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How to prep amazing healthy lunches like a chef

Three prepared lunches

Chef Jenny Woodberry shares tips and tricks designed to make preparing healthy meals as easy as possible. Here she explains how to prep amazing healthy lunches that’ll be the envy of the office.

Forget supermarket meal deals and overpriced salad boxes, get creative in the kitchen and start looking forward to lunchtime again. I’ve rounded up five of my favourite lunchbox staples, including soup, wraps, jacket potatoes, grains and a guide to the ultimate salad – plus lots of recipe inspiration for each.

Soup

Soups are quick and easy to prepare, brilliant for batch-cooking and are a nifty way of using up leftover bits and pieces in your fridge. Here are a couple of my favourite recipes to get you started.

Spiced butternut squash soup

Sweat 1 diced onion, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 stick of celery (chopped) and 2 diced carrots (don’t worry about peeling!). While they’re cooking, chop up a butternut squash into cubes and add to the pan with 1 tsp cumin and 1 tsp coriander. Cook for 5 minutes and then cover everything in the pan with hot vegetable stock. Simmer for 20-30 minutes until everything is soft, then blitz with a stick blender. Finish with freshly chopped coriander and a spoonful of crème fraiche.

Pea and courgette soup

Sweat 1 diced onion with 3 cloves of minced garlic, 1 stick of chopped celery and 1 bay leaf, in olive oil. Add 3 sliced courgettes and stir fry to soften. Add 600g of petis pois and cover everything with hot vegetable stock. Allow to simmer until everything is cooked, then add a big handful of parsley and grated parmesan (optional). Blitz with a stick blender until smooth and season to taste.

Tip: if you prefer a creamier soup, try adding 2 tbsp crème fraiche and a little lemon juice at the end.

Mushroom and leek

Sweat 2 sliced leeks with 2 cloves of minced garlic, 3 sprigs of thyme and 1 bay leaf. Add 200g of chopped mushrooms and cook until soft. Cover with hot vegetable stock and stir through 1 tsp Dijon mustard. Add a big handful of chopped fresh parsley before you’re ready to blend, then blitz until smooth.

Tip: instead of vegetable stock, try using miso soup instead for a wonderful umami flavour. Or, for a creamy mushroom soup, stir through 2tbsp of your choice of yoghurt at the end.

Extra tips and tricks:

  • If your soup is too thick, add more stock until it reaches your desired consistency.
  • If your soup is a little thin, try adding a starchy ingredient such as potatoes or squash (cubed) and cook until soft before blitzing again. Or, add a handful or two of dried lentils to absorb some of the liquid and give more body to your soup.
  • Soup is great with toppings! Try croutons, yoghurt, crème fraiche, toasted nuts and seeds or a little grated cheese.

Grain boxes

Cook up a big batch of your choice of grain – try rice, couscous, quinoa or buckwheat – to last a few days, them pimp it up with lots of different flavour combinations!

Tasty ways to add flavour to grains:

  • Stir through freshly chopped herbs such as parsley, coriander and basil. It’s a really cheap way to add lots of flavour, without being completely overpowering.
  • Create texture with nuts, seeds and dried fruits. Think flaked almonds, cranberries, sesame seeds, crushed pecans, dried almonds and dates. Dried fruits work especially well in Middle Eastern-style dishes but if you’re not a fan, leave them out.
  • Don’t forget to season! This is best done before cooking. Try cooking grains in stock instead of water and add aromatics such as bay leaves, cloves and star anise. The grain will soak up all that wonderful flavour as they cook! The same rule applies to couscous: just stir your choice of seasoning through dried couscous before adding hot water or stock. Ras el hanout works well in Moroccan dishes while turmeric and cumin are two of my favourite Indian-inspired flavours.
  • Don’t forget your veggies! Roast up a big batch of Mediterranean vegetables, for example, to stir through grains. The more colourful, the better!

Carbs + protein: serve up a mound of grains with some of these tasty recipes:

Peri Peri chicken

Marinade diced chicken in 1 tbsp Greek yoghurt, a squeeze of lemon juice and peri peri seasoning. Leave to marinade for at least 30 minutes, then grill until cooked through.

Pairs well with: grains mixed with lots of fresh herbs.

Beef chilli

Sweat 1 diced onion, 2 cloves garlic (minced) and 1 chopped red chilli in a pan with a little oil. If you have some bay leaves or cinnamon sticks lying around, add them to the pot too. Stir in 1 tsp smoked paprika/chipotle, ½ tsp ground cumin and ½ tsp ground black pepper. Add 500g lean beef mince and cook until completely browned. If you’d like to add beans or pulses, add one can now followed by a carton of tomato passata and 150ml of beef stock. Allow to simmer until the sauce reduces down, then season with salt and 1 tsp of cocoa powder (trust me!). Taste and finish chopped fresh coriander and a squeeze of lime.

