage or your favorite links
Pantry staples you probably already have (but should add to the grocery list if you don’t):
Red pepper flakes
Salt & pepper
So you have your farmer’s market haul and a bunch groceries and you’ve cleared some time Sunday to make the rest of your week a little easier. Go ahead and cook the couscous according to the directions on whatever box it came in. If you have more than enough scallions, go ahead and chop some of those to mix into the cooked couscous. Pack enough Sunday night for two servings and you’ll have one less thing to think about later in the week.
Now is also a good time to prep the pickled radishes (unless you would sooner eat the dirt they came from than these bitter bulbs made even tangier by a vinegar infusion). They’re by no means necessary, but as someone with an abiding love of pickles, the process is an easy way to make an array of vegetables beyond just cucumbers more palatable. Most vinegar will work; I prefer apple cider vinegar, but if your pantry consists solely of ingredients in the shopping lists above, go ahead and use the rice vinegar. Chop some, but not all, of your radishes into whatever size and shape you’ll want the pickles—slices are probably preferable to the chunky wedges demonstrated in the video—and add them to a plastic bag. Pour in enough vinegar to drown all the pieces and then season with about a tablespoon each of sugar and salt. Seal it up, and set it aside for later in the week. (This same recipe, by the way, is even better at turning red onions into the most perfect fish taco topping, but that’s for another time.)
Still have some time left before whatever Sunday night HBO show you consider appointment television? Go ahead and chop the rest of the radishes, scallions, kale, lettuce, and bok choy into bite-sized pieces and store them in separate baggies to streamline the cooking process later in the week.
The salmon packets we’re making employ the incredibly versatile method described in this recipe. (Use parchment paper instead of tinfoil so you can safely microwave it.) Depending on your personal preferences, add to the salmon and bok choy a healthy splattering of lemon, capers, scallions, assorted herbs, soy sauce, white wine, and some sort of vinegar. Crimp the packages closed and then bake them in the oven at 425 degrees for around 12 minutes.
Okay. So, this is where I tell you to put fish in the office microwave. This will be fine! If you cook the salmon Sunday night, leave the parchment sealed and you can reheat it in the microwave the next day at lunch in about a minute without infusing a communal appliance with fishy flavors. Or—stay with me—you can cook the fish in the microwave. We did this; it was perfect; it was, in my opinion, better than the reheated version. Prep the packets the night before, bring them into the office sealed (but also in a Tupperware, parchment paper isn’t air-tight) and microwave for about 5-8 minutes, depending on your microwave’s strength. Really, truly, this works.
Set yourself up for Tuesday’s lunch by cooking a two-servings-size piece of salmon and splitting it in half before eating Monday’s portion alongside the bok choy and reheated couscous. Reserve the rest in the fridge for Tuesday.
Monday night, put together this salad (bulked up with lettuce to make it more meal-worthy), but don’t dress it. You can also just pack all the constituent parts that you pre-chopped Sunday night to be assembled at the office. For a single serving, you’ll only need half the can of beans, but save the rest for Wednesday. Top with cold leftover salmon and whatever dressing you happen to have on hand, and that’s lunch.
This sausage, bean, and kale skillet is quick to cook but can’t really be duped in the microwave—you’re going to have to fire up the stove the night before. If you don’t mind a little repetition (and you don’t have other dinner plans), your best bet is to make a big batch of this for dinner Tuesday night and bring the leftovers for lunch on Wednesday. Either way, crumble, cook, and reserve an extra sausage link or two before adding the beans and kale. Store the cooked meat for Thursday. If you’re having this for dinner, you should definitely top the finished mixture with a fried or poached egg. If you’re bringing it for lunch, a hard boiled egg is an imperfect but passable substitute—or you could read this handy blog on how to pre-poach an egg.
It will literally take you less than 10 minutes to sautee the rest of the chopped bok choy with olive oil, garlic, and soy sauce, so I don’t feel bad about assigning you another night of cooking. It’s easy to make a big batch of this if you’re planning to eat some for dinner Wednesday night, but make sure you leave at least one serving for lunch. On Thursday, we’re eating the rest of the couscous with the sauteed bok choy, the reserved sausage from Wednesday’s lunch, and the pickled radishes you thought I forgot about.
On Friday, you’re rewarding yourself with takeout.