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Do you remember the early days of social media, back when people could be heard snarking “I don’t want to know what you had for lunch!” I just never understood that. I don’t have cats, so I thought lunch intel was, like, the whole purpose of social media. I very much want to know what you had for lunch! Show me everything, I would think . . . and I hope you don’t mind my stealing all your menus.

Thinking up lunch used to be quite a chore for me, as it is for many of the people who turn to me for advice on changing their eating habits. One of the best ways to care for yourself and regain control of your eating is to make your own food—but it still feels like a lot to do.

Here’s a mashup of things people say to me: I go to a job, as in I must leave the house, which implies this is not an episode of The Real Housepants of Anywhere. I have to get dressed! Do things to earn my hourly wage! Oh and also maybe push some laundry through and feed other humans as well as myself. I have health issues. I have a family. My three kids have five sports. My partner is on active duty, and my car’s always in the shop. How am I supposed to deal with all that, and plan, shop, and cook homemade meals? Tell me that, Mrs. Lady.

I have an answer, which not everyone loves—at first. Because my answer is salad. But don’t run away! I mean good salad. Not a laughing-alone salad bowl of dry leaves. My salad is giant salad. Full-fat salad. Stick-to-the-ribs salad. Salad every lunch.

Why salad? Planning for salad only has to be done once—and I’ve done it for you, below. Most important: Salad doesn’t have to be cooked. Salad for the win!

Here’s my basic recipe. Between shopping, which you can do as infrequently as every other week, and washing and chopping, which should take no more than 15 minutes, you can be eating in less time than it takes to run to the bodega and pay triple for your trouble. (Not having to think something up when you’re hungry should save you some time, too.)


 8-12 oz. raw or cooked vegetables. Any vegetables you like. I like: chopped purple cabbage, jarred artichoke hearts, purple or orange cauliflower, romanesco cauliflower, every-color carrots, mild peppers, shaved Brussels sprouts. It’s also nice to toss in leftover roasted vegetables, if I have them, like squash, rutabagas—anything goes! Salad is a broad church.

My base always has a generous proportion of cucumbers and tomatoes, like an Israeli salad or a Greek salad. These are very watery vegetables, which are good to balance things like cauliflower and cabbage.

Mushrooms, which come to find out, are not technically vegetables. They add a great texture.

Half an avocado, cubed, at the ripeness you like.

Half a cup of cooked beans, for protein. I love the beans from Rancho Gordo, and splash out on a bulk order every few months. You can get good beans anywhere, though, and already-cooked beans in a can are a gift from the universe.

Some kind of allium. Bermuda onion, green onion, shallot, chives.

A lot of olive oil. A fearsome amount. I’ve never even measured. It’s a lot. (I got this tip from a friend who used to live in Israel. That’s how they do it, and they are onto something.)

A quarter cup of nuts or seeds. I like toasted walnuts and toasted pepitas.

A mountain of any fresh herbs you like, and I do mean “any” and “mountain.”

Fancy or flavored salt, for fun, and for balancing the olive oil.


 1. Chop vegetables into biggish dice. Some people like precision here, but it’s not necessary. Salad isn’t fussy.

2. Add the beans, alliums and avocado.

3. Pour in some olive oil and mix everything. The avocado will emulsify if soft, which is fine. Taste and add more oil if you need it.

4. Sprinkle with salt. Mix and taste again.

5. Add the nuts and herbs on top. If you like, serve with a hunk of bread on the side, which you should of course feel free to dip in olive oil.

6. Enjoy, because this salad is delicious.

7. Repeat tomorrow!

A Handy Shopping List

A week’s shopping list for one person (six lunches) would look something like this.

a pint of cherry tomatoes

1-2 hothouse cucumbers, or a tray of Persian mini-cukes

1 bunch of scallions or chives or 1 Bermuda onion or 2 shallots

3 avocados

3 cans of already-cooked beans, any kind (or a 1 lb bag of dried beans)

6-8 oz nuts or seed

3-4 lbs assorted vegetables and mushrooms. Get a good mix, so that you can have some variety throughout the week.

1 bunch each of mint, basil, Italian parsley, or whatever you like. I even use lavender and rosemary.

More than one person? Just double down on the shopping. Nothing could be easier than making an even bigger salad.

In the MDK Shop
To market, to market to buy a fat purple cabbage! Mille grazie for your Shop purchases. They keep up the spirit of abbondanza here at MDK.

If You Don’t Like Salad, and I Haven’t Changed Your Mind

Salad is just a suggestion. It doesn’t work all year, in all climes, or for all people.

My salad framework could be a good shortcut, though—a starting point for you to modify. You could apply this method to another lunch-food category, such as sandwiches, rice bowls, or soup.

