Sure, packing your own lunch for work every day can save money. But what about your sense of adventure?
When you bring a lunch from home instead of venturing to the cafeteria or the nearby sandwich shop, it’s up to you to keep it interesting.
The pay-off can be big, both in savings and flavor, especially if you plan ahead and incorporate leftovers from dinner.
Freeze leftover soup or stew on the weekend for lunch during the week, suggested Autumn Faughn, marketing and community relations specialist for Whole Foods Market in Milwaukee.
“Many recipes for soups and stews taste even better the second day, after their flavors have had time to mingle,” Faughn added. As the weather warms up, think chilled soups.
For now, Faughn suggested an Ethiopian Chickpea Stew paired with a green salad or some naan bread for a well-rounded lunch that’s as interesting as it is colorful.
You can double your favorite stew or casserole and freeze single servings.
Weekends also are a good time to pre-portion snacks like cookies, fresh fruit and vegetables into single servings for weekday lunches.
Rotisserie chickens are a quick meal solution. Have chicken for dinner, and then turn the leftovers into a spicy Asian take on chicken salad, served in a whole grain tortilla, rolled up and wrapped with aluminum foil for easy transport.
Faughn suggested eight simple sandwiches she considers “sandwich epiphanies” for lunch at your desk:
• Try alternative seed or nut spreads like tahini or cashew butter with jam.
• Pair creamy smoked Gouda with sliced apples on pecan raisin bread.
• Layer garlic hummus with ripe tomatoes and sharp cheddar cheese on spelt bread.
• Try roasted yellow peppers, ripe tomatoes and a spread of cream cheese on a French baguette.
• Stuff pita bread with sliced chicken breast, lightly dressed spinach salad and purple onions.
• Spread ham salad on rye bread with dill pickles.
• Sandwich deli-roasted veggies and pepper jack cheese between slices of olive bread.
• Arrange cream cheese and apple or cucumber slices on sourdough raisin bread.
Instead of using plastic sandwich bags, try wax paper sandwich bags.
“Easier on the environment, and, you know, it’s like unwrapping a little present every time you sit down at the lunch room table,” said Margaret Bert Mittelstadt, communications director for Outpost.
Here’s a recipe for dinner, and leftovers for lunch the next day, from Whole Foods. It looks intimidating, with all those ingredients, but most are seasonings.
ETHIOPIAN CHICKPEA STEW
Makes 6 servings
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1‚Ñ2 teaspoon ground allspice
1‚Ñ2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1‚Ñ2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1‚Ñ2 teaspoon ground cloves
1‚Ñ2 teaspoon ground coriander
1‚Ñ4 to 1‚Ñ2 teaspoon cayenne
1‚Ñ4 teaspoon ground fenugreek (optional)
1‚Ñ2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 quart vegetable broth
1 pound red potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Stir together paprika, salt, allspice, black pepper, cardamom, cloves, coriander, cayenne, fenugreek (if using) and ginger in a small bowl; set spice mixture aside. Toss chickpeas with a tablespoon of the oil in a large bowl then arrange on a large baking sheet in a single layer. Roast chickpeas, stirring occasionally, until somewhat dried out and just golden brown, 16 to 18 minutes; set aside.
Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add garlic, onions and chopped ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft and golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes.
Stir in reserved spice mixture and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until spices are toasted and very fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomato sauce and cook 2 minutes more. Stir in broth, potatoes, carrots and reserved chickpeas and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until potatoes and carrots are just tender, about 20 minutes. Uncover pot and simmer until stew is thickened and potatoes and carrots are very tender, about 25 minutes more. Ladle stew into bowls and serve with flatbread on the side.
Thai curry paste is a mixture of chile, garlic, galangal, shallots and spices. Keep it on hand for an added flavoring kick when making simple sauces, salad dressings or sandwich spreads. Serve this lunch with fresh fruit; sliced apples are a great match.
GREEN THAI COCONUT CURRY CHICKEN WRAPS
Makes 4 servings
1‚Ñ2 cup regular or light coconut milk
1 tablespoon Thai green curry paste (see note)
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
11‚Ñ4 cups shredded cooked chicken
1‚Ñ4 cup shredded carrots
2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions
2 tablespoons chopped roasted peanuts (optional)
4 whole wheat (8 inches) tortillas or wraps
1 cup shredded green leaf lettuce
In a medium bowl, whisk together coconut milk and curry paste until smooth.
Stir in cilantro, chicken, carrots, green onions and peanuts and toss to coat. Arrange tortillas in a single layer on a flat surface. Place one-quarter of chicken mixture down the center of each tortilla.
Top with lettuce and roll up tortillas burrito-style, tucking ends in and wrapping each up snugly.
Halve each crosswise and serve immediately or wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to eat.
Note: This recipe was tested as is, but the tester suggested adding slightly more curry paste and less coconut milk to kick up the flavor.
Here’s a recipe for a cold salad from Outpost that will add color to your lunch and beta carotene to your diet. They will stain, so protect your work surface when making the salad.
BEET SALAD WITH PUMPKIN SEEDS
Makes about 4 servings
2 pounds raw beets, without stems and leaves
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1‚Ñ2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon finely chopped, fresh basil
1‚Ñ4 teaspoon salt
1‚Ñ8 teaspoon black pepper
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1‚Ñ4 cup roasted, salted pumpkin seeds
1‚Ñ2 cup finely chopped green onions
Scrub beets and steam until soft. Remove from heat and cool.
Peel and quarter beets. Thinly slice each quarter piece into 1‚Ñ2-inch slices. Place in bowl.
Whisk together balsamic vinegar, mustard, basil, salt and pepper. Add olive oil and whisk until well combined. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.
Pour dressing over beets. Add pumpkin seeds and green onions to beets. Gently toss to combine.
Here’s an interesting substitution for those who enjoy egg salad, but not the fat and cholesterol that go with it.
EGGLESS EGG SALAD
Makes 31‚Ñ2 cups
1 pound firm plain tofu
1‚Ñ2 cup finely diced red onion
2 ribs celery, finely diced
1‚Ñ2 cup mayonnaise
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
13‚Ñ4 teaspoons turmeric
1‚Ñ2 teaspoon salt
1‚Ñ4 teaspoon black pepper
Crumble tofu into a bowl.
Add onion and celery and stir into crumbled tofu.
In separate bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, mustard, turmeric, salt and pepper.
Add dressing to tofu and mix well. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Note: If you want to substitute eggs for tofu, use 4 hard-boiled eggs and crumble them with a fork.