Secret ingredient: Baked sweet potatoes are the key to easy, tasty lunches

Sep 19, 2016 at 11:00 a.m. ET
Image: OlgaMiltsova/Getty Images

I am not good at planning my lunches ahead of time, but there is one ingredient I always make sure to have on hand for those days when I just don't feel like putting a lot of effort into my midday meal (and can't justify getting takeout for lunch for the billionth time): sweet potatoes.

They last forever, they're super-nutritious, they keep you full, and they're easy to make. Best of all, they pair well with toppings ranging from savory to sweet, so if you want more than a basic baked sweet potato for lunch, you can just rifle through your fridge and throw something on.

More: Cranberry- and turkey-stuffed sweet potatoes

My favorite way to make a sweet potato is to wash and dry it, poke it with a few holes, wrap it in foil and bake at 350 degrees F for an hour to an hour and a half, until it's tender and easily pierced with a fork.

You can also microwave a sweet potato. Just wash and dry it, pierce the skin five to six times with a fork, put it on a microwave-safe plate, and microwave it for five to eight minutes until tender (if you don't have an automatically rotating microwave, make sure you rotate the potato halfway through its cook time).

You can also make oven fries: Cut your sweet potato into wedges, toss them with olive oil and salt, and roast at 400 or so degrees F for about 25 minutes, flipping your wedges halfway through the cook time. They'll be just a little crispy and browned on the edges and really tender and fluffy in the middle.

OK, so now that we have the basics down, here are a few ways to jazz up your sweet potato meal:

Sweet potato oven fries

  • Sprinkle with lemon juice, and dip in hummus.
  • Dunk into pesto.
  • Sprinkle with feta, minced garlic, chopped parsley, red pepper flakes and more olive oil.
  • Dip into honey mustard with a bit of horseradish mixed in.
  • Add to leftover green or grain salads for extra color and flavor.

More: Marshmallow-stuffed hasselback sweet potatoes with brown sugar butter

Baked or microwaved sweet potato, split lengthwise (use a fork to fluff up the interior before piling on your add-ins)

  • Stuff with chickpeas, baby kale or spinach and a tahini-lemon-garlic sauce.
  • Fill with black beans, salsa, sour cream and queso fresco.
  • Stuff with shredded chicken, salsa verde, sour cream and white cheddar cheese.
  • Mash with coconut oil and a sprinkle of salt.
  • Drizzle with maple syrup, a dollop of butter, a dash of apple pie spice and a sprinkle of salt.
  • Fill with chopped roasted broccoli, hummus, lemon juice and zest and a sprinkle of za'atar.
  • Stuff with sautéed spinach, tofu cubes, sesame seeds, Sriracha sauce and a sesame vinaigrette.
  • Add sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, a sprinkle of caraway seeds and Russian dressing for a healthier take on the Reuben.
  • Fill with leftovers. So many things are delicious in a sweet potato, from green or grain salads to taco fillings, slow cooker meats, chili and stews.

The possibilities are basically endless, and it's a great way to up your daily veggie intake. So the next time you're at the store, trying to rack your brains for some new lunch ideas, grab a couple of sweet potatoes. The absence of your afternoon hanger attack alone will make it clear you've made the right choice.

More: Pulled pork stuffed sweet potatoes

Before you go, check out our slideshow below.

99 easy chicken recipes that get dinner on the table in no time
Image: Rowena Dumlao-Giardina

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