This is the sort of hearty, chewy, sweet, tangy, crunchy, green, delicious salad I love to find hanging out in my fridge. Our trusty winter farm stand is still selling Brussels sprouts and kale, so I'm milking their availability for all they are worth because I know their time is limited. But to make this salad accessible all year around, substitutions are noted in the recipe footnotes.
Clients often ask for quick and easy lunch ideas, and I struggle to provide an answer on the spot. Because rather than treating lunch as a distinct and separate planning effort, I prefer to plan several meals for the entire week while keeping in mind a few key strategies that help extend one meal into another, including into lunches, with little extra effort.
So today to kick off part 1 of this 4-part Lunch Power series, I want to share my top 3 meal planning strategies. For the remainder of the series I will share recipes to demonstrate how my weekday lunches come together based on these strategies.
My Top 3 Strategies for Weekly Meal Planning*
Strategy #1: Prepare 1 or 2 bulk meals
Bulk meals for me are usually a big grain salad or a soup. I also refer to these as "stretch" meals because they are versatile enough to play the lead role in one meal or be the supporting cast in another, either way helping me get more mileage out of the more formal meals I've planned for the week. And to ensure you do get more mileage, don't be afraid to double the recipe so you'll get at least 4 servings, if not more, depending on how many people you're feeding.
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- A grain salad such as this Farro with Balsamic-Roasted Brussels and Kale
- A light but filling soup such as this beet, ginger, apple soup, this sweet potato miso soup, this leek, fennel, apple + walnut soup, or this roasted red pepper soup
Strategy #2: Stock your fridge with ready-to-eat staples
Ready-to-eat staples can vary by season, but with a few of these ingredients ready and waiting, you'll never look in your fridge and think, "I've got nothing to eat!!".
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- Roasted or steamed vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, beets)
- Marinated salad (quick-pickled red cabbage, fennel, or beets, marinated kale salad)
- Raw prepared vegetables such as greens or grated carrots or beets
- A cooked legume or grain such as lentils, quinoa, brown rice, mung beans, chickpeas
Strategy #3: Make a special high-flavor condiment
A special high-flavor condiment is a homemade vinaigrette, sauce, dip, spread, or pesto that packs a fresh and flavorful punch and can be added to brighten and sometimes bulk up a dish. Store in a glass jar in the fridge, and I am willing to bet it won't be difficult to find uses for it all week long. It's simple but thoughtful strategies like this one that can transform a ho-hum meal to something special and enjoyable.
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This approach to planning meals is the best of both worlds. It provides structure but also allows space in the week for a few meals, especially lunches, to evolve organically and adapt to unexpected changes in our schedule or our appetite. This flexible space frees up our mind from thinking in such rigid terms, from feeling like we've failed if we don't follow the "plan". As importantly, it allows us to see the shades of grey in the kitchen, to experience the joy and freedom that comes when we allow cooking and eating to operate along a continuum rather than squeezing it between a definitive start and end point. When I experienced this shift in the way I thought about cooking, it naturally led me to become more creative and instinctual in the kitchen and I know it will do the same for you.
Now over to you! What is your favorite strategy for making meals come together quickly during the week?
Farro with Balsamic-Roasted Brussels and Kale
Notes: If I'm having this salad on its own, I'll usually top it with either toasted nuts, feta, goats cheese, or a poached egg for some extra protein, or pair it with a leftover vegetable and bean soup.
- 1 cup (121 gr.) Brussels sprouts, halved
- Balsamic vinegar
- Coconut oil (or extra-virgin olive oil)
- 1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 2 cups (360 gr.) cooked farro
- Couple handfuls kale
- Mix of fresh herbs such as cilantro and basil (optional)
- Maple-Balsamic Dressing (recipe below)
- Preheat oven to 220°C (425°F).
- Place halved Brussels sprouts on a baking sheet. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and coconut oil, salt, and pepper. Roast for 10-15 minutes until tender with a bite and beginning to caramelize.
- In the meantime place kale in large bowl and add a squeeze of lemon. Massage for 30 seconds to tenderize.
- Add red onion, farro, Brussels sprouts, and herbs if using. Toss with dressing while farro is still warm so it can absorb the flavors.
- 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
- 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- 2 Tbsp. lemon juice (about 1/2 of a juicy lemon)
- 1 tsp. maple syrup
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
- Add all ingredients to a small glass jar or bowl. Whisk with a fork (or shake in the jar) until well combined.
Use broccoli if Brussels sprouts are not available . Spinach or arugula may be substituted for kale, and any grain works here; lentils, mung beans, quinoa, wheat berries, spelt, brown or black rice.
*I like to assemble this salad at the top of the week so I have easy lunches all week or a quick grain/vegetable side-in-one to fill out dinner. It keeps well in the fridge for 4-5 days and is one of the easiest ways I know to have a good lunch option ready to grab and go in the morning. Scoop out a portion into a to-go container the night before and you are set.
*These strategies must not all be applied at once to have success. I'll usually start the week with one of the 3 preparations, and as the week progresses I'll usually manage to fulfill the others, making it even easier to effortlessly pull lunches together the second half of the week.