What’s for Dinner?

You still have dinner to think about, it’s true. But thanks to generous amounts of fat, protein, and fresh complex carbs at lunch, you’ll have the energy to think about dinner calmly, rather than hangrily. Maybe your kids will even want salad. Just kidding. But when I’ve had a giant salad for lunch, I feel pretty good about pizza for dinner.


Image: Kalebas, twee perziken en een walnoot, Michiel van Huysum, 1714-1760, Rijksmuseum. Used with permission.


About The Author

Max Daniels is a research-based life coach whose weekly emails make us laugh with recognition and rethink everything we thought we knew.

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  • No . . . vinegar??

    • I would like vinegar or a citrus juice.
      I am making healthy smoothies lately. I use Harley Pasternaks recipes from his book. I feel so good, getting at least 3 or 4 servings of fruits and vegetables and protein in each smoothie. I am a salad lover but not in winter. I live in the Northeast so fresh local salad vegetables aren’t available. I know some fruits I buy are not local either. For some reasons salad just aren’t as appealing to me in winter.
      Thanks for your article it encouraged me to continue eating healthier. I have a lot of weight to lose. I am -19 lbs. Since September. Slow and steady wins the race.
      My senior center has exercise classes for a low fee and I am in water therapy.

    • Haha good eye! NO VINEGAR for me. As we learned from Samin Nosrat, tomatoes provide enough acid for balance. But if you like vinegar, no reason not to.

      • Interesting. I am in the “vinegar, not tomatoes” camp as a judicious splash of vinegar is nice, but more than just a bit of tomato is too much acid for me! (P.S. Excellent post! I tend to go with Second Breakfast/Leftover Dinner for my lunches, as I am lucky enough to be at home for them most days, but this is definitely food for thought…and lunch!)

      • Phew! I was worried vinegar had been found to dull your hair and clog your carburetor or something. Just personal preference, good to know!

  • I used to work with a person who had a food processor. She used to make a huge salad on Sundays and bring some of it to work with her every day during the week.

    At that same job another person used to make the same salad everyday adding avocado and fat-free feta cheese.

  • I love you, Max! And I love MDK for turning me on to you. How good does it get?!

  • I’ve just started having salads for lunch again, makes for such a different afternoon. My favorite herb (for salads) is tarragon, Favorite juicy thing is cara cara oranges. Favorite dressing is a teeny drizzle of fruit balsamic (California Balsamic or Bema and Pa’s) plus balsamic glaze. Love all he sweetness wrapped in a refreshing salad. Thanks for another great article Max!

  • I do this same thing a lot, though I add vinegar. I also have a couple favorite very easy salad dressings I make on the weekends in a week’s quantity. I never have the time I’d like to have for food prep, even on weekends, so it’s all about easy quick recipes to get me through the week. When we have leftover protein- last night’s chicken or salmon, that gets thrown in. A can of tuna, olives and a hard boiled egg are other regular additions. Quick dinners for us are one pan roasted veggies and fish, and those are great lunch salad additions. The last couple years, my goal has been not throwing away food/reducing food waste, so leftovers are my everything! My decision on whether I am going to try a recipe or cook something now includes ‘will I enjoy this as leftovers?’

    • ADMIRE! No-waste kitchen is my next frontier…

  • Salad is a broad church! ❤️❤️❤️

  • Thanks for the tips about plain olive oil and salt, shaved brussels sprouts and adding herbs. I tend to make “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink” salads sometimes and like to add fruit as well such as strawberries, blueberries, orange slices, etc. Now I’ll throw in some parsley, cilantro, etc. if I have it. The more the merrier! (Of course fruit won’t “keep” even overnight and probably should be added at the last minute.). Chloe

  • I love the vegetable list and wonder how many hours I would need to travel to find a grocery that carried many of them.

  • Forgot: making salad dressing is much healthier than most bottled dressing. They contain too much sugar and chemicals. French dressing= same amounts mayonaise, with same of ketchup if you want a little treat or change. Equal parts olive, or grapeseed oil and something acidic, vinegar or lemon juice i.e. Add salt n pepper and herbs, shake.

  • No acid? Just oil would never work for me.

    And as u note, when it’s winter salad just isn’s as alluring.

  • Serious Eats recently published a great list of salads that I’ve been working into my family’s dinner rotation:

  • Now I want to know what mushrooms are, if they are not a vegetable. I love them.

    • Technically, they’re a fungus…

  • Yes! I like a big salad for my work lunch since it can leave me full without getting sluggish in the afternoon. I do like making a simple mustard vingerette, and then throwing on what ever vegetables we might have around, leftover roasted vegetables are great. I also like a sprinkling of some fun cheese, blue or shredded parmesan for the final savory kick.

