After so many failed attempts, I've finally succeeded at meal planning. The tricky part hasn't been sticking to it (that's going quite well), but rather planning for lunch. Usually lunch is a salad, but it has to be one I really want to eat (read: one I won't ditch for whatever the office decides to order).
Eventually I learned the secret to a salad I'd actually stick with is a topping that's hearty enough to make a salad feel like a meal, and one I can make a big batch of ahead of time. Here are five toppings that do just that.
1. Garlicky Crisped Beans
Beans come to the rescue at all the right times. They do just fine mixed with greens, but take them one step further to see and taste how they can really shine. Chickpeas, white beans, or even larger butter beans are my favorite choices to pan-fry on the stovetop. They cook up crisp, add a nice texture, and bulk up your salad in all the right ways.
Make them ahead: While these beans are at peak crispiness right after they're cooked, they stay delicious for days to come. With just 10 minutes of cook time, this is a great topping to squeeze in if you're pressed for time. Store beans in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up four days.
Get the recipe: Crispy Pan-Fried Beans with Wilted Greens
2. Eggs, Just How You Like 'Em
When in doubt, put an egg on it. This is my go-to method for turning salads into a meal. Whether you prefer poached, soft-boiled, or hard-boiled, make a batch of eggs now to top your salads all week long.
Make them ahead: Eggs are seriously helpful to have on hand. Poached eggs are best when made no more than two days in advance and stored in a water bath in the fridge. Boiled eggs, on the other hand (which should also be kept in the fridge), can be made up to a week in advance.
3. Slow-Cooker Pork Carnitas
Slow-cooker carnitas are nothing short of pure magic. Yes, this soft, shredded meat makes a darn good taco, but it's more than a one-trick pony. Right now I'm all about using carnitas to top off my salad for an extra-satisfying lunch that carries me through the afternoon.
Make them ahead: What I really love about carnitas is how much meat it makes at once. Once cooked, decide how much meat you'll use in the next three to five days, then store that in a covered container in the refrigerator. Store all the extra meat in an airtight container in the freezer.
Get the recipe: Slow-Cooker Pork Carnitas
4. Crispy Baked Tofu
A spin through a hot oven is an easy way to make this meatless topping a lot more exciting. Not only does it make for a more filling salad, but it also adds a crunchy texture that can't be beat.
Make it ahead: The tofu is at its crispiest right after cooking, but don't let that stop you from prepping a big batch ahead. Stored in a covered container in the refrigerator, baked tofu will last up to a week.
Get the recipe: How To Make Baked Tofu
5. Poached Chicken Breast
Poached chicken is the shining star of my Sunday meal-prep routine. Besides being relatively quick and easy to make, its mild flavor makes it a fitting addition to any type of salad. It's also super easy to up the flavor of poached chicken with the help of common scraps, like ginger, citrus peels, and herb stems.
Make it ahead: If you plan to shred the chicken, be sure to do it while the meat is still hot — it makes the job so much easier. Once the chicken is cooked and cooled, stash it in a covered container in the refrigerator for three to five days, and use it as needed.
Get the recipe: How To Poach Chicken Breasts