Putting it all together

In my last post I showed you the prep portion leading up to the start of my work week. 

I’m glad you all found it informative and inspiring.  I promise it’s not as hard as it seems; and once you start doing it week in and week out, it becomes second nature.  Yes, I do have some OCD tendencies, and it’s hard for me to imagine a world without checklists, but it’s also what allows me to eat the way I want to (healthy and quick) when things get crazy.  While my Type-A personality can be semi-obnoxious in my personal life, being organized is definitely a blessing when it comes to packing lunches for several consecutive 12 hour shifts.


So now, as promised, I’m going to share with you how I put it all together.  This is when the time saving really becomes apparent.  The key is separately tupperwaring up foods that all work well together (you should see our fridge – it’s like an advertisement for Rubbermaid).  That way I can mix and match liberally without getting bored.  Flexibility, ya dig? 

For instance, I can toss roasted butternut squash in a salad


Or with quinoa and nutbutter


Or eat them solo as a side dish.


Really the possibilities are endless.

Here are a few sample lunches and dinners, all using the same ingredients:


Dinner with quinoa, butternut squash, sweet potato, mango, edamame, and tofu (made in under 5 minutes).


The quinoa, tofu, squash and sweet potato were all pre-cooked and individually tupperwared.  The mango and edamame were frozen and took 45 seconds to thaw.  Chop chop wham bam thank you ma’am.


Lunch of quinoa, parsnips, fingerling and sweet potatoes, squash, and edamame.


The dressing on this was a brilliant combo of lime juice, Bragg’s aminos, and agave nectar.  To be honest, the agave wasn’t even necessary because the lime juice and Bragg’s combo was delicious all by itself.


Lunch salad with spinach, bell peppers, carrots, roasted veggies, avocado, dried cranberries, tofu and more avocado


Dinner of quinoa, seitan, and roasted veggies with Bragg’s liquid aminos.


Another quinoa dinner, this time with roasted carrots, squash, and parnsips and Artisana cashini butter.


And yet more quinoa!  This time as a breakfast dish before work with apples, cinnamon, NuNatural’s liquid vanilla stevia and raisins.

I feel like a mix master with all these combos.  Remember factorials in math?  It’s kinda like that (I’m such a nerd). 

A few people have asked me if I ever get bored with using the same ingredients.  Usually, no. 

However, every once in a while (maybe on the last day of a long stretch of shifts), I don’t feel overly excited about anything I have on hand.  But rather than force myself to eat something just because it’s already made, I’ll figure out what I’m really craving and make that instead.  I’m not a machine!  I want what I want, and I’m not going to shove food down my throat simply because it’s there!  I know myself though, and I can pretty accurately predict what I’ll be craving and when.  So as long as I have backup options (frozen veggie burgers, soy nuggets, whatever) on hand, I don’t ever have too hard a time finding something I’m in the mood for.  And if hell freezes over, there’s always Whole Foods 🙂


Next up, the actual art of packing it all up.

The trick is to account for all kinds of cravings (salty, sweet, savory) as well as a variety of textures and temperatures (crunchy, homey, warm, cold).  I bring bigger, heartier options along with smaller, lighter ones.  I make sure I have snacks that I can grab on the go.  And I always bring more than I think I will need. 

Variety is the spice of life, and so when I pack my food for the entire day, I try to imagine every single scenario that could arise. 


Will I want a sweet ending after lunch?


Dark chocolate and/or sweet cocoa almond trail mix

Will I want a simple or complex carbohydrate breakfast?


Fruit and/or grains

Will I be in the mood for a salad at lunch?


(I almost always am)


Or will I be rushing around all morning and need small nutrient dense snacks to tide me over until I get a chance to eat a full meal in the late afternoon?

These are the things I try to accommodate with my pre-packed eats.  You see, because my job doesn’t have a reliable schedule, I have to be able to adapt my meal plan as I go. 

