Simple Weekday Lunch Ideas (for Mom)

posted by Andrea | 03/28/2016
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In my opinion, lunch time as a stay-at-home mom of 3 very young children often feels like the most crazy and stressful meal of the day.

I try to have breakfast foods ready to go before the kids wake up (pancake batter made up ahead of time, bacon fried, fruit cut up, etc.) and Dave is home for dinner so he can corral the munchkins while I prepare the meal. But lunch… that is a different story.

We eat lunch at almost exactly 11:30 every single day. Our routine is to quickly pick up the books and toys around 11:15 am and then they get to watch a show for 15 minutes until I have lunch ready.

I use that 15 minutes to quickly put a lunch together for Nora and Simon, fill up their water cups, clean up anything leftover from breakfast, and get the high chair (or swing or jumper) ready for James.

{the kids LOVE having “rainbow lunches”}

Once they sit and start eating, I have a solid 30-minute window of time since they take FOREVER to eat.

Sounds amazing right? I can whip up a gourmet lunch and eat at my leisure! 

Yes… except for the fact that I usually try to feed and change James… and put him down for his nap.

That means my 30 minute window often turns into a 10-15 minute window — and I spend a large chunk of THAT 10-15 minutes refilling water cups, dishing up second servings, wiping up spills, and trying to look excited every time they show me how much they’ve eaten off their plate.

Basically, my lunch turns into “grab the first thing I see that is easy to eat standing up with one hand”.

Not so amazing anymore… huh? 

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While I’m not a health nut by any means, I do enjoy actually sitting down and eating a tasty meal for lunch. Plus, if I eat a more balanced, nutritious meal for lunch, I’m less likely to snack during the afternoon hours. And although I’m not opposed to afternoon snacks, there’s a difference between ONE afternoon snack, and snacking ALL afternoon!

I know I feel better and am more energized when I eat a better lunch… so I’ve come up with a handful of very simple lunch ideas that are quick and easy enough to pull off with 3 crazy kids around!

weekday lunch ideas

Taco Salad

Any time I make taco meat (shredded chicken, ground beef, ground turkey, etc.) I always reserve a small amount of the meat so I can make a taco salad for myself later in the week.

We always have lots of lettuce and cheese in the house, and I usually mix salsa and ranch dressing together for a yummy dressing. If I have time, I’ll add chopped onions, tomatoes, avocados, and sometimes even crushed Taco Doritos Chips.

Chicken Salad

Chicken salad is one of my MOST favorite lunch-time “treats” — especially since Dave doesn’t like it. I’ll often make a small batch of chicken salad at the beginning of the week and then eat it on toasted bread, on a wrap, or on a bed of lettuce 2-3 times during the week.

I don’t have an exact recipe that I follow but I always include celery, apples, grapes, hard boiled egg, and Sweet Curry for an amazing flavor boost!

Quesadillas

My kids LOVE cheese quesadillas, so it’s not uncommon for me to make them a cheese quesadilla and then mix up something a little fancier for myself.

My new favorite flavor combo is using black pepper turkey, bacon, sour cream, and sharp cheddar cheese. Then I dip it in mango salsa!

Crispy Chicken Salad

I’ll often bake a few extra chicken nuggets when I make them for the kids, and then chop them up for a “crispy chicken salad”.

It’s nothing super fancy, but it’s so quick and easy — and definitely better than a PB & J (or munching on junk all afternoon).

Leftovers

Dave and I both love leftovers for lunch, and since he has a microwave in his classroom, we both frequently use up our dinner leftovers this way.

Sometimes I’ll turn the leftovers into something new for lunch (like turning grilled chicken into chicken salad or extra taco meat into taco salad) but often times, I’ll just reheat them and eat them as-is.

Soups, pastas and casseroles all make fabulous leftovers in my opinion — and they are super easy lunches as all I need to do is reheat them! (Note: I usually make up a plate of leftovers for myself when I’m cleaning up after dinner. I just put cling wrap over the plate so all I need to do is put it in the microwave the next day.)

Grilled Sandwiches

I’m personally not a big sandwich person — but it’s a totally different story if they are grilled sandwiches.

The kids like grilled cheese sandwiches, so on days when I make them a grilled cheese, I’ll make a grilled turkey, bacon, ranch sandwich or even just grilled ham and cheese.

I also really like pizza sammies (one of Dave’s favorites as well). Since we almost always have extra pizza sauce or pasta sauce in the fridge, it takes almost no effort to quickly whip up a deliciously hot pizza sammie for lunch!

