No More Number 4 Combos…

Fabulous Friday!!  What better time to continue our thrifty examination of nutritious lunch options?  To get us ready for next week, I’d like to outline some basic strategies that I’ve used to prevent fast food infractions.  Take a look and, if you are a lunch eater outer (my daughter’s nomenclature), maybe it’s time to take a baby step and choose one strategy to try next week.  If you already bring lunch, but find that your mid-day meal is a little yawnsville, maybe one of these strategies can add a little skip to your step.

Option 1: Big Sis made some awesome suggestions for Straight-Up and Mix It Up Leftovers  Remember… the remains of last night’s dinner will not stay edible; they will begin the inevitable transformation that occurs in the back corner of your refrigerator that ends with a mysterious noxious odor.  (Ever thrown a food storage container away JUST TO AVOID OPENING IT?  Yes, you have.  I have too.)  To add to the grocery list?  Slightly more for each dinner you prepare and a container to put it in if you don’t have a plastic yogurt tub you can use.  Done.

Here’s one of our favorite (super cheap) family dinners that makes plenty of leftovers, freezes beautifully, and is very flexible, so you can add other elements to it as you see fit.  We always make a double batch and lately I’ve been adding sauteed mushrooms and celery.  This recipe came from a fun old book on my shelf, The Tightwad Gazette.  If you come across a copy at a yard sale or second hand book store, grab it.  There are a lot of thrifty treasures in there.

Leftoverlicious Lentil Casserole – I always double this.

  • 3c veggie or chicken broth
  • 3/4c lentils
  • 1/2c brown rice
  • 3/4c chopped fresh onion
  • 1/2t sweet Basil
  • 1/4t oregano
  • 1/4t thyme
  • 1 clove garlic, mashed
  • 1/2c shredded cheese (Completely Optional)

I have found the Crock Pot to be the best method for this casserole.  Place all ingredients in crock.  Cook on low for 2 hours, high for 2 hours.  If you are using cheese, spread it on the top of the casserole for the last 25 minutes of cooking.  I assume you could simply leave it on low for longer, but I usually need it to be done sooner rather than later.  So there you are, a hands-off Sunday dinner that will make lunch too!

Option 2: Burritos/Wraps/Sandwiches  Big Sis mentioned using your leftovers in many clever ways and one of the smartest disguises is plopping that stuff in a tortilla and adding whatever salsa or veggie dip floats your boat.  Or throw a bunch of veggies you don’t usually eat on a sandwich into a wrap with some kind of sauce or spread.  That takes about 30 seconds.  Wrap it up and put it in bag with a piece of fruit and a carrot, another 30.  1 minute express lunch.  To add to your grocery list?  A package of whole grain tortillas or flatbread, salsa, and wax paper to wrap.  Done.

Option 3: Weekend Prep.  Weekend prep may mean making a casserole or whipping up a large batch of beans and rice or something else that is sort of flexible – remember that riffing on a theme idea?  Beans and rice with cheese and salsa; beans and rice with tomatoes and lemon juice; beans and rice with soy sauce, peas and spring onions;  beans and rice with mango and cilantro; beans and rice with sour cream, chili powder and lime juice.  You get the idea.  Not a bean fan?  Quinoa is another heavy hitter in this department as it has protein built right in.  Just make a ginormous pot of quinoa and then riff on it all week, using various bits or adding small portions of leftovers that you would normally throw away because they’re “too small to keep.”  To add to your grocery list?  Beans and rice or quinoa, some bits to go with if you don’t have any of those listed above.  Container if you don’t have one.  Done.

Option 4: The Random Grab One of my all-time favorite bagged lunches included whole grain bread, an avocado, and an apple.  Grab all three, throw in bag (with knife carefully wrapped) – 40 seconds.  At work spread avocado on bread (and sprinkle with a little salt if you’re me).  Eat until almost satisfied.  Eat the apple.  Done.  Delish.  I’ve also been know to random grab handfuls of things and snack throughout the day rather than having a specific lunch.  This would look more like grabbing the bag of almonds, a piece of fruit, a cucumber (or some other hand holdable vegetable), some cheese.  Done.  Munch.  To buy at the store?  The beauty of the random grab, is that you don’t technically have to buy anything extra at the store.  I must confess that the random grab approach assumes some level of pantry proficiency.  If you are not at least scoring an average in pantry proficiency, I would suggest one of the other options. 😉

Option 5: The Backup Plan If you are fortunate enough to have a refrigerator where you work, it may be in your best interest to keep a backup plan there.  For me this was good bread and peanut butter.  While I love both, it is not something I would choose to eat on a daily basis; however, if I was unable to get lunch together or needed a snack, or when I was pregnant with twins and it was time for third breakfast, there was my friend the bread with peanut butter.  Add a few raisins and you’ve got yourself a party.  How about trying some hummus instead?  Prepare it on Sunday and take it in to work in a container on Monday with your nice bread or whole grain crackers.  To buy at the store?  Whole grain bread, peanut butter, hummus ingredients if that’s the way you want to roll.  Container if you need one.  Done.

