Planning Lunch

Leftovers are great for lunch. They are quick, simple, and generally pretty good for you, assuming you're choosing healthy dinner options. But you can also find yourself bored, particularly if you're having the same soup or casserole day after day. But if you spend just a little time planning, you can create new dishes I like to call "planned-overs". These are simply dishes that are assembled from leftovers, but aren't actually meals you've had before. Here's a recent example:

That bowl has a rice base with sliced grilled chicken, a generous sprinkling of grated garlic white cheddar cheese, and some fresh garlic scape pesto. It's a great lunch with a lot of interesting flavors. The chicken wasn't sliced in its former life — that was part of a big backyard grill-a-thon over the weekend. The pesto was mixed with a pasta salad prior, but not all of it was used. And the cheese was but a handful that had been leftover from pizzas a few days earlier. Each ingredient wasn't really enough for a big meal on its own, but combined, they made a great lunch that didn't take much more time to assemble than a reheat of a previous meal.

I like to keep rice, pasta, or grains on hand in the refrigerator to help build lunch bowls like this regularly. I've also been known to make an impromptu sandwich with English muffins, bagels, and wraps. And if you happen to be lucky enough to have some pita or naan on hand, an individual pizza is just a few minutes away. It's time to start looking at your refrigerator as the treasure trove it is. Instead of letting that little bit of this and that spoil, think about how you can bring them together and call it lunch.

I'm also a fan of adding some fresh vegetables to the mix, too. Some chopped tomato, thinly sliced spinach, or a sprinkle of crunchy snow peas can add brightness to just about any meal. These are also dishes that beg for sauces. Whether you are adding a splash of soy sauce or a drop or two of hot sauce, it's a great time to test flavor combinations. Maybe your next great dinner idea will be born at lunch! And for those days when I don't have a leftover grilled chicken breast or the like and I'm still craving a bit more protein, there's always the option of lightly frying or hard-boiling an egg. They always seem at home in my lunch bowls. Think of it as an opportunity to test some of your meal ideas in a small crucible that allows you to eat your mistakes … because even those tend to be downright delicious!

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