Author Topic: Can you pre-make salads for lunches? How do you keep them fresh?  (Read 34936 times)

red7

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Can you pre-make salads for lunches? How do you keep them fresh?
« on: December 02, 2014, 01:08:30 PM »
So I have been investigating the source of my way-too-high eating out bill, and I've discovered that a big chunk of it comes not from cheap fast food (because I go super cheap when I want that), but from an expensive make-your-own salad bar.

The store is very close to my work, and it's definitely a healthier way to get a meal than fast food. I love the organic spinach and other veggies, and top my salad with plain shredded rotisserie chicken. It's delicious! But also $7+ a pop!!

I've tried a couple of times to take my own salad, but it always seems gross when I actually go to eat it. One of two things always happens: (1) I have to really force myself to eat it and end up leaving like half of it untouched or (2) I can't find the mental energy to force myself to eat it and binge on salty snacks or go buy something. I don't eat salad dressing or anything, so it's not like it's getting soggy.

Another obstacle is that I don't have a variety of vegetables cut into easy pieces like the salad bar does. And I'm highly unlikely to start chopping bits and pieces of bell peppers, carrots, cucumbers, etc. to prepare a salad every day that I will have to force myself to eat.

Is there a way to "mass-produce" daily salads ahead of time but still keep them fresh for up to a week? How do you make them appear appetizing when you bring them from home? Any other tips from anyone?

In trying to reduce this expense, I've realized that instead of replacing the salads with stuff from home, I've just been eating cheaper junk and feeling bad about it. I like eating the healthy salads! But I've got to find a way to make it work without buying a $7+ salad every other day. Please help!

CowboyAndIndian

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Re: Can you pre-make salads for lunches? How do you keep them fresh?
« Reply #1 on: December 02, 2014, 01:10:45 PM »
Replying to keep track of this. I have the same problem.

theadvicist

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Re: Can you pre-make salads for lunches? How do you keep them fresh?
« Reply #2 on: December 02, 2014, 01:19:11 PM »
On a Saturday I prepare salads for Monday and Tuesday at work. So not a week... But a good few days.

I get myself to do it because on Saturday evenings we have fajitas. I'm already chopping stuff, so I chop everything we have and put it in containers for the week. I would never do this if we weren't in a routine of having the fajitas. I also buy a whole chicken, remove the breast for fajitas, and then roast the rest off. That gives me my lovely cheap 'rotisserie' chicken for the salad.

I use glass lock containers, they seem to keep my roast chicken, cucumbers, sweet peppers and lettuce fresh. I add canned corn at the office (I try to keep things kind of dry until I'm ready to eat). I also add pickled beetroot from a jar when I serve (dunno if that is a Brit thing).

I know you say don't eat dressing, but I didn't use to, and that's why I hated salads, though I didn't realise it. They don't really have much taste appeal to me without dressing now, though most commercial ones I find gross.

If you do venture into dressing, try a simple balsamic / olive oil. I either keep salad dressing (homemade, natch) at the office (usually only get through enough to do this in summer), or I take a small amount in a tiny jam jar (you know the kind you get at hotels? I fill that with dressing, tuck in with the salad, and dunk it on at lunchtime. Then into the dishwasher with the jar that evening).

So, in short, keep things dry, and don't add any 'wetter' items or dressing until you're ready to eat. Try to prepare the salad as part of another meal so you have the knife and boards already out and the momentum on your side. Much of this may be dependent on access to kitchen facilities and storage during the day though, so not sure how much help this is.

OptimizeOptimism

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Re: Can you pre-make salads for lunches? How do you keep them fresh?
« Reply #3 on: December 02, 2014, 01:24:21 PM »
My normal routine is actually to bring a salad for lunch everyday. I have the same aversion to chopping veggies and also do not like sogginess. I solve the chopping by using "convenience" veggies: boxed baby spinach, baby carrots, cherry or grape tomatoe, berries or grapes, and some kind of nut. This does mean that it's a little more expensive than chopping my own, but I've accepted that this is what works for me.

Note also that this mixture of ingredients does not contribute to any sogginess (no juices flowing). I actually call this my "finger salad" as I rarely use a fork. It feels like I'm snacking! It takes me a couple of minutes to assemble each morning as I'm rushing out the door.

I do use regular old plastic tupperware, but if you reeeeeaaallly want to keep things fresh, glass would probably be your best bet. I've been seeing this mason jar salad idea around for a while and it looks intriguing:

http://www.organizeyourselfskinny.com/2014/03/17/the-ultimate-mason-jar-salad-tutorial-and-recipe-round-up/

Good luck on your salad journey!

olivia

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Re: Can you pre-make salads for lunches? How do you keep them fresh?
« Reply #4 on: December 02, 2014, 01:32:26 PM »
Replying to follow as well!

