Fall is here, in all its glory. The air is turning crisp, the leaves are changing colors and the reality is setting in that the lazy days of summer are over. School is back in session, along with extracurricular activities, and many of us are back at the workplace.
The pace has definitely quickened, but it doesn't have to be stressful. A little strategizing can go a long way, especially when it comes to the age-old autumn dilemma — what to pack for lunch.
Whether you're packing for yourself or your kids, it can be a challenge coming up with ideas that are delicious as well as doable on a busy Tuesday morning. Perhaps that's why meal planning has become such a hot topic.
Thinking about all the meals your household will be eating for an entire week or more can seem like a big undertaking. Still, there is something appealing about the idea that at least some of the week's important decisions are made ahead of time.
While you certainly can spend your weekend cooking and packaging all your lunches and dinners, you can also, with just a small amount of planning, leverage the time and effort you put into dinner to make a delicious lunch the next day.
Of course, eating last night's leftovers for lunch or even breakfast (cold pizza, anyone?) isn't revolutionary, but it can be a little boring to eat the exact same thing two days in a row. Planning a dinner with an element that can be transformed into something different for lunch can be a good solution.
A versatile bird
Roasted chicken is always a solid choice, as it makes a lovely meal and can be the basis for endless lunch options. Chicken in a sandwich, chicken salad in a sandwich, chicken in a salad, chicken in a rice bowl — you get the idea. Infusing that chicken with a particular flavor profile can help narrow down the next-day possibilities, as is the case with Butterflied Roasted Chipotle Chicken.
Before we get into the lunch pivot, let's discuss roasting a butterflied chicken. Butterflying involves making a cut on either side of the backbone and removing it. If this sounds like a task you don't want to do yourself, just ask your butcher to do it for you. (Some supermarkets sell them precut in the meat case.) This technique allows you to lay the bird flat on a baking sheet, where the breast meat can be centered in the pan and the legs closer to the outer edge.
Why does this matter? Because a chicken breast is best when cooked to around 150 degrees, while chicken legs are optimal at 170 degrees. Anyone who has ever toasted nuts or browned breadcrumbs in the oven knows that whatever is near the outer edges of the pan will brown more quickly than what's in the center. If the legs are closer to the edge, they'll cook quicker then the breast that's sitting toward the center.
If you infuse that chicken with smoky chipotle flavor, in the form of a compound butter rubbed underneath and over the skin before roasting, you set yourself up for easy and delicious lunchtime tacos. Just shred some of the chicken before putting it away after dinner. Then pack that chicken with a couple of small flour tortillas, shredded cheese, perhaps some shredded lettuce or cabbage and a wedge of lime. Make a quick, creamy topping by mixing an equal amount of sour cream and your favorite salsa — pack it separately, so it doesn't turn your tacos into a soggy mess — and you have a fine lunch with minimal effort.
Pork tenderloin can also be transformed into a satisfying midday meal. Coated with a barbecue spice mix and roasted, as it is in the Sheet Pan Barbecue-Rubbed Pork Loin with Sweet Potatoes, it gives you the beginning of an ultra-satisfying sandwich the next day.
All you need to do is thinly slice the cold pork roast and tuck some into a roll or hamburger bun. Pack some barbecue sauce on the side, along with some creamy coleslaw, and you're all set. Put it all together just before you're ready to eat; that will keep it fresh-tasting and, again, avoid any unpleasant sogginess.
On the side
Side dishes can also be useful when turning dinner into lunch. Curried chickpeas are a good example. While this dish, made with canned chickpeas simmered in a coconut curry, could be a comforting vegan main course, served over rice, it can also be a delicious hearty side dish next to a simple grilled or roasted protein.
The transformation to lunch can be as easy as packing it with lettuce leaves and store-bought chutney and turning it into flavorful lettuce wraps. You can also kick it up a notch by pulling some of the chickpeas out of the sauce with a slotted spoon, mixing in a little mayonnaise (if you haven't tried vegan mayo, you should), toasted sliced almonds and currants, and turning it into a chickpea salad that would be delicious served on lettuce or as a sandwich filling.
And since we're on the subject of sandwiches, we shouldn't neglect the bread or the biscuit used to make them. Yes, biscuits aren't just for breakfast. They also make a tasty accompaniment to dinner, and leftovers can be the foundation for a memorable sandwich, especially when those biscuits are made extra special with the addition of fresh chives and garlic. All they need the next day is to be cut in half and filled with sliced ham, pimento cheese spread or both, and you'll be spending your morning trying not to be too distracted by what's waiting for you in your lunchbox.
Butterflied Roasted Chipotle Chicken
Note: A chipotle-lime compound butter gives this chicken loads of flavor and added moisture. Butterflying a chicken is quick and easy to do, but you can also ask your butcher to do it for you. From Meredith Deeds.
