It often feels as though there are never enough hours in the day, and the last thing you want to have to think about after you’ve cooked an evening meal is what to pack in your lunchbox next day. The good news is that by making the most of leftovers, you can make two meals in one and save money and food along the way!
Save food, save time, save money!
This is about more than just popping a leftover slice or two of pizza into your lunchbox – though of course that’s a great idea too! It’s about planning to have some leftovers. The thinking behind it is that it's more economical to cook in bigger batches, so there are bigger savings to be had by cooking extra at dinnertime with the intention of having some leftovers for lunch next day.
And there’s an added bonus: when you’re cooking bigger batches, it’s easier to make sure everything gets used up in the process – so you’re less likely to end up with leftover bits and pieces that are harder to use up on their own, like half a carton of cream, a single chicken fillet or half a cabbage.
Arm yourself with some small reusable containers and get ready to join the lunchbox leftovers revolution…
Making the most of leftovers
Let’s start with some options that involve little or no extra spending to turn leftovers into a lunch. Some good dinner-into-lunchbox menu options are:
● Pasta - it’s easy to scale up a pasta-based dinner so that you have a leftover portion for your lunchbox next day.
● Fishfingers - cook a couple of extra and use them to make fishfinger sandwiches the next day.
● Chilli con carne - leftover chilli works well in a foil-wrapped soft tortilla wrap.
● Meatballs - these go well on their own or in sandwiches. Make a few extra and pop them in a small reusable container with some leftover tomato sauce.
● Risotto - make some extra risotto and use it to conjure up some delicious cheese-stuffed arancini balls, which are simple to make and perfect finger food for a lunchbox.
● Chicken fajitas - make an extra one and wrap it in foil ready for next day.
Of course, you don’t always need to make bigger batches at dinnertime to end up with leftovers, so you can also take advantage of lunchtime to use up anything you couldn’t finish, bulked out with a couple of extra ingredients if necessary. Roasted a chicken, leg of lamb or joint of beef? Make the leftover meat into a healthy salad, or make a delicious roast meat sandwich with some mayo, mustard or chutney.
Alternatively, add leftover chicken to a tortilla wrap or pitta with any leftover lettuce, tomatoes, spring onions and mayo, or chop up the leftover meat and veg and mix it with couscous and some gently warming spices for a quick and easy lunch.
The UK throws away the equivalent of 86,000 whole lettuces a day*, so if you’ve got some left from last night, don’t throw it in the bin! Put it in a small reusable container box of its own as a nutritious side for your lunchbox, keeping the dressing separate so that the leaves don’t go soggy.
For carrots, the figure thrown away is even higher – 2.7 million! If you’ve got a carrot or two to use up, try chopping it up into batons and including it in your lunchbox with some houmous for dipping.
Fruit and sweet treats
920,000 whole bananas are thrown away every day in the UK, and 800,000 whole apples. Take a piece of fruit to work with you, or chop up a few different fruits and make them into a tasty fruit salad to go in your lunchbox.
If you have some bananas that are past their best, transform them into banana bread and include a slice in your lunchbox each day - it’ll last for a few days in an airtight container, and anything you don’t use can be frozen for another day.
Don’t forget, breakfast can be a source of leftovers, too. If you find yourself with more pancakes than you can eat on a Sunday morning, why not include them as a dessert for Monday’s lunchbox?
Enjoying leftovers safely
Make sure you enjoy your leftovers safely by following these tips:
• Cool any leftovers quickly, cover them and store them in the fridge at less than 5 degrees Celsius.
• Leftovers stored in the fridge should be eaten up within two days. Rice/ rice dishes within 24 hours.
• When you get to work, pop your lunch in the fridge until you’re ready to eat it.
• At lunchtime, re-heat your lunch in the microwave until it’s piping hot.
• Rice can be eaten cold if it is cooled down quickly. Keep it in the fridge and consume within 24 hours. When re-heating rice, make sure it’s piping hot.
Getting creative and making the most of leftovers is a great way to save money, time and food – and by planning ahead, you can save even more by cooking in bulk. Why not use our portion planner to help you plan extra portions to save for lunch?