I meal plan. Sometime on Saturday, usually Saturday night, Clay and I will sit on the couch and plan out our meals for the upcoming week. A couple of wild and crazy kids, I know. Speaking of kids, it does help if our kids are involved in the planning process, because I found they tend to eat better when they help pick the breakfasts and dinners.
I have a very tried and true formula for planning our weekday meals: for my husband and kids, breakfast involves a complex carbohydrate and fruit, the kids eat lunch at school while Clay and I have salads, and dinner is a protein and veggies. Simple and satisfying.
I then buy everything we need on Sunday morning. I try to go super early, around 8am, when I basically have the whole store to myself. Plus I can sneak out before my kids wake up; grab a Starbucks on the way, and a child-free trip to the grocery store can pretty much be considered a mini vacation.
I spend Sunday afternoons assembling my and Clay's salads for the weeks. I was preparing them daily, but it got to be too much work to wash the salad containers, grill the meat, chop the veggies, assemble the ingredients every damn morning. No thanks. And with a little care, the salads keep until Friday without getting soggy or gross, so why not do one day of prep instead of five?
For the base of the salads, I buy a 1 lb clamshell of Earthbound Farm's Organic baby spinach leaves. There is exactly enough spinach in this container to make ten salads. I boil a couple eggs and throw a chicken breast or two on the Foreman grill, then get to work.
Chicken Caesar Salad
I like to eat the salads with chicken first. Even though our containers are air-tight, I still don't like the idea of the chicken that was grilled on Sunday sitting until Friday, so Monday's salad is usually a chicken caesar salad made with spinach, grilled chicken, shredded parmesan cheese, and caesar dressing.
Cranberry, Feta, and Walnut Salad with Chicken
Tuesday's lunch a mixture of dried cranberries, crumbled feta cheese, chopped walnuts, and grilled chicken served with a side of Greek dressing.
We take a Southwest Salad on Wednesday. This is made of spinach, sliced turkey, shredded Mexican cheese, corn, and black beans with chipotle dressing.
A chef salad, made with spinach, cherry tomatoes, crumbled bacon, a chopped boiled egg, and shredded cheddar, is on the menu for Thursday. I usually have ranch dressing with this salad.
I save my favorite salad - antipasto - for last. It makes me hungry just thinking about the spinach, turkey pepperoni, mozzarella, red onion, banana pepper, cherry tomato, black olive combination. Italian dressing is a perfect compliment.
There are a couple things to keep in mind when preparing salads in advance.
Make sure every item that's added is completely dry. This is crucial, because moisture is what is going to make the salad soggy and yucky. For the sake of these pictures, I pre-mixed our southwest salads, but when I typically prepare this salad, I use a container that has a removable insert. I find it's best to put the lettuce, meat, and cheese on the bottom of the container, while the beans and corn wait on the insert until we mix the two when that salad is eaten. It's really hard to get the corn and beans "dry" enough to not wilt the salad.
Also, I never pre-mix the salad with the dressing. I pour the various dressings into 2-oz containers, then stick those containers within each salad. Not only does this keep the salad fresher, it helps with salad dressing portion control.
I was recently asked how just a salad can get me from breakfast to dinner without going hungry and honestly, it doesn't. I try to pack our salads with as much protein and veggies as I can so this meal is filling and satisfying, but my "lunch" actually involves much more than just a salad.
At work I consume:
- two hard boiled eggs and 3 pieces of bacon - and yup, my cholesterol is just fine - at 9 am (this is my first meal of the day, prior to this I have only had water and coffee)
- string cheese at 11 am
- one of the above-mentioned salads at 1 pm
- half of a red pepper with hummus at 3 pm
- and then a handful of pistachios, walnuts, or almonds at 5 pm during my drive home
- lots - and lots and lots and lots - of water all day long
So I still have a bit of lunch prep to do each day besides just grabbing a salad, but it's minimal compared to how long I was taking by making the salads daily. I'm all about anything that makes my life easier.