Add some chips and fruit and I feel like I’m having a gourmet meal!

Wraps

Like I mentioned earlier, I’m not a big sandwich fan… but if we have leftover meat from the night before, I’ll often turn it into a wrap for lunch the next day.

Roast beef, grilled chicken, turkey, and bacon all make great wraps. I just add in some cheese and lettuce, and call it good. Plus, I can eat it with one hand!

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Fruit and Yogurt Parfait

I almost always make pancakes, waffles, or omelettes for breakfast; and depending on how much I eat for breakfast, there are days when I’m not all that hungry for lunch. And if I know we’ll be having an extra big dinner (like a roast or burgers or chicken pot pie) I might choose to eat a smaller lunch.

On those days, I’ll often make myself a fruit and yogurt parfait. I use a mixture of Greek yogurt and strawberry yogurt with fresh berries and granola. Maybe I’ll have some cheese and crackers with this if I’m still hungry, but I’ve found that Greek yogurt is very filling, so I rarely feel like I need to snack all afternoon until dinner.

Meat, Cheese, and Fruit Plate

Both Nora and Simon prefer “meat and cheese” for lunch as opposed to a sandwich. They aren’t huge bread lovers yet, so I’ll often give them a variety of meats, cheese, fruits, and maybe some crackers and nuts, or even a hard boiled egg, depending on what we have in the house.

I actually really like this type of lunch — so since I have everything out for them, I’ll often just make myself a plate too.

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I probably have a few more ideas — but these are my go-to options for quick weekday lunches at home.

Of course, there are still times when I resort to a cold slice of pizza, a handful of trail mix, an apple with peanut butter, or even a bowl of Mac and Cheese for lunch… in fact, just last week I literally ate the leftover pizza crusts from my kids pizza for lunch (I did go back and have a bowl of yogurt later in the day, but still!)

Having a mental list of simple lunch ideas has helped me to eat more satisfying lunches with little to no extra time or effort on my part — which is key for me right now!

What are your favorite simple lunch ideas?

weekday lunch ideas

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19 comments

  1. Nicola

    04/20/2016

    I make a batch of burritos with whatever we have on hand (beans, salsa, grated cheese, frozen corn, any veg etc) and freeze them in individual zip lock bags.
    I zap one for lunch nearly every day! It’s quick and gets me eating more protein and vegetables than if I just snack on things while I make the kids lunches.

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  2. Kristen @ Joyfully Thriving

    04/01/2016

    I do a lot of these same meals! Lately, I’ve been eating snack type lunches that are still high in protein, like hard boiled eggs, pita chips with hummus or apple slices and peanut butter. Some days, my lunch is a combination of all three…followed by a bit of dark chocolate for dessert! 🙂

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  3. Ashley | Free Wills Studio

    03/31/2016

    Oh my gosh, crushed Doritos are the perfect salad topping! I thought I was the only one doing this, haha.

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  4. Autumn

    03/28/2016

    Lunch time with my four is always crazy busy, I like to eat my lunch a little earlier than my kids, then while they are eating I can clean up and then read to them. Costco sells this amazing quinoa and kale in the frozen section, it heats up in 3.5 minutes, add some chicken or beef from the previous night’s dinner, and you have a delicious and nutritious lunch. I eat this at least 5 days a week and never tire of it! But, I had to laugh at your crust off your kid’s pizza, I do this at least once a week!

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  5. JJ

    03/28/2016

    Your blog is my favorite! I also have 3 kids(3 and under), and yes to it all–haha! My favorite go to lunches are hummus and crackers(I buy the 6 pack of hummus cups…makes it fast) with fruit and a veggie. Yogurt is also a go-to(with sides). And Sam’s club rotisserie chicken(my kids’ favorite!), their fresh bread that comes in a long 2 loaf pack for $2.77, and steamed veggies is our all-time favorite. Tortilla pizzas(oven at 425 for 8-10 min, topped how you like) are super fast, too. I love your ideas!

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    JJ Reply:

    And I totally forgot about chicken salad!?! I am going to make this now. Yay!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks 🙂
    I’m still trying to like hummus (for over a year now) with no luck. Maybe someday!

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    wen Reply:

    I’ve been vegetarian most of my life, and I’m not a big fan of hummus either, though most folks seem to think I should be. Maybe I am just picky, but it has to be made “just so”, and generally store-bought doesn’t cut it. When I’m not being lazy (or just tired), I make it myself. Lots of garlic, lots of tahini, and lots of lemon, with only extra virgin olive oil (yeah, the greener the better).
    Have you tried doctoring the premade stuff to your taste? Or if you make it, maybe use a different bean?
    And toddler leftovers are all too often what passes for mama meals here too!

