Monday, July 21, 2008

Fast and Easy Lunches

Everyone is trying to save money these days. Let's face it, with the costs of food and gas increasing, we are all trying to find ways to economize. Every time I open the Internet, I see another article with the top 10 (5 or 3 - take your pick) ways to save money. In every case, they tell you to stop buying Starbucks coffee (make your own at home), and start carrying your lunch to work, rather than eat out at restaurants.

I actually prefer to make my own food, but I know that cooking is not a top priority in the lives of many other people. Quite a few people out there have never learned to cook or really don't enjoy cooking. These individuals and their families often exist on fast food, convenience foods and boxed mixes rather than taking the effort to prepare healthy meals.

I have one friend who actually buys those apples that are already cored and sliced for her kids, and another friend who buys those potatoes that are already mashed. These conveniences come at a premium, though. Preparing your own food can be fun, more tasty, and cost much less.

The same holds true for lunches. You don't have to open can of soup or box of macaroni and cheese or some other pre-packaged or prepared product. You can put some creative effort into making a quick, easy, and delicious lunch.

First of all, not all great brown bag lunches require cooking in order to prepare. Although some of them may require the use of the microwave and some of them will need to be cooked or at least prepared before hand and reheated. The choices are virtually limitless once you understand the creative concept. And you may also find that many of these ideas are so simple you will wonder why on earth you have never thought of them.

  • Lettuce wraps. These make delightfully delicious lunch treats and the filling can be prepared ahead of time, which leaves only reheating the filling, if necessary, and wrapping when you're ready to eat. Left-overs are great for lettuce wraps. Plan ahead to prepare extra for lunches the next day. This is also a fun lunch to share with your little ones, and helps to add more veggies to their diet. Some people choose to go with a teriyaki inspired filling; my family likes taco inspired fillings for our lettuce rolls. You are perfectly free to come up with a favorite filling of your very own.
  • Try sandwiches with different breads. Believe it or not, I had a difficult time getting my husband to try wraps, but now they are his lunch-time staple with various fillings. Other great ideas include hollowing out crusty rolls and filling them with roast beef and cheddar, or other fillings that your family likes. You can heat this in your oven for a few minutes for a nice sandwich treat. The cooking part is very minimal, and not even required, so you do not have to have in depth knowledge of anything to prepare or enjoy these simple treats. Other bread ideas include croissants with ham and cheese or chicken salad, pitas with any filling (another great favorite in our household), and paninis (this works really well if you have a George Foreman grill or a panini press).
  • Plan ahead for leftovers that make great lunch treats. For example, leftover roast beef, chicken or turkey make wonderful sandwiches. Leftover taco filings make nice taco salad the next day - and, you don't need those big tortilla bowls, use crushed tortilla chips to add some crunch to your salad.

This is by no means the definitive guide to cooking quick and easy lunches, but it is good food for thought. My hope is that this will get your own creative juices flowing so that you can prepare wonderful lunches for your family without the need for too much cooking in the process. Have some fun with your lunches.

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