SporeSpawn

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Re: Can you pre-make salads for lunches? How do you keep them fresh?
« Reply #5 on: December 02, 2014, 01:35:18 PM »
My salads really just consist of spinach, carrots, and an apple on the side right now. I make them daily, packing them in tubberware that goes in the work fridge. The ingrediants themselves are stored in containers at home to keep them from drying out.

PtboEliz

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TrulyStashin

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Re: Can you pre-make salads for lunches? How do you keep them fresh?
« Reply #7 on: December 02, 2014, 01:46:14 PM »
Check out this jar salad thread :)
http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/share-your-badassity/jar-salad-a-la-costco/msg458772/#msg458772

+1 

That's my buddy, Hybrid, who started that thread and got me started on jar salads too.  I had one for lunch today and yesterday.   It's a wonderful way to eat well and cheaply. 

I've even started cooking dried beans instead of buying canned beans and it has cut costs even more.

rocksinmyhead

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Re: Can you pre-make salads for lunches? How do you keep them fresh?
« Reply #8 on: December 02, 2014, 01:52:51 PM »
Do you have a fridge at work? I'm wondering if maybe the biggest problem with pre-making is that the spinach just feels a little soggy/off. I know I feel this way when it's been mixed with other veggies even if it hasn't been sitting in dressing. I eat a little spinach (or swiss chard or arugula or whatever I have) every morning on a breakfast sandwich, and the absolute best way I have found to store greens like this is to wash them (if not washed already), spin dry in a salad spinner, spread them on some paper towels, loosely roll the paper towels up (you might have to do 2 separate parcels), put them in a ziploc-type bag, and squeeze all the air out. I've seriously kept swiss chard for 3 weeks this way, which never used to happen! Maybe if you stored greens like this at work, along with a separate container of pre-chopped veggies (I agree with the advice to pair this veggie chopping with the prep of another meal, when you have the momentum), your salad would seem more freshly prepared.

Just an idea, keep in mind I'm not an experienced salad-bringer, just a fresh greens addict :)

kaizen soze

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Re: Can you pre-make salads for lunches? How do you keep them fresh?
« Reply #9 on: December 02, 2014, 02:14:04 PM »
I pre-make salads for the week over the weekend.  I use hearts of romaine lettuce as the base, and sometimes make sure to the eat the greener parts earlier in the week and the less-green parts later in the week.  If I add both the green and not-as-green bits to the same salad, I will put the green parts on top.  Romaine is pretty hardy and will last for the week, but the green parts will get slimy sooner.  To the romaine I add shredded carrots, Parmesan cheese (shredded), and whatever else I might want to add.  You could add mushrooms (sliced), radishes, cherry tomatoes, or other hardy vegetables.  I also add dressing and either shredded chicken or chopped boiled eggs for protein.  I use plastic containers that seal up pretty air-tight.  Most of the time, this works out fine all of the way through the end of the week.  If I don't eat a salad by Friday, then it might be sketchy by the following Monday. 

Recently I've stopped eating these salads.  That's because my wife has been making a big pot of vegetable stock soup with cabbage, carrots, onions, and celery on the weekends.  I boil some pasta for the week, and have myself some soup with pasta and a boiled egg mixed in for lunch every day.  This definitely lasts the entire week, and tastes better than the salads I used to make.  Making this soup does require chopping, however.

Edit: I just read the jar salad post, and it seems pretty similar to what I do.  I like the idea of adding the dressing at the bottom.
« Last Edit: December 02, 2014, 02:17:19 PM by kaizen soze »

fitzgeralday

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Re: Can you pre-make salads for lunches? How do you keep them fresh?
« Reply #10 on: December 02, 2014, 02:19:02 PM »
My normal routine is actually to bring a salad for lunch everyday. I have the same aversion to chopping veggies and also do not like sogginess. I solve the chopping by using "convenience" veggies: boxed baby spinach, baby carrots, cherry or grape tomatoe, berries or grapes, and some kind of nut. This does mean that it's a little more expensive than chopping my own, but I've accepted that this is what works for me.

Note also that this mixture of ingredients does not contribute to any sogginess (no juices flowing). I actually call this my "finger salad" as I rarely use a fork. It feels like I'm snacking! It takes me a couple of minutes to assemble each morning as I'm rushing out the door.

I do use regular old plastic tupperware, but if you reeeeeaaallly want to keep things fresh, glass would probably be your best bet. I've been seeing this mason jar salad idea around for a while and it looks intriguing:

http://www.organizeyourselfskinny.com/2014/03/17/the-ultimate-mason-jar-salad-tutorial-and-recipe-round-up/

Good luck on your salad journey!