  • As much as I love salad, I cannot bring myself to eat the same thing for lunch every day. I have tried, and I just can’t do it. Any suggestions?

    • Trying different salads! It took me a long time to move away from extremely basic caprese salads and starting thinking of salad variety. A kale and cabbage salad with dried cherries and lemon feels like a different meal than a “southwestern” salad with roasted corn and cheese. I look at the bagged premade salads for ideas and work from there.

    • I make a base salad of greens and change up the protein and coloured veg according to what’s in the cupboard or fridge. And different dressings and herbs made a difference as well. I usually have a serve of bread – that changes, too.

      And I give myself permission to do the healthy habits Most Days, rather than demand Every Day from myself. That way leads to chocolate and chips for lunch.

  • Thanks for the encouragement!!

  • Love a big salad for dinner! Been doing this for a couple of years and have lost a lot of weight. My base is baby spinach, followed by mushrooms, garbanzos, cooked veggies if I have any, and TJs cowboy caviar. Maybe some olives and nuts. Sometimes I add some chopped chicken if I have any, or a little leftover cold salmon.

    Lunch for me is usually a vegetable stir-fry, or roasted veggies. These would also be great to make ahead and take to work, if I still worked.

    I think people over-complicate things when cooking. Maybe a relic of the days when we expected meat, possibly with a sauce, starch and veg cooked separately? I tend to think one-bowl meals nowadays. I really never spend more than 20 minutes active cooking/assembling.

  • Thanks for the great article about salad for lunch. That’s what I ate today and hopefully the beginning of many delicious and filling healthy lunches – herbs (never would have thought of this), steamed broccoli, lettuce, chopped cucumbers, carrots, yellow pepper, toasted walnuts, white beans, avocado, pomegranate seeds. It was so delicious and filling. And as you pointed out- quicker then running to the local restaurant for a quick salad. Olive oil & balsamic vinegar glaze.

  • Reminds me of the lovely and delicious array of salads, olives, hummus and breads spread out for our breakfast at a tourist hotel in Tiberius year before last. It was a wonderful way to start our busy days.

  • I’ll add in a half cup of cooked farro. There’s something about the chewy, toothsome grain that I really dig. The extra fiber is welcome, too.

    • I love farro. I only make two edible salads and one of them has a farro base. I top it with wilted kale, roasted sweet potatoes or butternut squash, a drizzle of expensive olive oil and a mix of toasted seeds. If I have it/want something decadent, I sauté a slice of halloumi to put on top.

  • I am reading this a day late…but I was eating salad whilst reading (for the win!). I take a salad every day to work. I buy a big bag of romaine every week and add to it carrots, celery, grape tomatoes, edamame, fresh herbs, suddenly salad seasoning, olive oil and red wine vinegar. It takes me a long time to eat, is super crunchy and because of this it helps me be a more mindful eater. Also, when prepping in the a.m. my dog loves me because carroty snackos happen!

  • Brava! I do this, too and my coup is grating the carrots and raw beets, especially a pink chiogga beet that looks like candy.

  • Yay for the salad!! And no vinegar necessary. I love slicing cold london broil or chicken from the previous night’s dinner to the top.

  • My alternative to the salad is making a batch of chicken & vegetable soup in my slow cooker almost every Sunday. It takes about 20 minutes to prep and 3 hours to cook. My husband and I both have warm chicken & vegetable soup at lunch, winter & summer. It helps keep us full for the afternoon. I chop 1 onion, 1 – 2 carrots, 1 -2 stalks of celery, 1 squash and lay them in the cooker. I add 3 chicken breasts on top of the veggies. I sprinkle salt, pepper, garlic salt, rosemary, basil and oregano on the chicken breasts. I add 3 cans of beans (drained): usually garbanzo, white beans and pinto beans, on top of the chicken breasts. I add 1 can of sliced mushrooms to the top of the beans. I add about 8 oz. of mild salsa to the cooker and about 2 cups of water. After 2 hours on high heat, I turn the heat to low for 1 hour. We take out the chicken breasts and chop them into bite size pieces to return to the cooker. We eat this for lunch, and, sometimes, for dinner. I zap the soup in the microwave at work and enjoy a delicious and healthy lunch. This is easy to shop for as I know what ingredients I need. The veggies and chicken are the only perishable items in the soup. I stock up on the beans, mushrooms and salsa.

  • Thank you so much for this, I’ve been eating it for lunch for a couple of weeks and really enjoy it – and it’s helping my “no nibbling cheese while cooking” goal as I’m no longer ravenous when I get home. Still works even though I’m at work in a chilly office in winter!

    • I mean max”s salad, although Katie”s soup sounds good too 🙂

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