School Lunch

Why Leftovers Are a Logical, Lovable Kids' Lunch

August 14, 2015

How does Katie Workman—author of Dinner Solved! and The Mom 100 Cookbook and creator of—save time and reduce food waste?

It's easy: She packs leftovers for her boys to take for lunch.

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My kids are older now, so if I was going to feel guilty about not packing them lunches with sandwiches cut into the shapes of dolphins, that ship has long sailed—that’s one less parental guilt item to worry about.   

My overriding lunch-packing philosophy can be summed up in one word: leftovers. Whatever is in the fridge from a previous meal is now an option for a portable lunch. Chicken piccata, a piece of frittata, chili, a few meatballs—all of those are lunch, absolutely, all the way.

Jack, my older son is a harder sell on the leftovers-for-lunch thinking. He is not as thrilled to see a few strips of grilled steak and some couscous salad as his younger brother is, and would much prefer a more traditional sandwich or wrap. Jack is also reliably quick to point out that it’s not all that becoming for me to cart leftover salad and shrimp scampi onto a plane when there are perfectly good snacks for sale that involve Pringles.

Amanda feeds her kids leftovers for lunch, too.

Charlie, however, is extremely happy with a lunch of black beans and rice, and maybe some teriyaki chicken on the side. (He is also delighted to see these things for breakfast, as am I.) 

But here’s the solution: Charlie can take the Greek chicken thigh, and for Jack, I will shred the chicken and layer it with some shredded lettuce, mustard, and a slice of provolone in a tortilla wrap. Everyone happy? Everyone happy. So, in the end, chacun à son goût, which is the only colloquial French phrase I know, which means “each to his own.” The one other phrase that I just looked up is, “Peut-être tu dois preparer ton propre déjeuner,” which means “Perhaps you should pack your own lunch.” I will try to keep both phrases handy.

First photo by Laura Agra; second by Amanda Hesser

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • clementscooks
  • AntoniaJames
  • chelinhu
  • Bella B
    Bella B
Author of The Mom 100 Cookbook and blog. A New Yorker, cook, and mom, I don't sit still very much.


clementscooks August 18, 2015
I told my 11 year old that she needs to be packing her own snack & lunch this year (completely on her own), she looked at me and said "Leftovers. Leftovers are my answer" That's my girl!!!!
AntoniaJames August 14, 2015
Lest there be any confusion, I'd say "Make your own lunches, kids" in English. When my sons were about 8 and 9 they started making their lunches every day with minimal assistance from me.

Regular readers to the kids' lunch column have heard me say this several times, at least, but it's worth repeating: Nothing improves a child's self-esteem like giving him or her the opportunity to contribute significantly to the well-being of the family. Making lunch also demands accountability.

What a great way to model thinking ahead: everyone works together to figure out what can be done the night before, while looking for ways to improve efficiency (leftovers go directly into the little boxes that will go into the lunch bag!), and how to have calm, not-hectic mornings, etc.

It can be done. Ask my kids. ;o)
chelinhu August 14, 2015
PB&J sandwiches for lunch to me was quite a cultural shock when I came to this country (I'd love them for breakfast but..)-- I grew up in Taiwan and my mother (working) would always pack leftovers (veggies, meat, fish, rice, noodles anything...) for lunch for the next day (herself and us three sisters in school) everyday (who has time in the morning?)! As schools didn't provide lunch but a heater/steamer to heat up everyone's packed "bento" (all sits in this nice stainless steel oval box with two simple clasps on either side). Of course this was before the time of microwave therefore all food were cooked/steamed in the small bento to its high heaven: green veggies into yellow mush, fish whatever smelled like it was fresh 3 months ago, rice sometimes into ricecakes from soaking up all the "jus"... Therefore everyone dreaded the overcooked-leftover lunch and it was the envy of the class if anyone brought a cold sandwich! The freshness! Of course that was the way of life and at a different time and place. I still continue bringing leftover for lunch at work, pack one for my husband and will keep doing so for my kiddle. It is that sense of a homely feeling that carries over from the dinner (family) time that I appreciate the most I guess..
Bella B. August 14, 2015
I was never fond of sandwiches in my lunch. Snacks and leftovers were always preferred.

xoxoBella |