I second the mason jar salad idea as this has been a lunch staple for me on quite a few occasions.  The trick is to keep what ever leafy green veggie you have away from the salad dressing.  I made a few last night (they keep well in the fridge for a few days) and this is what they looked like (in order from top of jar to the bottom):

spinach
bacon
boiled egg
grape tomatoes
onion
dressing

When you're ready you just shake it up to distribute the dressing, and serve!

Eric

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Re: Can you pre-make salads for lunches? How do you keep them fresh?
« Reply #11 on: December 02, 2014, 02:20:21 PM »
Replying to keep track of this. I have the same problem.

Replying to follow as well!

In the spirit of continual optimization, you both should know that the "Notify" button, which is right next to the "Reply" button, does this exact same thing without posting in the thread.

Sorry OP, I do sandwiches for lunch that I make daily so I have no advice for you.

bogart

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Re: Can you pre-make salads for lunches? How do you keep them fresh?
« Reply #12 on: December 02, 2014, 02:26:19 PM »
Another fan of Romaine for portable salads.

I put the stuff that isn't too soggy (e.g. lettuce, carrot slices, uncut grape tomatoes) together, and add anything I want that is soggy later -- not to say it can't be prepared/sliced in advance, I just keep it in a separate container.  Though e.g. avocado I would never "prep" until just before eating.  So I either limit what goes into my salad or do a little extra food prep at work (I have access to a kitchen).

You could try creating and keeping separate a jar of e.g. sliced maters/cukes in a vinegar sauce, which should keep them from getting gross, and adding them last minute. 

Of course I never add salad dressing of any kind until right before eating.

I am not above buying sliced carrots, pre-sliced broccoli, etc.  Not wildly Mustachian, but food prep is not something I enjoy doing.

mm1970

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Re: Can you pre-make salads for lunches? How do you keep them fresh?
« Reply #13 on: December 02, 2014, 02:28:31 PM »
Haven't read all the replies, but this is something I have much experience with!

I eat salad for lunch every day.  Yep, every day.  I spend a little bit of time each evening prepping it.  So here's the plan:

Sunday:
wash lettuce/ greens, spin them dry, put them in a ziploc bag with a paper towel (keeps it fresher - moist but not damp)
prep vegetables (whatever I have that week): peppers, carrots, cucumbers, celery, snap peas, whatever.  3 days worth usually, but sometimes 5 (you know, sometimes they get weird by day 5). Put in a container or baggie
prep protein and/or carbs.  This may be as easy as making sure I have sliced deli meat, or leftover chicken. Or it may mean hard boiling a bunch of eggs, or having some canned tuna or salmon.  Or cooked beans or canned beans.
make salad dressing (olive oil and vinegar, or sometimes something more exotic)
make sure I have some nuts/seeds (I use 2 tbsp a day of sunflower seeds, almonds or cashews)
crumbled cheese sometimes if it's there (blue, feta) or olives

Each night:
Put a Tbsp or two of dressing on the bottom of my salad container/ tupperware.  Next comes the protein, veggies, and beans on top.  They form a wetness barrier. Then cheese. Finally, the greens.  I put the seeds or nuts in a separate container because I like them dry and crunchy.

The next day I shake up my container and eat out of it or dump it on a plate, and top with the seeds.

Sometimes when my spouse is traveling and I'm alone with the kids I may prep 2-3 days' worth at once.  I've never tried a full week.

I keep it fun by changing the dressing each week, or the bean, or the protein, or the veggies.  Within the week it may change too.  With this method, the veggies are already cleaned and cut into strips, so all I have to do is chop a small handful.

RFAAOATB

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Re: Can you pre-make salads for lunches? How do you keep them fresh?
« Reply #14 on: December 02, 2014, 02:41:46 PM »
I've bought the pre-chopped Costco bags.  Much more efficient than chopping romaine myself.  I stick a handful or that and a handful of shredded cheese into a to go plate for my work salad.  I keep the dressing in the office fridge. 

Any more complicated items would require more cutting each morning.

sunnyca

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Re: Can you pre-make salads for lunches? How do you keep them fresh?
« Reply #15 on: December 02, 2014, 02:57:47 PM »
I have pre-made salads at the beginning of the week, but the freshness really depends on the type of greens you're using.  Baby spinach wilts after more than a day, but heartier greens (there's a Costco mix with kale, shredded cabbage, and Brussels sprouts), that lasts the full week, even if made in advance.