• 1 whole (3 to 4 lb.) roasting chicken
• 1 1/2 tsp. salt, divided
• 1/4 c. unsalted butter, softened
• 1 tbsp. finely chopped canned chipotle chile in adobo
• 1 tsp. freshly grated lime zest
• 1/2 tsp. chili powder
• 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
To butterfly the chicken, place the whole chicken with its breast side down and the drumsticks pointing toward you. The backbone is now on top.
Holding the tail (that is pointing toward you), cut along each side of the backbone with a pair of kitchen shears. Cut all the way through on each side and remove the entire backbone. Once the backbone is removed, you will be able to lay the chicken flat and press down on the breastbone to flatten it.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Sprinkle on both sides with 1 teaspoon salt. Tuck the wing tips under the chicken.
In a small bowl, combine the butter, chipotle chile, lime zest, chili powder, pepper and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Rub mixture under and on skin of chicken.
Place the chicken on a baking sheet, skin side up, and roast 35 to 45 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 150 degrees and the thigh registers 170 degrees (be sure you're not touching bone). Let the chicken rest 10 to 15 minutes before carving.
Sheet-Pan Barbecue-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Sweet Potatoes
Serves 3 to 4, plus leftovers.
Note: A barbecue spice rub and a brush with honey gives the pork a sweet-hot flavor and helps it brown nicely. From Meredith Deeds.
• 1 tbsp. sweet paprika
• 2 tsp. chili powder
• 3/4 tsp. garlic powder
• 3/4 tsp. onion powder
• 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
• 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. ground cayenne
Roast pork and sweet potatoes:
• 4 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
• 1 tsp. salt, divided
• 2 lb. small sweet potatoes, cut into 1 1/2-in. pieces
• 1/4 tsp. black pepper
• 1 tbsp. honey
• 2 tbsp. butter, softened
• 2 lb. pork tenderloins (2 loins), trimmed
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Spray a large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.
In a small bowl, mix together the barbecue rub ingredients.
In a large bowl, combine 2 tablespoons oil with 2 teaspoons of the barbecue rub and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add the sweet potatoes and toss to coat.
In a small bowl, mix together the remaining 2 tablespoons oil with the honey.
Pat pork dry with paper towels and season with remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Rub the tenderloins all over with remaining barbecue rub and brush with honey mixture. Lay tenderloins, side by side without touching, lengthwise in the middle of the same baking sheet. Arrange the sweet potatoes around the pork and roast until pork registers 140 degrees, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer tenderloins to carving board and dot each with 1 tablespoon butter. Tent with aluminum foil and let rest while sweet potatoes finish cooking.
Gently turn the sweet potatoes and continue to roast until they are tender and golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes longer. Transfer to a platter. Cut the pork you're planning to eat for dinner into 1/2-inch-thick slices and place over sweet potatoes, pouring any accumulated juices over top.
Serves 4 as a side, plus leftovers.
Note: Chickpeas, enrobed in a thick, fragrant coconut curry sauce, make a deliciously hearty side dish served alongside a simple protein, or a main dish, served over rice. From Meredith Deeds.
• 1 tbsp. olive oil
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
• 2 tsp. curry powder
• 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
• 1/4 tsp. salt
• 2 (15- to 16-oz.) cans chickpeas, drained
• 1 c. unsweetened coconut milk
• 1 tbsp. lime juice
• 1 tsp. brown sugar
• 1/4 c. cilantro leaves
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and red bell pepper and cook, stirring, for 5 to 6 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic, curry powder, red pepper flakes and salt and cook, stirring, for 1 minute, until fragrant. Add the chickpeas and coconut milk. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring frequently, until the liquid has reduced into a thick sauce. Stir in the lime juice, brown sugar and cilantro. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Serve hot, with rice, if desired.
Buttermilk Chive Garlic Biscuits
Makes 8 biscuits.
Note: It's easy to make homemade biscuits and so worth the effort. Cooking them close together on a baking sheet keeps them from getting too crusty. From Meredith Deeds.
• 3 c. flour, plus more for dusting
• 1/3 c. finely chopped chives
• 1 tbsp., plus 1 tsp. baking powder
• 2 tsp. sugar
• 2 tsp. garlic powder
• 1 1/2 tsp. salt
• 3/4 tsp. baking soda
• 3/4 c. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-in. cubes
• 1 1/4 c. low-fat buttermilk
Preheat to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, chives, baking powder, sugar, garlic powder, salt and baking soda. Cut butter into flour mixture with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Stir in buttermilk, stopping as soon as the dough comes together in a sticky ball. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, sprinkle more flour on top, and gently pat into an 8-inch square, then fold in half; repeat two more times. Pat the dough out so it's 3/4 inch thick and cut out into 2 1/2-inch rounds. Gently gather scraps into a ball, pat out and cut out into more biscuits. Arrange on a parchment lined baking sheet, 1⁄2 inch apart.
Bake until golden brown on top and along the sides, about 18 to 22 minutes.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at email@example.com. Follow her on Instagram at @meredithdeeds.