30+ Make-Ahead Lunches You Can Prep and Pack Tonight

published Jun 28, 2023
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

What’s one of the easiest ways to feel like you have everything together? If you ask us, it’s prepping lunch the night before. In the grand scheme of things it’s a small accomplishment, but when all you want to do after the kids are in bed is settle in for a marathon TV session, taking the extra time to make lunch feels like a Herculean effort.

To give you a bit of a boost, we have more than 30 make-ahead lunch ideas that you can pack the night before and even make in a big batch so you’ll have lunch for a few days, if not the full week.

This take on pesto chicken salad is light and creamy, thanks to a quick homemade pesto that’s brightened with lemon juice and just enough mayo to hold things together. Pack up the salad as is, pile it over greens, or tuck it into a sandwich.

Salting the cabbage before dressing it ensures this slaw will stay nice and crunchy for more than a few days in the fridge. Feel free to top it with chickpeas or leftover cooked chicken to make it heartier.

These savory muffins are the ultimate grab-and-go lunch. They can be eaten cold or reheated in the toaster oven or microwave, and have enough protein in them from the ham and cheese to keep you satisfied.

Credit: Lauren Volo

This Thai-inspired salad is a crunchy, colorful lunch you can feel good about. Feel free to reach for pre-shredded red cabbage to make assembly even easier on yourself.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

This comes together even faster with the help of pre-riced cauliflower. To keep the avocado from browning before lunch, slice it just before serving — or spritz it with plenty of fresh lime juice before you pack it.

Jarred salads have definitely had their moment in the spotlight. And while their buzz has faded a bit, we still find them to be incredibly smart and easy to make. Layering the ingredients in just the right way prevents delicate components from wilting, and marinates some of the heartier ingredients in plenty of dressing.

To prevent your wrap from getting soggy, try making a big batch of the fillings for this recipe, but only wrapping up your sandwich the night before. Alternately, you can make a batch of these and freeze them.

With a base of broccoli slaw, crisp red peppers, and even crispier tofu, all smothered in a peanut butter dressing, you’ll never have to worry about this being a sad desk salad.

Think of these buns as calzones without the red sauce. Instead, you’ll want to eat them warmed up, with a healthy dab of whole-grain mustard.

Credit: Brie Passano

Upgrade your boring Caesar salad with three changes. First, use kale for a heartier base. Second, add canned or smoked salmon for some protein and flavor. And third, wrap it all up to make it even easier to eat.

Credit: Lauren Volo

Pasta salad is like the OG make-ahead lunch. While you can toss together leftovers from dinner (or whatever you might have on hand), we’re partial to this version with roasted eggplant and salty feta.

Make a big batch of this cold noodle salad, which actually gets better with some marinating time, for lunch for the week. Then swing by the deli or salad bar near your office to get sliced chicken or another protein to add on top. You’ll have an easy lunch and get the chance to get out of the office for a bit.

Yes, this make-ahead lunch has crumbled bacon, croutons, and even a soft-boiled egg. Lunch perfection is within your reach — we promise.

Make a big batch of these individual servings of lasagna and then freeze them. That way you can take a couple to work and heat them up easily when lunch hour arrives.

This fancy pasta salad is sure to make your coworkers envious. The good news is that once you have a pot of tortellini cooked, you’re basically done. Everything else just gets tossed together with some dressing.

The mashed-up chickpeas in this wrap provide plenty of protein, while the fresh cucumber and roasted red pepper ensure that it has plenty of crunch and flavor.

The Brussels sprout slaw at the base of this salad makes it hearty enough to last in the fridge all week. Just be sure you add the chips and dressing in at the end so they don’t get soggy.

These DIY noodle cups let you mix and match your favorite ingredients and prep everything in advance. Then all you’ll need to do when it’s time to eat is to add some hot water and give it a stir.

Credit: Kelli Foster

Greek salad will forever be one of our favorites. And this recipe shows you how to layer it just right so that you have a salad that’s flavorful, but not soggy.

Credit: Faith Durand

The radicchio in this salad actually benefits from being made ahead, so it has time to mellow a bit in the lemon and olive oil dressing. We’d just recommend waiting to add the avocado until lunchtime.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Calzones are the perfect make-ahead lunch. They are endlessly versatile, can be a great way to use up leftovers, and are easy to pack — you don’t even need a separate lunch bag.

How do you make that ho-hum turkey sandwich a little less boring? By turning it into a wrap instead. The real winner with this lunch recipe is the honey-mustard dip. You’ll never complain about turkey for lunch again.

Prep all the ingredients for these pitas in a large batch and store them in separate containers in the fridge, and then assemble your pita pocket the night before. We just recommend lining the pita with the romaine leaves, otherwise you’ll have a bright-pink pita from the beet juice.

You can skip the traditional greens in this salad, thanks to the zucchini noodles that make up the base. And the Buffalo flavor comes from the croutons, not the chicken, so you can use last night’s leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.

Make a couple of these quesadillas, then store them in the fridge in between layers of parchment or waxed paper. A toaster oven (or sandwich press) is the ideal way to heat these up, if your office has one.

Credit: Emily Han

This chickpea salad can be made in advance in a big batch, and then assembled before you go to bed. Just be sure to bring the minted yogurt in a separate container. You wouldn’t want to end up with a soggy pita.

Each batch of this recipe makes at least eight burritos, so you’ll be able to grab one out of the freezer for an easy lunch for days. You can customize the vegetables and spices that are inside your version — just be sure you label them when you put them in the freezer.

Credit: Kelli Foster

If you need something hearty that will keep you going for the afternoon, but that won’t put you in a food coma, look to these spinach and feta hand pies. Thanks to a ton of greens stuffed inside the whole-wheat crust, you’ll be able to make it through that 3 p.m. meeting. Just make sure you check your teeth in a mirror before you leave your office.

Give your plain ol’ PB&J an upgrade with these self-contained pockets. You can make them small enough to be snack-sized or you can make them bigger and more appropriate for replacing your sandwich. Whatever you do, make sure you use your favorite jam or jelly.

You won’t be bored adding this salad to your rotation. The shaved fennel base has a bright flavor, and the crispy, crunchy chickpeas are the perfect foil for the creamy baked goat cheese.

Like all great pasta salads, this Greek salad-inspired one gets better with a rest in the fridge overnight, so that all the ingredients have time to mix and mingle.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Keep the creamy curried peanut sauce to the side when prepping these bowls, then drizzle it over everything just before digging in.

This post originally published on The Kitchn. Read it there: 30+ Make-Ahead Lunches You Can Prep and Pack Tonight