And for the record, I have 3-5 bars (Lara, Clif, Prana, to name a few) in my locker at any given time.  Just in cases. 


Here’s yesterday’s lunch as an example.


When I make trail mix it’s never the same thing twice because I make it with whatever random ingredients I am in the mood for in the moment (dried fruit, carob chips, cereal, granola, nuts, seeds, etc.).


My oatmeal breakfast brought some warmth to my belly, therefore satisfying my craving for a complex carb to keep my sated until lunch.  I pimped it out with different ingredients to keep my taste buds on their toes…nothing like a strawberry compote, cinnamon, shredded coconut, and stevia to bring a new twist to a classic bowl of oats.


This quinoa, butternut, raisin dish satisfied my homey, comfort food craving.


While this colorful salad satisfied my craving for something with a big crunch factor.  Full of raw veggies, including carrots, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, atop a bed of romaine lettuce.


Let’s not forget about the random side snacks of pistachios, candied ginger, and apples.

Done and done.

Isn’t it crazy how the same ingredients can turn into such a range of dishes?  From savory to sweet, the possibilities are endless!

I suppose at some point everyone’s professional life spills into their personal life just a bit, and for me it’s the check-it-off-the-to-do-list nature of nursing that has seeped it’s way into my non-hospital time.  Who knows, maybe I was born to be a task master food prepping nerd all along.  Nobody ever died from being too organized though, right? 

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Comments (37)

  1. fionalikeslife

    and i thought I was organised??? thats superwoman style organisation right thurr! quinoa=amazeballs, so delish, so verstaile!

  2. peasandcrayons

    This is FABULOUS! I like doing this too… but you are WAY more organized!!!! =)

  3. Sami

    this is SO helpful. i am constantly packing and repacking meals. between an 8 hour work day and practice/classes, i am rarely home to prep myself meals. this method is great!


  4. Lili

    so organized! Do you ever get tired from eating out of containers? iknow i do?! I have a weird plate thing.

  5. Gabriela @ Une Vie Saine

    I love how much variety you always seem to have in your meals. Nothing is every complicated or time consuming, but you put together such interesting combinations in unique ways. I love it!!

  6. megan @ the oatmeal diaries

    All of these looks great!! Definitely trying the edamame + sweet potato one 🙂

  7. LC @ Let Them Eat Lentils

    Really helpful guide.

    Quick question – what about dressings for salads, grains, etc? Do you put them on before you leave the house or pack them separately? I always have that problem with my packed salads …

  8. kbwood

    this is amazing!!! thanks for making me thankful for my type A personality!!!

  9. cbrady3

    You are going to be a super mom. I wish I could be your kid and have the most awesome packed lunches ever.

  10. movesnmunchies

    you are a quinoa queen! i really need to mix it up a bit- i have always eaten it so plainly!

  11. anywherethereisanairport

    There is NOTHING wrong with OCD organization! I mean, who else makes the world go round?

    My OCD – list making – life organization was in full force for my move to Spain. I got here in one piece… but I can’t say the same for my favorite ice cream bowl. One casualty isn’t that bad.

    p.s. I have to find some quinoa here. I haven’t missed it until reading this post!

  12. Courtney

    Do I see a Heart Thrive in that top picture?! Did you find them in your area?? Or is that still one of the ones I sent you (if so, you have a crazy amount of will power to have saved it this long!)??


  13. elise

    haha…definitely NOT the one you sent me…i found them at our local co-op. will power is not my strong suit 🙂

  14. elise

    good! im so glad you like the tips!

  15. elise

    hmmmm…actually ive never even considered that before. nope! if anything tupperware is better because then you can slurp up every last bite. not that im above licking my plate…

  16. elise

    awww…sad about the bowl. where in spain are you? im super jealous as i consider BCN my second home.

  17. elise

    i seriously cannot get enough quinoa lately. obsessssssssssssed.