I always keep the dressing separate though. 

livingthedream

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Re: Can you pre-make salads for lunches? How do you keep them fresh?
« Reply #16 on: December 02, 2014, 03:08:16 PM »
I make a salad everyday for my wife and I.

-I use a sturdy mix organic power greens mix like this - http://www.ebfarm.com/products/new-products/new-power-greens/info
-For tomatoes I slice up some cherry tomatoes everyday. Like seem to hold up better and not get soggy like bigger ones.
-My wife makes a balsamic/olive oil mix every week.
-I grill up chicken thighs or breasts or pork tenderloin once or twice a week for protein. Leftovers are also utilized (Thanksgiving turkey has been great this week). Much cheaper than buying lunch meat.
-We use glass containers with a plastic lid
- A little blue cheese for me and feta for my wife, toasted almonds on the top.

Catbert

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Re: Can you pre-make salads for lunches? How do you keep them fresh?
« Reply #17 on: December 02, 2014, 03:30:09 PM »
My not apply to your situation...when I worked there was a group of women who had a salad club (well, no an actual club).  Each week they each brought in one or two ingredients.  Every day at lunch they hauled all the stuff out and each made a salad.   I think the only thing that they had to decide ahead of time was who was bringing the lettuce or green leafy stuff.

Whenever you are chopping possible salad ingredients for another dish, chop some extra for your salad.  For example if you're making mushroom soup, chop a few more for salads.

MrsPete

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Re: Can you pre-make salads for lunches? How do you keep them fresh?
« Reply #18 on: December 02, 2014, 07:27:52 PM »
Google "Mason jar salads", and you'll find lots of advice on packing salads well.  They tend to be the kind of salads I like; that is, lots of crunchy veggies, not so much lettuce.  You can even put dressing into the same jar.

When you're done, place half a paper towel on top of the lettuce on top -- it'll soak up wetness and keep your lettuce from browning.  You can make 5 of them on a Sunday afternoon, and Friday's salad will taste just as good as Monday's. 

EDSMedS

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Re: Can you pre-make salads for lunches? How do you keep them fresh?
« Reply #19 on: December 02, 2014, 07:37:03 PM »
A bit of paper-towel thrown in with prepped leafy greens will absorb inevitable moisture. :)

kimmarg

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Re: Can you pre-make salads for lunches? How do you keep them fresh?
« Reply #20 on: December 02, 2014, 07:46:39 PM »
My mom gave me this container and it's great. The "topping" veggies are separate from the lettuce and the dressing. It even includes a fork and knife. At work I combine everything and give it a shake.

http://www.amazon.com/Sistema-37-1-Ounce-Salad-Container-Clear/dp/B004R97IJ6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1417574662&sr=8-1&keywords=sistema+salad+container

Yes, it's an $8 Tupperware, but it was a gift and I like it!

BetsyS

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Re: Can you pre-make salads for lunches? How do you keep them fresh?
« Reply #21 on: December 02, 2014, 09:02:32 PM »
I used to work in a kitchen whilst in grad school. If you want to create those yummy salads, it helps to know how kitchens make those - which is all about maximum time (and cost) efficiency. Very mustachian.

The basic concept is to split your prep and assembly steps so the prep is way ahead of time and the assembly is just before eating. Also,  put it in a nice dish since we do eat with our eyes. (and not plastic! have you noticed that almost all salad places have moved away from plastic serving bowls? because of the taste. Same way no one uses a nalgene anymore).

options for keeping your prep/chopping work to a minimum:
- make sure you have a good knife and a sharpener, and keep the knife sharp (really. it saves you so much time).
- English cucumber, celery, baby sweet peppers and spring onions all require minimum prep compared to other veg.
- if you're really looking for DICED vegetables, buy a mandolin.
- think about things you like that don't require chopping - grape tomatoes, crunchy things: sunflower seeds, croutons etc.
- strip/chop your chicken ahead of time and keep in a bag or box and work.
- store the different ingredients in different containers, like everyone says.

assembly at work:
- proper glass or dishware to put it all in
- use smaller, ready made bags of greens more regularly, but your chopped veg can last the week.
- pull out your 2-3 veggies from different storage containers and dump on top of your greens in the nice bowl. then the chicken. then crunchy things.

voila. your assembly time should be 3 minutes if you move very, very slowly and talk to your co-workers who are in the kitchen at the same time.

davisgang90

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Re: Can you pre-make salads for lunches? How do you keep them fresh?
« Reply #22 on: December 03, 2014, 06:22:48 AM »
I buy prewashed salad at Costco (luxury!) and cut up any veggies for the week.  I assemble a salad each morning and keep dressing in the fridge at work.

