Make a Healthy Lunch with Leftovers

Megan O. Steintrager


I often say that the only people who don't like leftovers are those who don't have to cook for themselves. I have no problem eating the same dinner two or three nights in a row, but since our current Doable Challenge is about Healthy Homemade Lunches, this week I'd like to focus on leftovers for lunch rather than dinner. Having a healthy midday meal can be as simple as doubling up on a healthy dinner that reheats well, like soup, stew, or chili, or making extra of a pasta or pilaf that tastes as good at room temperature as it does hot. Or, you can make a double, triple, or quadruple batch of staples like grains, pasta, or beans, to be used through out the week. I also often use a number of different leftover "scraps" (a bit of cooked fish, chicken, or steak, a hard boiled egg, roast vegetables) along with some quinoa or whole wheat pasta and greens to make a hearty salad for lunch. Registered dietitian Tina Ruggierio, who I interviewed for the lunch challenge, takes a similar approach with sandwiches: She mashes leftover cooked salmon with Greek-style yogurt and capers for a satisfying sandwich filling. Read on for ways to use leftover fish, chicken, vegetables, pasta, and grains. Your challenge for this week is simple: Utilize leftovers for at least one healthy lunch.

Fish: As Kerry covered in her blog about cookbooks aimed at making inspiring kids' lunches, a dish like J.M. Hirsch's Lemon-Paprika Roasted Salmon can be used to make salads and "deconstructed sushi." Or use any leftover cooked fish you have in salad and sandwich recipes that call for canned fish.

Chicken: Leftover homemade roast chicken or store-bought rotisserie chicken is perfect for lunchtime salads like the Asian Chicken and Cabbage Salad I covered in my blog about salads for lunch. Or try this recipe for Garlic-Rosemary Roast Chicken, which comes with companion recipes for Greek Chicken Salad and Thai Noodles with Chicken. Leftover cooked chicken, whether roast, grilled, poached, or baked, is nice for sandwiches like Ruggiero's Extreme Makeover Chicken Salad Sammy, as well, so it makes sense to always make extra when cooking chicken.

See more: Indulgent, Delicious Breakfasts

Vegetables: Steamed and sauteed veggies are great, but I think the intense flavor and toothsome texture of roasted vegetables makes them work really well in sandwiches like this Herbed Goat Cheese and Roasted Vegetable Sandwich and salads like this Mediterranean Couscous Salad with Roasted Vegetables. Or for something warm, toss them with couscous and some curry powder to make a quick take on Chickpea Curry with Roasted Cauliflower and Tomatoes or Curried Couscous with Roasted Vegetables, Peach Chutney, and Cilantro Yogurt (bring along a separate container of plain yogurt and/or store-bought chutney to add at lunchtime).

Beans: Leftover cooked beans can be added to salads, like White Bean Salad or Quinoa and Black Bean Salad, or used to make chili, like this Turkey Chili that also uses leftover cooked turkey (it would work well with chicken, too), or mashed and used as a filling for sandwiches and wraps. For example, you could use just about any kind of leftover cooked bean to make the hummus in the Hummus and Feta Sandwiches on Whole Grain Bread pictured above.

Pasta, Noodles, and Grains
: When it comes to pasta or noodle salad recipes, I've found you can improvise quite a bit and use whatever cooked pasta or grain you have on hand, say, by using leftover whole wheat linguini instead of rice noodles in this Thai Chicken Salad.


See more from Epicurious:
Delicious Lunch Box Recipes for Kids
Taste Test: 3 Addictive Peanut Butters
Your New Favorite Chicken Recipe