  18. elise

    omg, sweetest comment ever. i hope i am, and i hope my kids like this kind of food!! haha

  19. elise

    dont type a people rule the world anyways? yes, i think so.

  20. elise

    thanks girl. so many ingredients get labeled as sweet or savory, but things are really versatile. im an equal opportunity meal maker. haha

  21. elise

    i add the dressing to salads/grains as im packing the dish (which is the night before). they don’t seem to get soggy as long as they are refrigerated the entire time. also (don’t think im a freak for this) i don’t mind soggier lettuce. haha.

  22. Casey

    You have food prep for a working girl down pat. What’s your favorite method to transport food? A certain type of tupperware or container?

  23. BroccoliHut

    Love how you add such variety to your diet with just a few ingredients. I must find Cashini!

  24. Nicole @ Of Cookies & Carrots

    You just made me SO hungry. Come make a poor little college girl some delicious lunches, pretty please? 😛

    I love your blog by the way! I’ve been quietly reading for awhile, but today I’m feeling bold 😉

  25. Kristen

    I am in Madrid! It has been, and continues to be quite the adjustment. I spent a weekend in Barcelona over the summer and loved it! It’s only a short, high-spped train away! I love the train. Beat flying by a mile!

    My mom always said don’t cry over anything that can’t cry back… yes true… but when I found the broken bowl during my first homesick week here I would lie if I said there wasn’t a tear 🙂

  26. Courtney

    Okay, good! I was feeling like a huge pig because I could never keep one of those in the apt for over 2 months without stuffing it in my face, lol! I am glad you were able to find them locally and that you like them 🙂


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  33. Karla

    Just found your blog when searching for crockpot steel cut oats. But seeing your post mentioning Clif bars and that you’re also an RN leads me to another question. A doctor told me she didn’t like them-thought they had too much sugar. Now, I’m pretty educated when it comes to nutrition. Been counting calories for thirty years, am a vegetarian, know about trans fats…..I mean, I’m get it. But I’d love to hear your take on the Clif bar “natural sugar” argument. I used to eat them all the time but have cut back. Thanks

  34. Elise (Post author)

    your doctor is right, there is a lot of added sugar in processed/packaged bars. even “natural” sugar, like that in clif bars, is still sugar. but it’s definitely a HUGE improvement over the HFCS packed crap that you’ll find in other (cheaper, not “natural”) products. big picture: at least their ingredients list is devoid of the really bad stuff. small picture: yes, theres room for improvement.
    personally, i try to be realistic in my approach to eating – balancing health with cravings. in an ideal world, id avoid all processed things, especially those with soy and corn, because even the most natural products still use extra additives to keep their products shelf stable. more often than not, i make my own snack bars, granola, etc, but at the same time, there’s a convenience factor in buying things already made. sometimes im in a position where i cant be as picky as id like.
    since you’re knowledgeable about nutrition, you know that a calorie is a calorie is a calorie. so it comes down to what’s your goal in eating well. are you doing it to lose or maintain weight? reverse heart disease? manage diabetes?
    ultimately, if you balance your caloric intake with your output, you wont gain weight. as for the role of sugar in heart disease…the jury’s still out. last month’s 60 minutes shed new light on that one. avoiding animal products is still the best dietary choice you can make for your heart, in terms of lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, and heart disease.
    so theres my two (or more) cents. 🙂

  35. Karla

    What you say makes total sense because in the approximately nine months since my Clif Bar cut back, I have not lost one pound. In all of the years I’ve maintained my weight by only counting calories-which is a lot of them since I did not exercise until only about ten years ago-I always ate a lot of sugar and as long as I kept the calories in check, my weight remained fairly stable. I guess I’ve become swayed by publications such as Oxygen and the slew of fitness professional-types that I find on facebook. They all talk eating clean, and when I read what they eat I wonder how they eat that blandly and survive. They all talk about things like how your abs will never show if you don’t cut out all sugar. I guess my best approach is to remain realistic.

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