I almost always bring my lunch to work. It’s a nice treat to go out with a co-worker on occasion or grab the irresistible lamb noodles from the Schezuan spot not far from my office, but I definitely prefer brown-bagging it. It’s gentle on my wallet and beneficial to my overall health.
Because I like cooking, I often rely on dinner leftovers for the next day’s midday meal, but I often try to change up the dish. Boredom scares me. Instead of packing up a leg of roast chicken along with roasted potatoes and sauteed spinach, I’ll pick the chicken off the bone, toss it with salad greens, and crunchy radishes, and maybe some crumbly blue cheese, and I’m a happy camper.
Instead of viewing your dinner leftovers with reluctance, get inspired to take what you’ve got and work some magic into it, or maybe just some good olive oil. On that note, the ideas below will require you have a couple of basics in your arsenal at home each week: fresh lemons, a loaf of your favorite bread, salad greens, and a bottle of olive oil (which you can also keep at your desk).
1. Main Ingredient: Bacon
Dinner: French Toast and Bacon
Breakfast for dinner? Heck, yeah. Pancakes are an acceptable alternative.
Next-Day Lunch: Bacon Salad
Forget about the super boring salad lunch; you’re about to make it better with bacon. Pack your greens (spinach, romaine, or red leaf are my current favorites) and whatever other crunchy veggies you have available. Now, crumble the leftover bacon on top, add a hard-boiled egg if you want to make it more substantial, and dress it with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon, and voila. That’s lunch!
2. Main Ingredient: Hanger Steak
I’m smitten with this cut of beef. Unlike its siblings, ribeye, porterhouse, and filet, the hange is budget-friendly and thin enough that it cooks fairly quickly. You’ll swoon over this sauce. Promise.
Next-Day Lunch: Steak Salad
Your greens are going to love this. Take whatever leftover steak and ’shrooms you’ve got, and after you’ve let them come to room temperature (you technically could pop it in the microwave for 20 seconds, but I wouldn’t), toss the whole mess with your salad. A nice addition is crumbled blue cheese, but that’s just bonus flavor. A final drizzle of olive oil, and you’re ready to eat.
3. Main Ingredient: Salmon
My favorite solo meal is a perfectly cooked piece of pan-seared salmon. The crispy skin is the thing I eat first, which is helpful for this leftover idea since the skin is better devoured immediately. If you can resist eating all of the fish, you’ll have a really great lunch to look forward to.
Next-Day Lunch: Salmon Salad
Grab your greens (you know the drill by now), a lemon and the leftover beans. Pick the salmon apart with a fork so that it’s in nice bite-sized pieces. Add a drizzle of olive oil or even a little dijon mustard, toss it well and eat.
4. Main Ingredient: Chicken Thighs
Dinner: Deviled Chicken Thighs
20 minutes is what stands between you and this meal. And as long as you can stop yourself from eating the whole pan of golden, mustardy thighs, you’ve pretty much got lunch covered too.
Next-Day Lunch: Chicken Sandwich
If you can get your hands on some good bread—ciabatta or whole-wheat sourdough are nice options—you’ll be glad you did. Take the leftover chicken (and residual sauce) and place on bread. Add a sliced avocado for taste and texture and a tomato if you want some color. Personally, I don’t like a dry bite, so I make sure to always pack a small container of mayonnaise or mustard when I’m planning to assemble a sandwich at the office. Oh, and that’s important: Put it together at work to avoid sog and other issues.
5. Main Ingredient: Crispy Broccoli
Place this garlic-leaden dish of vegetables over couscous or brown rice, sprinkle the whole thing with cheese if you’ve got it on hand (romano, asiago, or parm), and you’ve got yourself an easy, meat-less meal.
Next-Day Lunch: Crispy Broccoli Toast
Of course you could eat the brocco over the same grain you enjoyed it with the night before, but there’s no reason to tempt boredom. Instead, grab the good bread (or whatever you’ve got hanging around your freezer—a toaster is a mini-miracle worker), crisp up your bread, warm the broccoli just to room temperature and place on toast with a generous drizzle of olive oil.
6. Main Ingredient: Pork
Dinner: Pork Stir-Fry With Greens
You probably already have most of these pantry-staple ingredients on hand, which always makes trying a new recipe less daunting (and expensive!). This meal could be repeated exactly as is for lunch, but it’s not your only option.
Next-Day Lunch: Pork Stir-Fry Pasta
I haven’t sworn off carbs, and I trust that not everyone reading this has either. The key, I believe, is moderation. Personally, I can only eat so much rice, but I love a bowl of hearty pasta, especially when the weather turns cool. To pull off this meal, you will need to boil water and make pasta, but that’s the extent to which you’ll have to lift a finger. Your leftover stir-fry ingredients meet the cooked pasta, you add a splash of olive oil, and all is well with the world.
7. Main Ingredient: Peppers and Onions
You can substitute a non-meat item for the sausage here. Eggplant would work well as would a couple of portobello mushrooms cut up into quarters. This is a substantial, tasty dish that is a cinch to throw together after a day in the office.
Next-Day Lunch: Grain Bowl With Peppers and Onions
Here you’re doing the reverse of the stir-fry scenario. Whether you’re partial to pasta, rice, or quinoa, it’s likely you don’t want to eat any one of them at every single meal. This is when a little pre-planning and prep comes in handy. Rather than tossing all of the meat and veggies with the pasta, you put a little aside and you save it for lunch to be paired with whatever grain you like.
8. Main Ingredient: Favorite Taco Filling
Dinner: Veggie Tacos
Who doesn’t love tacos for supper? Whatever your filling of choice or your favorite recipe, this is a winning dinner that can easily make you happy at lunch the next day.
Next-Day Lunch: Shell-less Taco Bowl
While you could realistically do tacos part II in the office, assuming there’s a microwave, it’s just easier if you don’t have to pack the taco shells and cheese and taco ingredients in separate containers. To avoid that but still get nearly all the flavor, simply make a shellless taco bowl. Got an avocado on hand? Great—slice it up and add it to your bowl.
Got a great dinner for lunch idea? Tweet it to me @stacespeaks. I’m always looking for cooking inspiration.
Photo of woman preparing dinner courtesy of PeopleImages.com/Getty Images.
Stacey Lastoe started writing short stories in the second grade and is immensely grateful to have the opportunity to write and edit professionally. Her work has appeared in YouBeauty, Refinery29, A Practical Wedding, Runner's World online, and The Billfold among other publications. She enjoys running and eating in equal measure and lives with her husband and dog in Brooklyn. All three of them are avid New York Mets fans. Say hello on @stacespeaks.More from this Author