Don't resign yourself to a boring sandwich for lunch every day; add a little spice to your life with easy homemade lunches that you can prepare in advance or on the spot. Entice little ones or yourself with an attractive arrangement of healthy choices or make salads that stay fresh in the fridge for days. Transform leftovers from last night's dinner into refreshing, new meals in 15 minutes.
Prepare a healthy mixed plate of fresh veggies, fruit, crackers and nuts. Cut carrots, cucumbers and celery sticks in advance, keep them fresh in containers in the fridge for up to two days. Arrange the vegetables on a section of the plate around a serving of your favorite creamy salad dressing as a dip. Buy a light salad dressing if you are watching your fat intake. On another section of the same plate, add apple slices, a few grapes and a handful of your favorite nuts. Keep the apple slices looking their best by spritzing them with lemon juice. Try dipping your fruit in a creamy blue cheese dressing. Buy nuts such as almonds and pistachios in larger bags and store them in airtight containers. They'll last at least one week, typically longer, and you can enjoy them as part of your lunch and as a healthy snack. Finish the mixed plate with several crackers; whole wheat crackers add to the overall healthy theme of the mixed plate. Even young kids will love this assortment of finger foods and dips. If your kids are younger than 5, cut the grapes into quarters to prevent choking hazards.
Make homemade pasta salad filled with your favorite ingredients in around 15 minutes. The beauty of this meal is that it lasts in the fridge for at least three days. Get creative with the type of pasta that you use; shells, twists and elbow macaroni work beautifully. While the pasta is boiling, gather the remaining ingredients. Try adding raisins, pecans, sunflower seeds in addition to a bag of cut frozen vegetables. Add the frozen vegetables to the pasta water during the last few minutes of cook time. Drain the pasta and the vegetables, mix in the other ingredients and then bind it all together with your favorite Italian salad dressing. For creamy pasta salads, add a few tablespoons of mayonnaise to the Italian dressing or use a creamy salad dressing. Serve with crackers and pickles.
Make a fresh and delicious chicken salad using leftover baked, grilled or sauteed chicken. You can also use a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store to make a chicken salad that suits your personal tastes. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces, then mix it in a bowl with chopped celery, sliced seedless grapes, chopped pecans or walnuts. This is your chicken salad, so get creative with the ingredients. Try mandarin orange slices or raisins to change the flavor profile. Most chicken salads use a mayonnaise base to bind the ingredients together. For a lighter alternative, more flavorful alternative, bind the chicken salad ingredients with a light ranch dressing. Serve on a bed of lettuce or on a bun.
Make a fresh green salad filled with fruit, vegetables and chicken for lunch in less than 15 minutes. The secret is to buy prewashed leaf lettuce, such as baby romaine, that you can take right from the container to your plate. Top the lettuce with carrots and celery --- also precut from the produce section of your local grocery store --- along with cherry or grape tomatoes, raisins, seedless grapes and your choice of nuts. The only chopping you'll have to do is to slice a cucumber or cut cold chicken into bite-size pieces. If you have young children, protect them from choking by slicing the grapes and tomatoes. Sprinkle the entire salad with grated cheese and finish with your favorite salad dressing. Heat the chicken and add it on top of the other ingredients before adding the grated cheese, if you like.
Katherine Kally is a freelance writer specializing in eco-friendly home-improvement projects, practical craft ideas and cost-effective decorating solutions. Kally's work has been featured on sites across the Web. She holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of South Carolina and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.