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  6. Tara

    03/28/2016

    I SOOOOOOO love that you published that last week you ate the crusts of your kids pizza slices for lunch! Hahahaha! I feel so much more normal now. It’s ridiculous how crazy mealtimes are with little people. The other day I somehow ended up having my neighbor’s kids over for lunch along with my kids and my husbands 93 year old grandma. That’s 6 people who made constant demands/requests for 45 minutes. I was the only person making and serving the meal. I was sweating and literally had to lay down afterward. I ate cold leftovers from my kids bowls. Ugh. I’m tired just thinking about it. 🙂

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    Andrea Reply:

    yeah — I try not to have anyone extra around for lunch (unless it’s another adult who is there to help). I know it sounds ridiculous to say, but it is such a busy time of day and the kids are usually whinier than normal because Simon and James are both getting tired. I usually do sit down with Nora to read for a bit after lunch because I’m too pooped to do anything else right away 🙂

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  7. Shelley

    03/28/2016

    That covered a lot of great simple, tasty and filling ideas! Another one your little munchkins might like are the old-fashioned english muffin pizzas (unless they won’t eat any bread)…lightly toast Thomas’ English muffins, then add marinara sauce, along with mozzarella or even cheddar cheese, mini pepperonis (and black olives or any thin sliced veggies, etc) and put back in the toaster oven until the cheese melts! Add apple sauce on the side for a change…! My kids are grown but they like these easy to make, slightly healthier “pizzas” as an after-school snack from time to time. We also do acai bowls (kind of a frozen, thick smoothie in a bowl-r–ather than its thinner version in a glass–topped with coconut, granola and more fresh fruit! Big here in California!
    Love your blog and your easy, simple, calm parenting style! Wish I’d found this when my kids were younger!

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    shelley Reply:

    ok, geez…this was title “Lunch Ideas FOR MOMs” …lol!! I think it was the rainbow lunch along with the fact that I fed many similar lunches to to the ones you posted to my kids as well! (and you did weave the kids in and out of the post! ha!) I didn’t intend to suggest you might like those English muffin pizzas! Well, one never knows what a busy mom is willing to eat…! Have a great day! 🙂

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    Andrea Reply:

    haha — no worries! I’m always looking for good lunch ideas for the kids too 🙂

    We have tried the English Muffin Pizzas before, but they are still a bit too young and made a HUUUUUUUUGE mess trying to bite all the way through the toppings and bread. On the flip side, Dave and I actually do enjoy English Muffin Pizzas as a quick snack every now and then!

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  8. Nicola Scott

    03/28/2016

    Not sure how to respond to this. The lunch ideas are really good and I may try some when I’m at home but as a full time working mother of four I’d be extremely lucky to be able to transport and store all the ingredients at work. My 30 minute break is invariably spent eating at my desk with one hand whilst catching up on school emails etc. (we get tons as they are at different schools) or paying bills and admin or dashing about running errands. We do have a microwave in the kitchen but unless you are canny the queue takes all break. I rely on cold left overs or the same cheese salad receipie every day. If I’m organized I make a vegetable risotto which I keep in the fridge and eek out over the week. I take apples and almonds for snacks and dark chocolate for my gloomy moments! Guess I miss when the kids were little and I had time at home but all life phases have there challenges.

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    Jenny Reply:

    I guess you are from somewhere other than the US! So I love learning about foods and have to ask: what is cheese salad? Thanks!

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  9. Emma {Emma's Little Kitchen}

    03/28/2016

    Leftovers are ABSOLUTELY key for me! And emergency single servings of soup that I keep in the freezer 🙂

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    Andrea Reply:

    We had chicken pot pie for dinner tonight and Dave and I are practically “fighting” over who gets more of the leftovers for lunch tomorrow 🙂

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  10. Christine @ The (mostly) Simple Life

    03/28/2016

    Those are good lunch ideas for anyone! I go home for lunch everyday which I love, but I don’t have a ton of time to make something to eat. I do a lot of leftovers. Sometimes quesadillas or chicken and veggies if I got a discount rotisserie chicken. Yum!

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, good point! I should have titled it “Simple Weekday Lunch Ideas for Grownups”! Also, LOVE those rotisserie chickens!

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