For as long as I can remember, my younger sister and I have always been responsible for making our school lunches. It was something my mum established as a norm for us growing up – a non-negotiable.
To this day, I’ve always been more of a lunch packer than someone who eats out. You might have caught me chatting in this post about how I’ve been making lunch, smoothies and snacks for friends at work, so I guess the long-established habit is actually paying off. While the primary school version of myself thought of it as a chore, the adult me actually really enjoys it!
In all this meal prep, I’ve learned my fair share of lessons and tricks. Today I’m sharing 6 hacks for make-ahead salad success, plus a 2017 update on one of the blog’s oldest recipes (and best, in my opinion). Let’s get into it!
1. Invest in some good containers
There’s nothing worse than packing yourself an amazing lunch, remembering to bring it with you to work, and then realizing that it’s leaked all over your bag, car, fridge etc. I can certainly speak from experience here!
In order to prevent messes and disappointment, I recommend getting yourself some containers with really good seals. The ones I have are Snapware by Pyrex, which I got from Costco but are also available on Amazon. I also have some plastic ones with great snapping lids for backup, but glass is ideal because you don’t have to worry about chemicals from plastic leaching into your food.
If you prefer, mason jars are always a safe bet as well. I’ve found that 750-1L ones are the best size to use, and the 1L size allows you put greens into the top of the jar without having to smush them down. If you’re making a layered jar, you just need to ensure that you’ve got a bowl to eat out of later or else you probably won’t be able to mix the ingredients very easily.
2. Use sturdy greens
I’m talking kale and chard, and if the thought of putting them in salads makes you feel like you’ll be chewing for an eternity, there are 2 more tips you should know:
- Be sure to remove tough stems and massage the greens with whatever dressing you use. Ideally, the dressing contains an acidic component (like vinegar or citrus juice) which will help break down the fibre. This reduces the amount of chewing you need to do, although I always recommend thoroughly chewing your food for better digestion!
- Shred them up nice and small. It’s amazing how many more greens you’ll eat if you’re not trying to put huge leaves in your mouth! Chopping them up with a sharp knife will help to make all of the ingredients in your salad approximately the same size, which means you’re more likely to get a little bit of everything in each bite. Just watch out for your fingers. 😆
The reason I like to use at least some sturdy greens instead of all thinner varieties like spinach and lettuces is because they don’t get soggy when they sit in the fridge, mixed with the other ingredients for a few days. You absolutely can use those lighter greens (and I shred those too), but if you really really want your greens crispy, just know you might want to use a little less dressing. The sturdy greens are also more nutrient dense, so you’ll get more bang for your health buck.
3. Know when to add your proteins – beans, meats, eggs etc
This is more of a ‘safety first’ tip than one that has to do with taste. When I make big-batch salads on Sundays, I find that I can get away with putting beans and lentils in anything I eat between Monday and Thursday. However, when it comes to meat and fish, I err on the cautious side and only pre-cook what I know I’ll use within 2-3 days max. This is especially the case if I’m preparing lunch for other people, and while it may seem like extra mid-week work, I think you’ll agree it’s better to be safe than sorry!
Regarding those beans and lentils, I know they can take longer to prepare so you’ll be happy to know you can cook as much as you’ll need for the week in a single batch. Simply freeze extra portions in air-tight containers once they’ve cooled. Like grains, beans freeze well and all you’ll need to do is set them back in the fridge to thaw the night before using them.
One more note about cooked things in salads or other dishes with crisp raw produce: Wait for the warm things to cool before sealing them in a container with your other ingredients. Otherwise, the warmth creates condensation on the lid and things tend to get soggy.
4. Using fresh herbs reduces the need for lots of dressing
As many of you know, I’m a huge advocate for using fresh herbs over dried and love how they can instantly take the flavour of any dish to a higher level. Not only will adding them to your salads reduce the need to add a ton of dressing for flavour (and thus reduce the calorie content), but using fresh herbs in big batch cooking also reduces the likelihood of waste. On that note, if you do find yourself with extras, you can always puree them with a bit of olive oil and freeze them in ice trays. Voila – instant flavour cubes to add to your next pasta or marinade.
5. A few foods just weren’t meant for make-ahead meal prep
Avocado, crispy chickpeas, boiled eggs and apples are 3 that I always add the morning I’m about to take my lunches to work. For avocado and apples, you’ve probably had the experience of seeing them go brown, right? There’s nothing wrong with the food when it does this and it’s still perfectly fine to eat – it just doesn’t look as pretty. If you really have to add them ahead of time, you can prevent some of the browning (due to oxygen exposure) by squeezing lemon or lime juice on top. I still prefer to add them the morning of when cooking for other people – simply because it looks more fresh.
