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a bento box lunch filled with easy to prepare recipes

Meal prep. Honestly, this phrase gives me visions of bland lean protein and overcooked broccoli. Meal-prep recipes are intended to deliver healthy, enticing lunches at the ready — but instead, they often leave me bored and questioning whether it’s still safe to eat my steamed chicken once Friday rolls around. Not so appetizing.

The following recipes are designed to help you fall in love with meal prep. Each plant-based dish is designed to complement the others, so you can build your own meal with a base, a protein, and a flavor-enhancing extra.

You can mix and match, go half-and-half, or opt out of a recipe that doesn’t fit your preferences. And each recipe has been tested for scalability: You can double up your favorite dishes, skip the ones you’re not feeling, or try all six for versatile meals that will have you looking forward to lunchtime.

Oven-Baked Falafel

Dried chickpeas are the key to achieving the perfect falafel texture: crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside.

baked falafel in a glass bowl

Makes two servings | Prep Time 20 minutes, plus an overnight soak | Cook Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dry chickpeas
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 medium shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley, packed
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, packed
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or just enough to thinly cover a rimmed baking sheet

Directions

  1. Place chickpeas and water in a medium bowl. Set aside to soak at room temperature overnight (or at least six hours).
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  3. Strain the soaked chickpeas and add them to a food processor or high-powered blender with the shallot, garlic, parsley, cilantro, cumin, and sea salt. Blend, scraping down the sides as needed, until the mixture is finely minced. It should just barely hold together when pressed between two fingers. Test as you go to avoid over-blending the falafel into a paste.
  4. Place the oiled baking sheet in the oven to preheat the oil for three to four minutes.
  5. Form the falafel mixture into four palm-size patties and place them on the oiled baking sheet. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until browned and crisp, flipping halfway through. Enjoy fresh or refrigerate for up to four days.

Brown Rice Pilaf

metal lunch box container with brown rice pilaf

Makes two servings | Prep Time 5 minutes | Cook Time 55 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbs. chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tbs. chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup dry brown rice, rinsed
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 2 tbs. finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes

Directions

  1. Preheat a medium skillet over medium heat, then add the olive oil and heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about one minute. Mix in the basil, parsley, and brown rice. Cook, stirring frequently, until the rice is evenly coated in oil and lightly toasted, about two to three minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  2. Add the broth and the rice mixture to a small pot with a lid. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed, about 40 to 50 minutes.
  3. Once the rice is cooked, fluff with a fork and stir in the sun-dried tomatoes. Enjoy fresh or refrigerate for up to four days.

Sturdy Greens Salad

a sturdy green salad in a metal lunch box bowl

Makes two servings | Prep Time 10 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 4 cups chopped sturdy greens (chard, kale, mustard, turnip, collard, or beet greens)
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 1/2 medium shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbs. capers
  • 1/2 tsp. dried basil

Directions

  1. Add the greens, salt, and olive oil to a large bowl. Massage by hand until the greens have softened and appear darker in color, about one to two minutes.
  2. Add the bell pepper, shallot, capers, and dried basil to the massaged greens and toss. Enjoy fresh or refrigerate for up to three days.

Crispy Herbed Tofu

Try serving this crispy tofu alongside your green salad or rice pilaf for a flavorful, plant-based protein boost.

crispy herbed tofu in a glass container

Makes two servings | Prep Time 10 minutes | Cook Time 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 14-oz. block firm tofu
  • 3 tbs. cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, avocado oil, or other neutral oil

Directions

  1. Drain the tofu and wrap in a kitchen towel, then place on a plate with a heavy pan on top. Set aside for at least 10 minutes to allow the towel to absorb excess moisture.
  2. In a large bowl, combine cornstarch, garlic powder, dried basil, and sea salt. Pat the tofu dry and cut into 1-inch cubes. Gently toss the tofu cubes in the cornstarch mixture to coat evenly.
  3. Preheat a medium skillet over medium heat, then add the oil and heat until shimmering. Add a third of the tofu cubes to the hot oil, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. Cook for about three to four minutes, flip, and repeat until all six sides are crisp and golden. Remove from the oil. Repeat with remaining tofu. Enjoy fresh or refrigerate for up to three days.

Balsamic-Marinated Tomatoes

glass container filled with balsamic marinated tomatoes

Makes two servings | Prep Time 10 minutes, plus two hours marinating time

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbs. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 medium shallot, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tbs. chopped fresh basil

Directions

  1. Add olive oil and vinegar to a canning jar with a lid and shake to blend. Add remaining ingredients, seal the jar, and gently turn a few times to coat everything evenly in oil and vinegar. Set aside for at least two hours, turning over occasionally. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week. The oil will solidify in the refrigerator; simply bring to room temperature before enjoying.

Tzatziki Dressing

Tzatziki is often served with gyros in Greek cuisine, but it can also be a nice creamy accompaniment for the savory tomatoes and falafel.

a bento box with tzatziki dressing, boiled egg and veggie sticks

Makes two servings | Prep Time 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tbs. lemon juice
  • 1 tbs. chopped dill
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 one small cucumber (to yield about 1/4 cup grated)

Directions

  1. Place garlic, lemon juice, dill, yogurt, and olive oil in a small bowl. Whisk to combine.
  2. Grate cucumber on a box grater and use your hands to squeeze out the excess liquid. Pat dry and add to the yogurt mixture. Stir to combine. Store in the refrigerator for up to four days, stirring before serving.

WEB EXTRA

Boiled Eggs

Ingredients

  • 10–12 large ice cubes
  • 6 large eggs, room temperature
  • 3 quarts water, plus more for the ice bath

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Once boiling, use a slotted spoon to carefully lower the eggs into the boiling water.
  2. Allow the eggs to boil for 30 seconds, then reduce the heat to a low simmer, cover, and cook to desired doneness: 6 minutes for a runny yolk, 8 minutes for a jammy yolk, and 13 minutes for a hard yolk.
  3. While the eggs are cooking, prepare an ice bath. Fill a large bowl or a clean sink with enough cold water and ice to fully submerge all of your eggs.
  4. Remove the eggs from the water with a slotted spoon and submerge them in the ice bath for at least 15 minutes to cool completely. Refrigerate and store in the shell.
  5. Enjoy within a week and peel just before eating by gently cracking the shell on a solid surface until the egg has a small web of cracks around the entire surface. Peel under running water, starting at the large base of the egg.

For tips on preparing the perfect hard-boiled egg, see “How to Boil an Egg“.

This article originally appeared as “Make It Easy” in the October 2021 issue of Experience Life.

Photography by: Andrea D’Agosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Styling: Paul Jackman
Maddie
Maddie Augustin

Maddie Augustin is a Minneapolis-based recipe developer.

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