If you’re tired of supermarket sandwiches or feeling out of pocket, read on. Hannah Burton has a bevy of make-ahead lunch recipes that will save you time and money…
As the clock nears 1pm every day, the Fed Up & Drunk team invariably starts the ‘what’s for lunch’ discussion, and of late, it’s not been a cheery one. We’re all bored of our regular lunch spots, but other, more enticing options are just a bit too expensive, or it’s too rainy to go far in search of the perfect lunch. I’m a packed-lunch girl; always have been, and apart from the occasional Brie panini for a treat, always will be. Part of this is my horribly indecisive nature: if I bought lunch every day I’d be opening myself up to a world of buyer’s regret. But, if I’m honest, the main reason is money – I’m on an economy drive at the moment so I just can’t justify buying lunch. And those lunches do add up.
Say you’re quite frugal or are fortunately situated nearby budget-friendly options, and spend £3 a day on lunch. That is a spending of £735 a year. For the not so thrifty, a £5 lunch every day would set you back £1225 a year. If you’re also buying hot drinks and average £7 a day, that’s a whopping £1715 a year spent on lunch. I understand that for a lot of people, that’s fine; the convenience outweighs the cost, but for people wanting to save money, lunch is a great way to start.
Whenever I have this conversation with lunch-buyers, the main argument that comes up is ‘I haven’t got time to make my lunch in the evening’, closely followed by ‘I’d get bored just eating a sandwich every day’. Those are all very valid points, but I certainly don’t spend hours every night making packed lunches, and I’d die of boredom eating sandwiches every day too.
One of the most helpful tips for getting organised with making your own lunch is to plan ahead. If you’re doing something with chicken for dinner, cook more than you need so you have leftovers ready for lunches. I often roast a chicken on a Sunday specifically for lunches during the week, as it reduces prep time drastically. Here are some quick, tasty lunch ideas to get you out of your lunch-rut, whether you buy it or bring it.
Quinoa is a great source of protein and it only takes about 20 minutes to cook. Here’s a recipe for big portion that will work as lunch or sides for dinner for three or four days – perfect for making at the weekend ready for the week’s lunches.
Cook a 300g pack of quinoa for about 20 minutes on the hob. While that’s bubbling away, lightly fry two red peppers for a few minutes, until they’re slightly softened. Finely chop a pack of basil leaves and grate 50g of parmesan. When the quinoa is drained and ready to go, put it in a mixing bowl and add the peppers, basil, 1 tbsp of lemon juice, 2 tbsp of olive oil and mix together. Add the grated Parmesan and the end. This works as a great side dish to meat or fish, so you could add in some leftover chicken, but it’s filling and satisfying enough to enjoy alone for a quick lunch. You can really add whatever you want to quinoa, so get creative. I prefer to heat it up for two minutes in the microwave before eating, but it makes a good cold dish too.
Paprika chicken with roasted vegetables
Dust a couple of chicken breasts with paprika and cook them in the oven at 180C. Put a dish of cauliflower (lightly drizzled in olive oil) in the oven at the same time. After about 20 minutes, add in some broccoli and peppers to the cauliflower dish. When the chicken has been in the oven for 30 minutes, remove everything from the oven, chop up the chicken and add it to the dish with the veg, making sure to add in any cooking juices. Mix it all around and crumble over some blue cheese or feta. Dish this up into two Tupperware containers and you have lunch for 2 days with minimal effort.
Pearl barley risotto with chorizo
BBC Good Food is a brilliant resource for foodies, and that’s where we found one our favourite lunch options – pearl barley risotto with chorizo. Although it’s not the healthiest of meats, chorizo is great for lunches because it’s so flavoursome that you really don’t need to use very much at all. This recipe has a longer cooking time, but it requires minimum effort so still belongs in this post. We tend to make this big portion on a weekend then divide it up between Tupperwares for four lunches.
Slice a 225g chorizo ring and fry for 3-4 minutes over a medium heat. It’s ready when it’s golden and the pan is full of the meat oil. Remove and set aside for later. Put a finely chopped onion and garlic clove into the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes until they soften. Pour in 300g of pearl barley, stir so it’s coated in the oil then tip in a 400g can of chopped tomatoes and 1l of hot chicken stock (made from one stock cube). Bring it to the boil then turn the temperature down to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. When all the liquid has been absorbed, stir in the chorizo and 2 stalks of finely chopped rosemary.
Pork and vegetable couscous
Couscous is perfect for lunch as it’s so easy to make –you just need to soak it in hot water for 5-10 minutes and then it’s ready to use in all manner of delicious dishes. You can then add in whatever you want to flavour it – I like to toss a little paprika on small chunks of red onion, red and yellow peppers and a couple of sticks of celery and heat it in a wok for about five minutes. If you’re looking for a really easy peasy meal, buy ready-flavoured couscous – Ainsley Harriot does a lovely roasted vegetable one and a pack will provide two generous portions, but make sure you still add in some veg to make the meal a bit more interesting and filling.
To give this lunch some protein, add in some chicken or pork. Leftover Sunday lunch meat is perfect for this as it’s already been cooked so you just need to chop up a few pieces, but you can very easily prepare your own. Chop up small pieces of pork (I use shoulder as it’s cheap) and coat them in flour and a little salt and pepper, then fry in a small amount of olive oil on a medium heat for about 10 minutes, turning regularly. You can do this whilst your couscous is soaking and at the same time as your veg. When the couscous is ready, add in the veg and the pork.
Put a couple of handfuls of rocket, cherry tomatoes and lettuce in your Tupperware, then pile on the couscous and pork. If you want to add a bit more texture, you could scatter in a few chunks of cheese. You can eat this cold or heat it up in a microwave for two minutes to make the cheese nice and gooey.
Pesto chicken wraps
This one is close to a sandwich but a nice, quick option, particularly for those with shorter lunch breaks. Put a dollop of pesto onto a chicken breast and bake it in the oven for 30 minutes at 180C. After about 15 minutes, add some peppers and onion, or any other vegetables you fancy. When the chicken is cooked, remove everything from the oven and chop it up into small pieces. Depending on how much pesto you like, you could now add in another scoop of it, making sure to coat the chicken and veggies. Take a tortilla wrap and lay down some lettuce and rocket, then pile in the filling. It might be easier to make two less filled wraps rather than one that’s overflowing – you might be eating this at your desk, after all. If you fancy it, add a sprinkling of cheddar, some shavings of parmesan or a few cubes of feta, then wrap it up. At work, eat cold, or if you’re lucky enough to have a toastie maker, grill it for a couple of minutes.
Super quick wrap lunch
This isn’t revolutionary and it is heading firmly into sandwich territory, but it’s tasty, easy and ideal for those who work through lunch so need something mess-free. Take two tortilla wraps and lightly spread Philadelphia over both. Tear up handfuls of rocket and scatter over both wraps, then tear up some slices of Parma ham and place on one wrap. Place one top of the other so you have a giant wrap sandwich then cut into triangles the same way you’d cut a pizza. These also work really well as finger sandwiches if you’re doing an afternoon tea.
If Hannah’s recipes have inspired you to don that apron and get into the kitchen, you’ll love all our other recipe posts.