I figure the $8 I save each day not buying a salad at work is worth the cost of the fancy-pants Costco greens and the minimal prep required each morning.

Etihwdivadnai

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Re: Can you pre-make salads for lunches? How do you keep them fresh?
« Reply #23 on: December 03, 2014, 07:39:48 AM »
I don't actually eat much salad in the form of a salad
(most of my sald items go into sandwiches)
But my spouse eats lots of salads, so here are some tips:

1) Definitely keep the salad dressing separate from the salad until the point of eating the salad.
(Here a tiny glass screw-top jam-type jar contain the salad dressing popped in with the salad works well)

2) Where ever possible buy salad items than can be put into the salad whole (think small tomatoes, small radishes, small pickled onions, small leaf salad greens

3) Do not *cut* larger vegetables with a knife. This cuts across many more of the cell walls that then leak moisture / cell contents and begin to rot.
Instead *tear* leaves (keep whole leaves if possible) as this tears *between* separate cell-walls and thus leaves the cells whole.
Or snap sticks of celery or carrots, again breaking *between* cell walls

4) Keep the wet bits of salad as dry as possible and keep these wet bits separate from any dry bits like tiny tomatos radishes, even bits of carrot
until you are ready to eat the salad.

5) Add some vitamin C, because ascorbic acid (i.e. vitamin C) is an anti-oxidant which inhibits the oxidization of the salad.
Lemon (and orange) juice, whilst containing some vitamin-C also contains much water.
But a crushed / powdered vitamin C tablet contains much more and contains no water.

6) Nice sealed locked containers are not the best thing to keep salad in, because it keeps the moisture in which promotes rotting rather than drying-out.
I have seen some plastic containers that contain a "breather" hole and / an air-porus compartment in which you could pop a silica-gel bag (kept separate from the salad itself). These silica-gel bags are *not* food-grade so keep away from contact with the salad, but they can be backed in the oven to re-desicate them for re-use.

7) Once you have eaten the salad, if at all possible, swill / rince with water and then leave the container lid *off* until re-use.
Otherwise the container stinks / becomes rank and is nasty to wash out in the evening and this puts you off making the salad that evening ready for the next day.
If you *have* to bring the container home sealed, have a second salad container and make the next day's salad into it first, before cleaning today's container.
It is much more encouraging to make the next day's salad the night before *without* the smell of today's salad and the thought of putting tomorrow's salad into this same container.

7a) If you do have to bring the container home, sealed, then a drop of hot water and washing-up liquid popped in before you seal it up
means that the journey home, jiggling the container at least starts the cleaning process.
« Last Edit: December 03, 2014, 07:42:50 AM by Etihwdivadnai »

Jacana

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Re: Can you pre-make salads for lunches? How do you keep them fresh?
« Reply #24 on: December 03, 2014, 08:21:54 AM »
If you don't have space or desire to separate everything, one trick I use is to separate anything potentially moisture a creating with a bit of cellophane and paper towel always extending it up one side so you can remove it easily. Eg. Layer from bottom to top paper towel, lettuce, cellophane, paper towel, tomatoes, green peppers, etc., cellophane, beans (I toss the beans in olive oil and balsamic vinegar so they marinate deliciously), cellophane, dry ingredients (nuts, feta, whatever), then when you are ready for lunch pull the layers out like a tablecloth magic trick. Cover, shake, eat. The beans seem to hold enough flavor and oil without going too soggy and no dressing needed. If I feel like dressing I bring it in a little snack container and leave the beans plain. Or I can use marinated chicken instead of beans, same effect.

Bob W

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Re: Can you pre-make salads for lunches? How do you keep them fresh?
« Reply #25 on: December 03, 2014, 08:50:32 AM »
1. Make them in the morning
2.  Spinach base, a wide variety of toppings, sliced meats and  including those prepackaged nuts and dried berries.
3.  Dressing on the side
4.  Refrigerate at work

If you like, you could sprinkle with a bit of lemon juice in the morning to help with freshness.  I have never had a problem with this method.    If the fridge is not available be sure to use ice packs in your lunch box.

Eat two eggs for breakfast only and you will be nice and hungry for your extremely high antioxidant paleo approved big salad. 

catccc

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Re: Can you pre-make salads for lunches? How do you keep them fresh?
« Reply #26 on: December 03, 2014, 08:55:03 AM »
The mason jars look so pretty, but I (am weird and) hate the idea of shaking the salad out into a bowl to consume it, and I don't think I'd like eating right out of the jar, either.  Picky, picky.
 
I used to keep a bottle of dressing in the fridge at work, then I'd just bring the salad in a regular container to work, sometimes keeping certain ingredients off to one side of the container.