Lunchboxes made easy with leftovers

Turn tonight’s leftovers into tomorrow’s healthy - and appetising - school lunch with these clever ideas.

Preparing healthy lunches for your kids is no easy feat – especially when you’re trying to coordinate breakfast, uniforms and gear for the day’s activities, as well as get yourself ready. Rather than trying to make something from scratch in the midst of the morning frenzy, why not get creative with dinner leftovers, and prep school lunchboxes the night before? 

“By using leftovers, you’re not throwing food out unnecessarily,” says Kate Di Prima, accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia. “Plus if kids enjoyed it the night before, they’ll be more inclined to eat it for lunch because it’s a familiar taste, smell and texture, presented in a different format.” 

Some “reimagined” dinner leftovers may also be more nourishing than typical lunchbox offerings like the trusty Vegemite or cheese sandwich. “The problem with [packing simple sandwiches for children] is you’re then stuck with trying to get their five serves of vegetables into the one meal at night - whereas if you use last night’s leftovers, you’re staggering it per meal,” says Di Prima. Here are five ways to repurpose dinner as a lunchbox filler.

Dinner leftover… Cooked spaghetti
Turn it into… Noodle omelette
“This is a good source of protein and carbohydrate - and a nifty way of sneaking in some vegetables,” says Julie Meek, accredited practising dietitian, speaker and author. Simply place some thinly sliced onion, zucchini and tomato into a baking dish, top it with leftover spaghetti, pour over eight lightly beaten eggs, then sprinkle with grated reduced-fat cheese. Bake it in the oven until it’s set, then cut into slices to pop into your child’s lunchbox.
Dinner leftover… Casserole

Turn it into… A protein-rich dip
Leftover beef or chicken casserole can easily be transformed into a dip for kids to enjoy with cut-up vegetables or wholegrain crackers. “Simply blend it in a food processor with some plain yoghurt to turn it into a paste,” suggests Di Prima. “You can also use it as a spread on sandwiches – it’s a high-protein, iron-rich option and also means you don’t have to put too much salad in there, because [there are vegetables] in the dip already.”
Homemade pizza
Dinner leftover… Homemade pizza and salad

Turn it into… A kid-friendly antipasto platter
“On Sunday nights in my household, my husband often makes homemade pizza and I cut up whatever is left over into strips, then roll them up like sushi rolls,” says Di Prima. She suggests teaming this with any leftover salad ingredients, for instance, cucumber or cherry tomatoes, and serving it as a deconstructed salad, to give kids a range of things to snack on. “Another option is if you have leftover chops, you could cut them into strips and then put in a pot of yoghurt with lemon juice and coriander as a dipping sauce,” suggests Di Prima. 

Dinner leftover… Bolognaise sauce 

Turn it into… Burritos
“This one is a winner in the lunchbox and a good source of protein, iron, carbohydrate and vegetables,” says Meek. To make it, place some leftover mince in a wrap along with diced tomato, lettuce, avocado and grated cheese, and you have a healthier burrito. Another option is to put those ingredients into rice-paper rolls, which have the added benefit of being easy for kids to hold. Leftover mince is also great in a toasted sandwich, with thinly sliced tomato and cheese. 

Dinner leftover… Roast vegetables

Turn it into… Mini frittatas 
Put a new spin on leftover roast vegetables by popping a small amount into each base of a muffin tin, topping it with a few baby spinach leaves, then pouring over some beaten eggs. Bake for around 40 minutes, until browned on top, for tasty mini frittatas. “This is a good source of fibre, beta-carotene if you include orange vegetables, and also choline from the egg yolk, which is important for brain neurotransmitters[health],” says Meek.

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