Pairs well with: rice cooked in vegetable stock and tossed with coriander and chilli flakes.

Curried Tofu

Dice 400g tofu and pat dry with kitchen roll. Drizzle over a little olive oil and 1 tbsp curry powder. Coat well with your fingertips and leave for 30 minutes. Fry the tofu in a hot pan with a little oil until crisp. Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Pairs well with: couscous cooked with turmeric, fresh coriander and flaked almonds.

Jacket potatoes

Jacket potatoes are probably the easiest prep-ahead option you can think of! Stick a few in the oven or microwave to cook, then pair with one of the following:

Harissa baked beans

Sauté half a sliced onion in a pan with a little olive oil. Add 2 cloves of minced garlic, 1 tsp smoked paprika, 1 tbsp harissa paste and 1 tsp balsamic vinegar. Once the onions are soft, add 1 can of butter beans, 1 can of borlotti beans, a carton of tomato passata and 150ml vegetable stock. Allow to simmer and reduce, then add 1 tbsp maple syrup and lots of black pepper. Season with salt to taste, and finish with chopped parsley.

Tuna mayonnaise

Combine a drained can of tuna with 1 tbsp mayonnaise, then add 1 tsp balsamic dressing, chilli flakes, freshly chopped parsley or basil, lots of black pepper and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Capers and sliced red onion would work really well here, too.

Beef chilli

Whip up a big batch of chilli (see recipe above), then mix and match with jacket potatoes and rice throughout the week.

Wraps

Switch up your regular sandwich with a wrap! They’re really easy to prep in advance – simply wrap up in foil and go. Here are some of my favourite fillings:

Fajita chicken

Slice up chicken breast, peppers and red onion into thin strips, then marinade together in a bowl with 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp smoked paprika and 1 tsp ground cumin. Add 3 cloves minced garlic and toss together. Heat a griddle or non-stick frying pan and cook all of the ingredients together, until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender. Finish by deglazing the pan with a squeeze of lime juice or 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, then wrap and go.

Optional: grated cheese, sour cream and jalapeños make excellent additions.

Honey mustard halloumi

Combine 1 tbsp honey with ½ tsp whole grain mustard, then leave to one side. Get a griddle pan nice and hot and spray with cooking spray. Add the halloumi and cook on one side. Flip over and drizzle with the honey mustard dressing. Once cooked, line your tortilla wrap with spinach or rocket, sliced tomatoes, red onions and cucumber ribbons, then top with the sticky halloumi sliced. Yum.

Hummus and avocado

To make your own hummus, blend 1 can of chickpeas, 1 tbsp tahini paste, 2 garlic cloves, juice of ½ lemon, salt, pepper and olive oil (or use shop-bought if you don’t have time!). Spread a couple of spoonfuls on a tortilla wrap and top with sliced avocado, lime juice and chilli flakes.

Optional: try adding extra vegetables too such as roasted peppers, sliced onions, leafy greens or grilled aubergine slices.

Tip: pimp your hummus with paprika, fresh herbs, spinach or sun-dried tomatoes for different flavours. Or, for extra texture, use half a tin of chickpeas and half of butter beans, instead.

The ultimate salad

Some people love them and some people hate them – but if you’re swaying towards the latter category, you’re probably doing it wrong…I’ve created a little salad-builder below for you to use next time you’re feeling uninspired in the leafy green section of the supermarket.

  1. Start with a leafy base. Try spinach, baby kale, rocket, watercress, chard or iceberg lettuce.
  2. Then add a wholegrain carb. Try roasted butternut squash, sweet potatoes, couscous, bulgur wheat, cooked pasta or new potatoes.
  3. Fill up with protein. Choose from grilled chicken, sliced ham, bacon, halloumi, steak slices, tofu pieces, tempeh or cheese.
  4. Don’t forget to add toppings! Try toasted seeds, crunchy tortilla crisps, toasted nuts, dried fruits or crumbled feta.
  5. Add even more volume with veggies! Think cherry tomatoes, chopped cucumber, roasted peppers, avocado, red onion, spring onions, fresh herbs, beetroot or even fresh fruit.
  6. Finish it off with dressings. Make your own or buy a store-bought one, if you prefer.
First published: Nov 2019

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