Easy make-ahead salad ideas for healthy weekday lunches.
How to Avoid a Lunchbag Letdown
I try to be responsible most of the time and bring my lunch to work, but sometimes I’m either too lazy, forgetful or run out of groceries by Wednesday leaving me no other option than to buy something…that, or rummage through the staff fridge for an errant bagel and a yogurt.
Recently a gourmet salad joint opened in my office building, and it was a welcome beacon of light in a neighbourhood bereft of healthy, tasty lunch options. Offering a few pre-designed salad combinations and rotisserie chicken, it’s a much better alternative than hitting the food court but for a decent portion it can easily rack up a $25 tab. In a lunchtime emergency it’s pretty good…but on the regular it can make a serious dent in the budget.
When I’m on a productive streak, I usually prepare a few make-ahead salads on Sunday afternoon that keep well in the fridge — it’s an easy way to stay organized for the week ahead, without having to worry about getting a nutritious meal or breaking the bank with takeout. The great thing about these recipes is their incredible versatility – shake up the spices and herbs for a different flavour combination, or experiment with produce that’s in season. A bit of prep work is necessary, but once you have the ingredients organized it’s easy to combine everything together. These salads are satisfying year-round and can be enjoyed for a fraction of the cost of store-bought.
TIP: I like to prepare takeout or Tupperware containers with pre-measured portions every 2 days so they’re ready to grab-and-go from the fridge in the morning. 1 – 1.5 cups is a generous portion, and served with a grilled chicken breast or a piece of broiled fish it makes a perfect lunch combo.
Lentil and Kale Salad
This salad is packed with nutrients. While kale might be bordering on ubiquitous lately, the addition of lentils gives this recipe a power punch for a satisfying meal. Naturally low in fat and high in fiber and protein, lentils are part of the pulse family (aka the dried seeds of legumes, including dried peas and beans etc.), with one cup of cooked lentils packing 18 grams of protein, 1 gram of fat and 16 grams of fiber. Foodie nerd tidbit: the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization named 2016 the International Year of Pulses, recognizing their nutritional importance globally.
Kale on the other hand, is a superfood incredibly rich in iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and fiber, regardless of which variety you prefer.
- 1 cup cooked green lentils, cooled
- 2 cups chopped Tuscan (black) kale
- ½ cup chopped yellow pepper
- ½ cup diced cucumber
- 2 tbsp sunflower seeds
- 2 tbsp chopped chives
- 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp red wine vinegar
- salt and pepper to taste
- Cook the lentils according to package directions and set aside to cool to room temperature. I find for best results, use 2 parts water to 1 part uncooked lentils. The lentils should be soft but still a bit firm so they hold up when mixed with the other ingredients.
- Chop the pepper, cucumber, kale and chives and add to a large mixing bowl with the sunflower seeds and cooled lentils.
- Combine oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl and pour over the salad mixture.
- Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 1 week
Farro is one of those underused or little known ingredients that deserves its time in the sun. Popular in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking, this ancient whole grain is an excellent source of fiber and protein with a subtle nutty flavour and hearty texture. It’s a tasty, nutritious alternative to rice or quinoa and holds up well as an addition to soups and salads.
- 1 cup cooked farro, cooled
- 2 cups roasted butternut squash
- 1 cup canned chick peas, drained and rinsed
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
- ¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- Zest and juice of half a lemon (or half an orange)
- 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
Alternate option: substitute the butternut squash for 2 cups chopped grilled vegetables (zucchini, eggplant, and bell peppers all work well)
- For the roasted butternut squash: trim the ends and peel the squash with a vegetable peeler or sharp knife, cut in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Cut the squash into 1-inch cubes, toss with 1 tbsp olive oil, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper to taste. Spread on a large cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake in a 425°F pre-heated oven for 40 – 45 minutes. The squash should be lightly golden, cooked through but not too soft. Set aside and let cool to room temperature. This can be done in advance and stored covered in the fridge for a few days.
- Cook farro according to the package directions (it usually takes about 20 – 25 minutes). Drain any excess water in a sieve and set aside to cool to room temperature.
- Combine the farro, squash, tomatoes and chick peas in a large mixing bowl
- For the dressing, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, chopped parsley, salt and pepper and pour over the salad ingredients. Toss well and store refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
TIP: Farro will double in size when it’s cooked and while water is perfectly fine, try simmering in chicken or vegetable stock instead for a hint of additional flavour. Or if using water, you could try adding 2 – 3 dried bay leaves.