Back-to-Work Leftovers for Lunch

No need to make reservations or stare blankly into the fridge. A mother's perfect midday meal is all about doing leftovers right.
by Lesley Porcelli, Gourmet

Remember that utter exhaustion from college, when you'd pull not one but several all-nighters in a row? And then when all your finals were over, how you'd sleep for 13 hours straight, and then another 12 the next night? Well, the first months of parenthood are like those days of consecutive all-nighters, but without the promise of a good night's sleep anytime in the future, and with a new roommate who likes yelling in your face, to boot.

It's no wonder that new mothers say they can't find time to shower or feed themselves; it's not the time that's really a factor (anyone can strap their howling baby into a bouncy seat for a few minutes) but the brainpower it takes to successfully complete a task under these conditions. (Wait, is it "rinse first" or "lather first?") The fog of sleep deprivation is simply so thick, that even if presented with two pieces of bread, open jars of peanut butter and jelly, and a knife right alongside, it might take a few minutes for a new parent to figure out what to do with them. And you might inexplicably find the jar of peanut butter in the clothes dryer a few days later.

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With that in mind, I have a few lunch suggestions for new parents. Breakfast is an easy one-armed meal, and dinner can always be ordered by phone. But lunchtime is usually when one parent is alone with the baby and still has a long, oppressively sleepy day ahead, and looking into an open fridge can feel as confusing as attempting to read a physics textbook. On the topic of lunch itself, let me offer my credentials and say that long before I had a baby, my packed lunches were often the object of envy and admiration at the office. In other words, I know how to make a good lunch. And you can too.

My weapon of choice is the leftover sandwich. Tip 1: If you've had roast chicken, pork, or beef the night before, congratulations: you've got the makings for a great sandwich. But even regular old lunchmeat or hummus or bean dip can be instantly jazzed up with tip 2: Forget the gratuitous limp leaf of lettuce or slice of insipid, cottony tomato. Instead, raid the vegetables from last night's dinner. Sliced roasted beets, some sautéed broccoli rabe, even some formerly frozen spinach dressed with sesame oil: throw it all on there. Tip 3: Forget regular boring sliced bread. Get a good loaf from the bakery (have them run it through the power-slicer) and keep it in the freezer; just pop two slices off and into the toaster when you're ready to eat. Tip 4: Of course, a full selection of condiments helps too, at least mustard, mayo, horseradish, and chutney; pickles, olives, and avocado don't hurt either. People will occasionally offer to drop in with some groceries, and I know you feel sheepish about asking for more than a container of milk, but make sure your fridge has this stuff as well, and you'll always eat like a queen.

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Next option: The leftover frittata. The best kind is when you have pasta with sauce left over, but too little to make a whole serving. A couple of cooked vegetables or roasted potatoes and sliced up sausage or chorizo is heavenly also. Give your leftovers a good sauté in oil in a little heavy skillet (like cast iron) for a nice crust, add a few beaten eggs and stir until set on the bottom, then stick under the broiler until the top is golden and puffed. You won't believe how much a warm lunch will make you feel as if you'd just accomplished something incredible. And the next day? Pair with leftover vegetables for a leftover frittata and leftover vegetable leftover sandwich.

You may have noticed that leftovers are a key feature in all of these lunch scenarios. This means that you should get into the habit of cooking or ordering a little extra food at dinner time from now on, and never throw anything out, no matter how measly those last two wedges of roast potato or three bites of pasta may seem. But then again, this is hardly a problem for new parents. Really, all you have to do is just be sure to put those leftovers in the fridge at the end of the night, and not in your clothes hamper.

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