Prepping meals in advance is a time-honored trick for sticking to any kind of healthy eating plan. It's basically like storing willpower for later, in lunch form. You're doing the work (cooking, packing, washing up) on the weekend when you have the time and your energy/willpower hasn't been all sucked up by the demands of the week. Then on Thursday night, when you would ordinarily be too drained and worn out to cook...it doesn't matter because you already did the cooking on Sunday!
A big salad is a classic Paleo lunch, but salads can be challenging to meal prep, with everything from soggy lettuce to uninspiring repetitive lunches lining up to ruin your day. Here are 5 tips for salad-centric meal prep:
1. Free yourself from lettuce tyranny
The most perishable part of a salad is typically the greens (lettuce, spinach, or other goodies like arugula). Greens are great, but you don’t actually have to use them in every single salad. There are all kinds of other choices that give you more leeway on storage time. Consider…
- Massaged kale - to prep, massage kale leaves with oil and vinegar (or your dressing of choice), and use in place of lettuce. The kale holds up better to storage than lettuce or spinach, and massaging it really helps make it less tough. Try this summery grilled chicken salad for a recipe idea.
- Shredded cabbage - this is perfect in coleslaw or in Asian-inspired salads like this chicken and cabbage salad with a creamy almond butter dressing.
- Cucumbers make a tasty crunchy base for a salad and sometimes hold up better than lettuce. Here’s a creamy cucumber-chive salad for your consideration. Here’s a cucumber-mango salad for a different direction. Or pair raw cucumbers with steamed or boiled beets for a more colorful salad base with a lot of texture.
- Zucchini aren’t typically considered a salad vegetable, but they’re perfect in this pork tenderloin with zucchini salad.
- Broccoli is incredibly durable, good cooked or raw, and makes a great base for this broccoli egg salad.
- Beets are colorful, nutrient-packed, and happy to hang out in your fridge for a week or more. Try this Mediterranean-style beet salad.
2. Consider cooked vegetables
Salads don't have to be raw, and in fact, sometimes cooked vegetables are actually easier on the digestion. Try a roasted salad to break things up - put some peppers, onions, broccoli, and squash on a sheet pan, roast, and drizzle with dressing to eat hot or cold. Can’t decide which veg to use? Try this roasted winter vegetable salad that has it all!
You can also add cooked vegetables to a raw salad for extra flavor and texture. What about broccoli roasted with sesame seeds and coconut aminos on top of an Asian-style salad? Steamed or boiled beets on top of kale with balsamic vinaigrette? Butternut squash roasted with cinnamon? Here’s another very tasty recipe for roasted vegetables over greens.
3. Buy head lettuce and chop it yourself
Lettuce goes bad all too easily, and the browning/wilting process speeds up even more once the lettuce is chopped.
If you buy lettuce that's already been pre-chopped, then that accelerated browning/wilting has already gotten started before the lettuce even hits your fridge. Lettuce on the head will be in better shape when you buy it. There's a lot to be said for the convenience of pre-chopped greens, but if longevity is a top concern, a big head of Romaine will do you a lot better than a bag.
4. Pack your salad correctly
A few tips for packing:
- Use a container that’s large enough for your salad. Some folks really love gargantuan salads, and that’s wonderful; just get a gargantuan container to match. Dry out any lettuce/spinach leaves as much as possible before packing.
- Put heavier things (like meat, eggs, cheese, or sweet potatoes) at the bottom of the container and lighter components on the top. Nobody wants crushed lettuce!
- Keep the dressing away from any leafy greens until it's time to eat (the exception is salads like coleslaw that are designed to sit in the fridge prepped for days, or kale if you’re massaging it with oil beforehand). This prevents the greens from getting soggy.
5. Use variations to keep it interesting
Meal prepping saves time and all, but who really wants to eat the exact same salad 5 lunches in a row? Even if it's a really tasty salad, that list is very short. But meal prep doesn't mean that every meal for the week has to be the same. Liven it up with extras like...
- A different dressing. There are lots of Paleo-friendly dressing recipes out there - switch them up frequently so you don't get bored! The same batch of leaves and toppings can be totally different with a creamy almond butter dressing compared to a spicy white vinaigrette.
- Nonperishable toppings. These are great because you can buy multiple kinds in bulk and use a small amount of each topping every week, without anything going bad. For example, get a few different kinds of nuts and a few different kinds of dried fruit. Even if every salad this week has spinach, tomatoes, and mushrooms, you can have one with walnuts and cranberries, one with almonds and golden raisins, etc.
Here’s a list of some off-beat staples to kick up your salads a little more.
6. Make sure to add protein and fat
Eating vegetables is great, but eating only vegetables doesn't cut it. Every Paleo meal needs protein (chicken, ham, roast beef, turkey, eggs, whatever you like) and fat (avocado, oil in the dressing, nuts, and/or cheese if you do dairy). The protein and fat don't necessarily need to be part of the salad, but they need to be in the meal somewhere.
What’s your suggestion?
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