As for hard boiled eggs, I’ll peel these in advance but find that again, they look better when sliced and added to salads the day they’re going to be eaten. Often times if they’re sealed in the same container as the other salad ingredients and stores in the fridge for multiple days, the yolks soften and don’t have as nice of a texture.
Lastly, the crispy chickpeas – I make these in my oven using a whole bunch of different spice combos, and they’re something my teammates at work LOVE so it’s a weekly ritual! My tricks to keeping them crisp are to leave them at room temperature (rather than in the fridge), and to toss the roasted chickpeas onto the top of each salad the morning they’re being served. This prevents absorption of any moisture from the other ingredients.
6. Think beyond your standard salad ingredients and dressings
This is so key in making each salad exciting, and not just “another salad”. I’ll often eat the same combination of vegetables all week long, but switch up the dressings and additional mix-ins to keep things interesting. Here are some ideas:
- Basic balsamic vinaigrette: equal parts extra virgin olive oil and white or dark balsamic vinegar, plus a pinch of black pepper and sea salt
- This fabulous (current fave) dressing that goes well on everything, shared over the weekend on Instagram. Garlic, nutritional yeast, apple cider vinegar, tamari and tahini – BOOM.
- Thinned-out hummus
- Thinned-out guacamole, or simply mash avocado and lemon juice
- Garlic tahini, ginger miso tahini, lemon tahini, hemp tahini…. I think I might have a thing for tahini??
- Ginger citrus vinaigrette, sesame ginger vinaigrette, apple cider vinaigrette.
- Generally, any combinations of miso, tahini, nutritional yeast, garlic, tamari, and a vinegar or citrus juice of some kind tend to turn out well!
Fun mix-ins + flavour boosters
- Fresh herbs
- Seasonings: salt-free seasoning, black pepper, himalayan sea salt, kelp or dulse flakes (both of which are dried seaweed with a salty taste, and don’t taste like the sea) 😜
- Nuts: Ideally raw and organic. I love these cashews, almonds, brazil nuts, pecans, walnuts and pistachios.
- Seeds: Hemp seeds, raw sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds (especially these superfood-coated pumpkin seeds)
- Dried fruit: Organic unsulphured apricots, mango, raisins, currants, goji berries, cranberries, blueberries
- Fresh fruit: Berries, peaches, pineapple, plums, apricots, nectarines, pomegranate, apples, pears, mango
Alrighty, are we hungry yet? I hope so, because this this Quinoa Trailblazer Salad puts all of the above into practice and is hands-down one of my favourite and top-rated lunch recipes. It’s also one of the oldest recipes on the blog. Until recently, the salad had a photo that didn’t do it justice (read: it was hideous). I remade it a week ago with a few upgrades (like tamari maple roasted almonds!), and absolutely loved the result. I think you will too!Print
Quinoa Trailblazer Salad
Light up your tastebuds and make boring work lunches a thing of the past. This Quinoa Trailblazer Salad with Tamari Maple Almonds is sure to make your co-workers jealous!
- Prep Time: 20 mins
- Cook Time: 0 mins
- Total Time: 20 minutes
- Yield: 11 cups
- Category: lunch
- Method: no cook
For the roasted almonds:
- 1/3 cup raw almonds
- 1 tsp each maple syrup and low sodium tamari, plus a few pinches of sea salt
- 1 tsp coconut oil
For the salad:
- 2 cups cooked quinoa
- ¼ cup diced red onion
- 1 1/2 cups very finely diced celery
- 1 cup mixed diced bell peppers
- 2 cups diced cucumber
- 1 cup shredded purple cabbage or radicchio
- 2 cups chickpeas, cooked, rinsed and drained very well if canned
- 1 cup shelled edamame
- ¼ cup loosely packed freshly chopped parsley
- 2 tbsp each pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds
- 2 tsp sesame seeds
For the dressing:
- 3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp each fresh lime juice and tahini
- 1/2 tsp maple syrup
- dash of sea salt and black pepper
- Roast the almonds: Preheat the oven to 375F and line a baking sheet with foil. In a bowl, toss the almonds in maple syrup and tamari, then sprinkle with sea salt. Drizzle the coconut oil on top and toss again to coat. Lay them in a single layer on the baking sheet. Roast for 15-20 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally and flipping the almonds for even roasting.
- Make the dressing: Combine all ingredients in a small jar and shake until evenly incorporated.
- In a very large bowl, stir together all remaining ingredients for the salad. Pour the dressing over top and toss well to coat. Let the salad sit for a minimum of 10 minutes to allow flavours to develop.
For a little more take-to-work lunchtime salad inspo (some fall-inspired, some a little more summery in case you’re not quite ready yet!), try a few of these:
So tell me…
- Do you tend to eat the same thing all week, or do you mix it up a lot?
- What are some of your go-to dressings or fun ingredients that take your salads up a notch?
- Any lunch prep tips I missed? Let’s hear them!