Lunches you can make ahead for the week

Lunches don't have to be boring. Though we might know that, some people are overwhelmed by the idea of creating elaborate, healthy, and delicious lunches for every day of the work week — especially if you don't particularly like to cook. For me, this means that I'm either bringing last-minute, thrown-together sandwiches or spending way too much money buying lunches out.

Fortunately, if you're anything like me, there's hope for you yet. Meal prep lunches are an easy way to incorporate healthier options from home. All you have to do is spend some time one day of the week to cook one meal with enough portions for five days, divide them up, and freeze or refrigerate each portion until you're ready to bring it to work. You'll save money and eat better, too!

Salad

One of the best lunch options people forget is the humble salad. Personally, I've thought salads were bad lunches for packing up because they don't typically keep well. A container of greens with salad dressing on it can easily get soggy by lunchtime.

If experiences like this are keeping you from having homemade, delicious salads for lunch, there is a way to prevent this from happening. Mason jars are a great way to pack salads ahead for the week. The trick to dodging soggy salad is to layer your salad with the salad dressing and heavier ingredients (corn, tomatoes, etc.) at the bottom, so that the more delicate greens at the top aren't touched by salad dressing until you flip the jar over into a bowl to enjoy it for lunch.

Vegetable 'noodle' bowl

Noodle bowls are great for meal prep because, like salads, there are an infinite number of possibilities in terms of the combinations of ingredients you can put together, depending on your tastes and even time constraints. Spiralizing vegetables turns them into noodle-like shapes, so you can substitute them in for actual pasta if you're trying to cut out carbs.

Food blogger Ali Maffucci says spiralizing veggies to incorporate to dishes is an easy way to add more veggies to your diet, as well as trick yourself into feeling like you're eating delicious pasta, when in fact, you're eating delicious vegetables. Her recipe for a sweet potato noodle bowl is colorful, healthy, and really easy to prepare — especially since you'll be making enough for one week.

Soup

Soup can be a really convenient lunch, and I'm not talking about the canned stuff. Because soup is so versatile, it's easy to make ahead for the week, as a main or as a side with other dishes. It's as easy as making one large batch on Sunday and dividing it up so you have enough servings for the week. Soups are made even simpler by the fact that you can cook everything in one pot!

Another option you can try is to make your own version of cup noodles, that you "literally just add hot water to," Maffucci told me.

Frittata

Frittatas aren't just good for brunch! They're also a great dish for meal prep because of their versatility. Health and cooking coach Jessica Braider says frittatas are great to make "on a Sunday, divvy up, and then enjoy all week with some crusty bread and/or a salad." While there are many elaborate frittata recipes you can get into (like a fancy smoked salmon frittata), you can just as easily make frittatas with whatever veggies and meats you happen to have in your fridge, making sure nothing you've purchased goes to waste.

Chimichangas

Another one of Braider's favorite dishes for meal prep are baked chimichangas. Chimichangas are a Mexican-American fusion version of a burrito. They're usually fried, but baked options are available, and they're healthier, too!

Braider told me baked chimichangas are an ideal dish for meal prep because they freeze well, meaning you can cook a large batch and wrap up individual servings for a week. The key to meal prep seems to be having dishes that are versatile so your meal still tastes great, no matter what ingredients you decide to substitute with.

Chili

Another easy and hearty meal-prep dish is chili. A hearty option, chili is a great cook-in-advance dish because you can make a large batch one day (usually in one pot), and then just divide it up for the week. You can even substitute the meat for leaner options like ground turkey or any number of veggie options you prefer. If you aren't so culinarily savvy or just want something easier, your chili probably belongs in your slow cooker.

Fusili pasta bowl

Having a delicious bowl of pasta for lunch is one of those small indulgences that make me feel like I'm having a great lunch. However, when I'm eating pasta for lunch, this usually means I'm out for lunch or eating leftovers. Making pasta for the week specifically for lunch combines the indulgent factor of going out with the practical factor of brown-bagging it. If you need ideas, Jackie Newgent, a registered dietitian nutritionist and chef, says fusili pasta bowls are a great option for make-ahead lunches. "It's basically your very own healthy homemade frozen entree that's quickly reheated in the microwave for a deliciously satisfying lunch."

Quinoa

Quinoa is another one of those foods that are great receptacles of flavor. Sue Bee Honey chef Trey Summerlin says that one of his favorite ways to meal prep is to "make a big batch of hearty quinoa salad and then separate the servings into individual lunch bowls to last the entire week. These can even be frozen for up to two weeks, and still taste great." A Greek salad quinoa bowl, for example, is a flavorful way to prepare quinoa, especially with all of the Mediterranean spices you can incorporate, and you can add chicken for a protein bump.

Fresh spring rolls

Spring rolls likely don't come to mind when you think of meal prep, but they should! I'm not talking about the fried spring rolls you're used to picking up with your takeout. Fresh spring rolls are the healthy option I'm getting at. This also means that they keep better throughout the week because they won't be soggy like a fried spring roll. There are lots of possibilities from vegetarian and vegan options to the more traditional Vietnamese varieties.

Grilled chicken and veggies

A classic meal-prep dish, roasted chicken and veggies is a great way to cook a balanced lunch for the week. And who doesn't love a classic? If you want flavor, health, and variety, this dish is arguably one of the simplest meals to prepare. There are also many recipes that call for just one pan, making preparation and cooking incredibly convenient and easy. And with an endless list of combinations you can create with different vegetables and spices, it's difficult to get bored of a meal like this. Just try a different combo next week!