Ever reflected on how much you spend on lunch every day? Even the dullest sandwich, softdrink and takeaway cappuccino will set you back €10 a day – which works out at a massive €2350 per year!
Taking a pre-packed lunch to work admittedly takes a little time and forward planning but can save a packet of money. Don’t worry – you’ll soon get the hang of it. And with the tips below, you might even get to enjoy it!
- Most of us lack time (and energy) in the morning, so my first tip is to prepare your lunch the night before. Easiest is to do it straight after dinner, especially if there are leftovers that can be used. Surplus meat or chicken (you can even make a little extra for that purpose) can be made into fabulous sandwiches with a lick of garlic mayonnaise or chutney and a few green leaves or a slice of tomato. Leftover vegetables and pastas can be turned into salads or, with the help of a beaten egg, into a filling frittata omelette.
- Buy a few little Tupperware containers of different sizes to take your lunch to the office. It saves buying foil and plastic bags.
- Always include some protein in your lunch – it stops hunger pangs later on and therefore saves money spent on nibbles.
- Buy your drinks in large bottles, then pour into a smaller bottle to bring to work – much cheaper than buying from the office vending machine or nearby shop.
- Soups warm and re-energize in colder weather – bring in a thermos flask if your office doesn’t have a microwave.
- If you bring salads with leaves (lettuce, rocket etc) take the dressing in a separate container. If dressed too early, leaves get soggy. Potatoes, chickpea and bean salads should be dressed beforehand so they soak up the flavours.
- Just before closing time, supermarkets may sell a ready-roast chicken for as little as half price. Eat for dinner then use leftovers to make the chicken salad or wrap below.
- Keep a few rolls, bagels and small baguettes in the freezer. Crisp them up in a toaster or hot oven for a few minutes before using.
- Keep a jar of garlic mayonnaise or chutney in the fridge – they make any basic sandwich into a treat. To make your own delicious garlic mayo, stir freshly crushed garlic into a jar of your favourite mayonnaise – it keeps for ages. For a lighter spread (but one that doesn’t keep) mix a handful of freshly chopped herbs into a tablespoon of fromage frais.
- Grow herbs like parsley, chives, tarragon, thyme and rosemary in a pot or window box. It saves a fortune and you’ll always have fresh herbs at hand.
To put the creative thinking process in motion, I give 4 examples of different categories of lunches to bring to work – a sandwich, a salad, a thick omelette and a spread of something that can be eaten with any type of bread or wrapped in a tortilla. Each one can be adapted a thousand times with different ingredients.
Pick one, then use your imagination and whatever is leftover from dinner or happens to be in the fridge, and make up one.
FRITTATA of PASTA
Frittatas are thick omelettes, sort-of quiches without pastry, ideal for using up leftover pasta. Try adding a handful of leftover vegetables, frozen peas, cherry tomatoes, a sliced pepper or a handful of spinach. Other good combinations are (cooked) courgettes with feta and basil, or cooked potatoes, onions and rashers. You’ll need a 20cm diameter deep-ish frying pan. For 2 servings you need:
3 large eggs
a bowl of leftover pasta (with or without sauce)
4 spring onions, chopped
2 handfuls of cooked leftover vegetables (peppers, peas, French beans…)
handful of freshly chopped herbs
small piece of feta cheese, cubed
In a bowl beat the eggs with the pepper, stir in the cooked pasta, onions, vegetables, herbs and feta. Heat a tablespoon olive oil in a non-stick frying pan until hot and pour in the egg mixture. Turn down the heat and cook for about 8 minutes until firm underneath. Turn over to cook through or heat the grill and finish cooking the omelette on top.
SALAD of CHICKEN, GRAPES and TARRAGON – Enough for one.
large handful of leftover cooked chicken
large handful of green grapes
large sprig of fresh tarragon
2-3 tbsp of mayonnaise or half mayo half yoghurt
Tear the cooked chicken in bite-size pieces, halve the grapes, remove the pips and chop the tarragon. Put everything in a bowl and mix in the mayo. Spread on a baguette or roll or bring along in a Tupperware and eat with rice crackers.
SMOKED MACKEREL or TROUT in FROMAGE FRAIS on BROWN BREAD
Simple, delicious and very quick. Enough for one.
1 fillet of smoked trout or smoked mackerel
2-3 tbsp fromage frais or greek yoghurt
1 tbsp creamed horseradish
freshly milled pepper
chopped dill (or parsley or tarragon)
Flake the fish and mix with the cream, horseradish and herbs. Season with pepper. Eat piled on brown bread.
TORTILLA with LEFTOVER CHICKEN and ROASTED PEPPERS
You can also stuff pitta breads with this kind of mixture. Or try other combinations like a Greek salad with feta, tomato, cucumber and black olives. Or lamb with vegetables and some yoghurt.
Makes 2 wraps:
2 soft flour tortillas
handful of leftover roast chicken (or a small cooked chicken breast)
handful of strips of roasted peppers (see below)
tbsp soured cream (or low-fat fromage frais)
Put a tortilla flat on a board. Place on top 3-4 salad leaves, bits of cooked chicken and peppers and top with soured cream or tomato salsa. Roll up and wrap.
Simply quarter the peppers, remove seeds and membranes, then put skin-side up under the grill. Grill until blackened all over. Transfer to a bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to sit for 10 minutes. Then peel off the black skin and cut into strips.
ADDITIONAL TIPS AND IDEAS
Mix different flavours and textures. Great combinations are:
- leftover roast beef, a handful of rocket and a tablespoon of pesto on a bagel (see photo)
- goatscheese with some chilli or cranberry jam and lettuce on a baguette
- smoked trout or mackerel with fromage frais and horseradish on brown bread
- blue cheese with sliced pears and cranberry sauce on walnut bread
- pieces of chicken with grapes in a garlic or herb mayonnaise with french bread or rice crackers (see photo)
- brie with onion jam and lettuce wrapped in a tortilla
- hummus with crunchy bread and crispy vegetables (you can also make a kind of hummus with crushed white beans from a tin)
- tinned chickpeas (or red kidneybeans) with tuna, cucumber and celery, dressed with vinaigrette – either as a salad or stuffed into a pitta