Co-op Blog

Make-Ahead Meals: Lunches 5 Ways

The start of the school year is almost here. Get ready and whip up simple yet satisfying lunches for the whole family. With a bit of planning and prepping, these easy steps will help you create healthy, whole food options to feed your kids and yourself!

We all want a lunch that is healthy and filling. A good equation to follow is: 1+1+1= 1 one fruit or vegetable, one protein and one carbohydrate = one lunch. This formula allows for endless mealtime match-ups and balanced nutrition. Cut down on waste with ECOlunchboxes,  Bee’s Wrap sustainable food wrap, and other reusable meal ware from our 2nd Floor Mercantile.

Protein Sources

Be it legume, soy, nut, egg, dairy, seafood, or meat, your body needs protein to function and feel full. Whole roasted chickens make great meals that last all week. Save on packaging and buy nuts or legumes in bulk to keep on hand to add to salads or grain bowls as needed. A short but hearty list:

  • Turkey, chicken breast or roast beef slices
  • Canned tuna, salmon or other fish
  • Bean salad or spread from above (beans count as protein AND vegetable)
  • Flavored baked tofu or tempeh chunks
  • Chunky peanut butter, sunflower seed or almond butter
  • Chocolate milk or calcium–fortified soy milk
  • Yogurt
  • Real Cheese

Fruit & Vegetables

Select your favorite fruits and veggies, then and wash and pre-slice to have on hand. Cherry (or grape) tomatoes keep well and can add pizzazz to salads, rice dishes, noodles and more. Pre-cooked peppers, onions and roasted squash hold up well under refrigeration and add texture, fiber and color to make-ahead meals like wraps, salads and grain bowls.

Vegetable choices—pick two or more 1/2 cup servings:

  • Three bean salad, add beets and olives, dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil
  • Hummus (garbanzo bean spread)
  • Vegetable soup (1-cup) in a thermos
  • Baby carrots
  • Celery sticks
  • Cherry or grape tomatoes
  • Cooked green beans
  • Sweet pepper strips
  • Green Salad (1-cup) with one tablespoon of dressing

Fruit choices—pick one:

  • Favorite fall apples
  • Dried fruit packed in a one-quarter cup container
  • Frozen berries packed in a one-half cup container (they thaw by lunchtime)
  • One-cup 100% juice

Whole Grains

Depending on your dietary guidelines, add nourishing, whole food grains as a foundation of your lunch. Choose from:

  • Flaxseed or whole grain crackers
  • Corn or rice chips
  • Whole grain mini-bagel or pita bread
  • Toasted whole grain English muffin
  • Granola
  • Bran muffin
  • Whole grain rice or pasta salad

Add Your Personal Touch

Customize your make-ahead meals to suit your needs. Go gluten free, ketogenic, paleo, or vegan. Use mason jars or reusable meal ware to for multi-layered meals. Place heavy or moisture-rich ingredients on the bottom, such as beans, roasted vegetables or meats. Top with rice, salad greens, roasted peppers. Add your favorite nuts and seeds: just a handful of almonds, cashews, or pumpkin seeds contain protein, fiber and other nourishing vitamins and minerals. Garnish the top with fresh herbs or sliced avocado.

Consider packing a small container of dipping sauce or dressing to enhance the flavor of your meal. Whisk together a simple vinaigrette (try using probiotic apple cider vinegar) or yogurt-based dressing and portion per meal. Use zesty herbs and spices, such as cilantro, garlic, basil or oregano to boost flavor without adding extra salt.

Read on for 5 sample menus:

Green Goddess Bowl


  • 1 cup dry quinoa
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon water, divided
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce
  • 1 tablespoon tamari sauce plus 1 teaspoon, divided
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 cup raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds
  • 1 bunch Tuscan kale, thinly sliced
  • 2 large carrots, shredded
  • 2 medium avocados, halved and pitted

Directions: Cook the quinoa. In a small pot, bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil, then add the grain. Return to a boil, reduce the heat to low and cook for 14 minutes, covered. Fluff the finished grain with a fork.

While the grain cooks, place the tahini, cider vinegar, one tablespoon each tamari, honey, Sriracha sauce and water in a small bowl and stir with a fork until smooth. Add a bit more water if the dressing is too thick.

Place the pumpkin seeds in a small sauté pan and swirl over medium-high heat. When they begin to pop and become fragrant, stir in the tamari. The tamari will coat the seeds and the pan will be dry. Transfer to a bowl to cool.

Place a quarter of the cooked grains in each of four low, wide bowls. Arrange the raw kale and carrots on top of the grains, then slice the avocado halves in the skin and carefully scoop them out with a spoon. Fan half an avocado over each bowl. Top with sauce and pumpkin seeds.

Pump It Up Protein Meal Box


Directions: Assemble egg, nuts, crackers and fruit in a reusable container. Enjoy!


Source: Momables

Bistro Fruit & Cheese Tray


  • Small wedge of Brie
  • 1-2 small slices of aged cheddar
  • 1-2 small slices of Gouda
  • 5-7 whole grain crackers
  • 3-4 apple slices
  • 2 tablespoons almonds mixed with 1 tablespoon dried cranberries
Directions: Take as much or as little of each ingredient as you’d like…and enjoy!

Mediterranean Couscous Bowl


  • 6 oz. couscous, cooked
  • 1 8 oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts, sliced thickly
  • 8 roasted or sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 18 Kalamata or Castelveltrano olives, pitted and chopped
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (or sunflower seeds)
  • 4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
  • Mixed greens, to taste
  • 3/4 cup balsamic vinaigrette

Directions:  Toss half the vegetables with cooked couscous. Place the mesclun or greens in a salad bowl and toss with half the artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, nuts, and feta cheese. Dress the salad with about 1/4 cup of the balsamic vinaigrette.


Chicken Posole

Invest some time to make this hearty, one pot meal in advance. Ready to enjoy right away, the soup’s flavor deepens with time. Divide portions to freeze or refrigerate for future use. Pack a thermos of posole, and include a separate container of sliced radishes, avocados, fresh cilantro and a lime wedge for garnishing.



Place the chicken, 1 onion (peeled and quartered), and the celery, parsley, and pepper in a large Dutch oven or stockpot. Add 12 cups of water and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 1 hour.

Remove the chicken from the broth, let cool, and remove the meat from the bones, shredding it into bite-size pieces; set aside.

 Strain the cooking liquid and discard the solids, then pour the liquid back into the pot. Coarsely chop the remaining onions. Add the chopped onions, poblanos, jalapeños, and garlic. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, hominy, salt, cumin, chili powder, and oregano. Reduce heat to a simmer and let cook for 30 minutes.

Before serving, stir in the cilantro and lime juice. Serve warm and top with tortilla chips, chopped avocado, and sliced radishes, if desired.

By: Claire

ClaireClaire Harlock Garber loves to eat and drink and write about it. She has worked in the food industry for nearly a decade and was on staff at the Skagit Valley Co-op from 2010-2018, writing the regular columns Skagit Brew Corner, The Cheese Whisperer, The Bounty of Bulk, and What's Dippin' in the Well for the Co-op's blog, as well as articles for the Natural Enquirer newsletter.