It’s noon, and you’re staring into your work fridge, hoping that if you blink hard enough, a more exciting lunch will appear. Spoiler alert: It won’t. But, if you could turn back time, you would’ve meal-prepped better last weekend (and maybe done some other stuff differently too).
Wellness blogger Lee Tilghman is the Insta queen of beautiful lunch bowls. If you’re like us, you’re always wondered, “Why does her lunch look so much more delicious than mine?” The secret, says, Lee, is mixing it up so you’re not eating the same chicken-kale-whatever five days in a row.
Here are five more tips for making lunch al desko the best part of your day.
1. Make the base less basic
Grain bowl bases like rice and quinoa are great, but Tilghman likes to switch things up with kasha, sorgum, buckwheat, millet, and mungbeans. She sometimes uses black wild rice (pictured above) for a nice chewiness, soba, or vegetable noodles like zucchini or sweet potato. Try pan-frying rice or combining two types of noodles to keep things interesting. Or add a Tbsp of ghee to your pot of grains for “buttery goodness” (and feel free to do the same instead of olive oil for extra decadence when roasting vegetables).
2. Make a couple powerhouse sauces
Big-batch a few sauces to change up the flavor profile of each day’s meal. One of Tilghman’s all-time favorite spruce-up tricks is cashew cream sauce, made by blending ¼ cup soaked cashews with spices, salt, lemon juice, and a little water until it’s creamy. In the summer, she adds cilantro or basil, but has also doctored it up with cardamom, cumin, chile, curry powder, and other herbs and spices. She’s also a big proponent of pesto using basil, mint, parsley, spinach, or even sprouts. Her current fave: dill, pine nuts, and olive oil. Both these sauces add a punch of flavor to bring everything in the bowl together. And, when in doubt, make her signature vinaigrette: olive oil, lemon, and nutritional yeast.
3. Keep these toppings on hand
Tilghman likes roasted vegetables as much as anyone, but fresh, thinly-sliced radishes—daikon, Easter egg, and watermelon are her favorites—make her more excited about lunch. “You know what doesn’t get enough love? Sauerkraut!” she says. She buys Farmhouse Culture’s smoked jalapeño or horseradish leek. Microgreens, fresh herbs, toasted nuts and sliced avocados are also good add-ons, and soft-boiling a batch of eggs at the beginning of the week is how she likes to put an egg on it. Tilghman says she has “about fifty salts” (from chicory to smoked to fleur de sel) in her arsenal, as well as a sprinkling of lemon zest, a little harissa, and sesame seeds. “Cheese will make everything better,” she adds. Goat cheese, Parmesan, Kite Hill truffle almond milk vegan cheese, and Burrata are some less common varieties to try.
4. Ditch the bowl
A grain bowl is great, but you know what’s even better? Tacos. Or Pizza. You can make either of those for prep—just get the ingredients together and portioned ahead of time. “Pizza leftovers taste even better the next day,” Tilghman points out. She’s not just talking about red sauce and cheese—she recently made carrot top pesto, avocado, smoked salmon, truffle vegan cheese, and a sprinkling of dill. Another simple favorite is avocado, radish, and cheese. It’s all in the assembly. She also likes to stuff Siete’s cassava and coconut tortillas with chicken and avocado, whether it’s warm, cold, or room-temp.
5. Don’t forget about the snacks
Once you’ve got your lunch prep strategy in place, think about snacks. Tilghman keeps “coconut fat balls“—made with dates, mixed nuts and seeds, almond milk, cacao nibs, cinnamon, and three types of coconut (shreds, butter, and oil)—in the freezer to give her energy throughout the day. Another favorite is Paleonola granola on Coconut Cult yogurt, either for breakfast or a mid-day pick-me-up. For those, it’s all about finding combinations that you love and portioning them out ahead of time.