For many years I worked in overnight retail management. Working odd hours is rough to begin with, but having something fresh for lunch at 2 a.m. was tricky, so we turned to salads — they were easy to make, quick to throw together, and always left us with a fresh burst of energy.
Here are some tips I learned along the way to help you efficiently prep a variety of salad lunches on Sunday. I promise it won't be monotonous, and you'll actually look forward to eating them throughout the week!
1. Wash and Portion Greens
Although it seems obvious to wash and portion out your salad, we know how tempting it can be to just keep things in a salad spinner. While there's nothing really wrong with that idea, if we were running late, it often deterred us from taking our lunch with us.
We wash and dry all of our greens at once, then divide them into individual containers. Make sure you choose containers that are large enough to add toppings to the greens, and place a paper towel at the bottom of the containers to absorb any condensation that forms over the week and keep things super fresh.
2. Prep a Variety of Toppings
The key to eating salad every day is to not eat the same salad every day. Focus on variety, and prep enough of each topping for just a few, not all, of the salads. Instead of chopping up five hard-boiled eggs to top off our leafy greens, we simply do three to leave the other days open for something else.
The sky's the limit for salad toppings. Roasted vegetables deliver great flavor, as do finely diced fruits (plus both of them can be used in other dishes for breakfast or dinner). Also great: nuts, dried fruit, vegetables, cubed or sliced meats — whatever your heart desires.
Make a long list of every topping you love and then choose a few for that week (which also makes your shopping list and prep time easier).
3. Store Toppings Together
Whether you use containers or plastic bags to hold your salad toppings, the key to morning quick assembly is having them all together. Though containers are quicker to access, zip-top bags can easily be placed in one bowl, keeping all ingredients together.
Though it can be temping to shove your salad toppings to the back of the fridge, try placing them on the middle shelf near the front. This will keep those delicate items from freezing with as little condensation as possible. Plus, it means you're not digging behind the old meatloaf or under last night's fish to find what you need.
4. Invest in Small Dressing Containers
Dressing a salad before you're ready to eat it is just begging for a soggy mess, even if you don't use much. Use smaller containers (we like the kinds meant for toddlers snacks) to hold just the right amount of dressing, be it homemade or premade.
You can always keep a bottle of store-bought dressing in the fridge at work as backup, but by taking your own dressings each day, you can mix and match, especially if they're already filled and chilling in the fridge, ready to go.
5. Remember It Only Takes 60 Seconds
Most of morning lunch-making is a mind game. You're still in a fog from waking up, worried about getting out the door with everything you need or making that 8 a.m. conference call, so when you don't think you have time to assemble things, remember — it only takes 60 seconds.
After you pull a container of greens out and choose your toppings, it takes less than a minute to toss in a small handful of each topping. With your dressing all ready to go, that's all she wrote and you're off!
Taking the time out on Sunday and following this process is something that's well worth your time. It's an easy routine to get into and one we used for over three years that kept our salads from getting too routine or boring. Plus, if you forget your lunch one day, you always have a 60-second dinner when you return home!
More on Great Homemade Salads
Updated from a post originally published in April 2010.
(Image credits: Christine Gallary; vasi2/Shutterstock)