You never need order from the Dollar Menu again, or refer to your lunch as a Number 4 Combo.  Now start researching vacation possibilities and thinking about how nice it will be to not feel completely tired and little sicky-full for an hour and a half after lunch every day.

56 responses

  1. I babysit a neighbor’s kids all day every Friday. With 3 toddlers under foot all day, dinner is always a crap shoot. Thanks for this recipe. It’s going in my crock-pot now. And will hopefully provide plenty of leftovers for me to eat when I get home after racing my half marathon tomorrow. I will certainly be too tired to prepare something then!

    • If you want lots leftover, be sure to double. That’s what I do, and then if it looks like WAY too much, I just freeze some. Works like a charm. Good luck today, by the way. And kudos on the half marathon tomorrow!

      • Oooh, good to know, just got the bigger kidlets out the door for school so going to do it now. Thanks for the kudos! I need it!

      • Forgot to mention I added a tomato, 2 diced stalks of celery, and a couple diced carrots. I can’t help it – my youngest eats veggies best when mixed in with the main course 😉 I can’t get Andrew Bird out of my head now after looking at your post again – (nomenclature, seriously worth a watch)

        I like his voice on the album better, but watching him perform is pretty amazing

      • SO glad you added what your family loves. With my pickiest one simple is best. She’ll eat other veggies on the side, but it’s all we can do to keep everything from touching too much. 😉

      • Just finished it off. Seriously licking the container clean! I love that she will eat veggies on the side, my older child will, but not the younger one for sure. Plant based has been the hardest on him, but he is doing well!

    • You go Ms. Half Marathon. That is very cool. Little Sis gave me this recipe a while back and it is one of my 11 year old’s favorite dinners. So easy, even my husband can make it ; ) (He’s a little challenged in the kitchen.)

      • Aw shucks! Thanks! Wait for my next post. I really think anyone can do it! I am sure I will do fine, I’m interested to see how it goes because this is my first ‘plant powered’ race. One thing that I have noticed though is that since going plant based I have far less muscle soreness after I run, it’s nearly non-existent. Super cool.

        My husband can cook, but only does if I have the flu or some other catastrophe. Good on your hubby for trying!

  2. I love how you break out the approaches here, because part of learning to eat more healthfully and to eat more of your own food is a matter of developing new habits. Thanks for presenting an easy summary of some new habits!

  3. I’m a stay at home mom, but being out and about while running errands or heading out for play dates can often leave us feeling hungry. That the old “grab a bar” lroutine gets really old (and unhealthy) really fast. Love your grab n go ideas- fast, easy, and oh so practical! I’m interested in checking out that casserole recipe, too. I’m interested in crock-pot meals that don’t include a can of condensed cream of something or other. And I’ve never cooke lentils before either… Lots of good stuff in one post- thanks!

      • I’m in the middle of making weekly meal plans along with grocery lists for each of them. I’ve got 7 weeks planned and 5 grocery lists completed (time consuming!). I’m going to blog about it once I’m done, but I’m going to add an 8th week and I’ll be adding your lentil casserole to it, for sure. I’ll definitely keep you posted! 🙂

      • Wow! THAT’s impressive planning. I struggle to do a week at a time and invariably change it once it’s in progress. I am delighted my lentils will be included in your plans, short or long term. 🙂

    • Thanks so much for the lovely compliment – and you’re right, both about thrifty healthy lentils and about my sister and I staying close. We’re having a ball “working” together across the miles. Fantastic to see you here!

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  6. This is a great collection of recipes and the Casserole is awesome! Hope you are having a great weekend and thank you so much for sharing with Full Plate Thursday.
    Come Back Soon!
    Miz Helen

  7. My hubby isn’t a lentil fan, but I am. Thinking about making this for myself and then adding different veggies or sauces to make lunches for myself from the leftovers.

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  13. Tried this last night ;minus the cheese and plus some parsnips. Reminded me of ’60’s era vegetarian meal (and I loved the dish, by the way) and carefully watched as my Hubbin’ ate his. He’s mostly meat and potatoes but very willing to try whatever I’m making. He liked it and ate seconds!

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