These 10 Frugal Lunches Are Delicious Hot or Cold


Now that the weather is warmer, the office microwave has less appeal at lunchtime. I'm not ready to abandon it completely, since there are still some rainy days. However, I find I like the option of having a cold lunch, instead of the usual wintertime hot lunch. To keep lunches frugal and fast, cook a little extra food for dinner, and then eat the leftovers — hot or cold — for lunch. Here are 10 of my favorites that work at either temperature. (See also: 15 Ways to Make Brown Bagging It Better Than Buying Lunch)

1. Soup

This spiced carrot and lemon grass soup is wonderful either hot or cold. It's also easy to convert it from vegetarian to vegan — just use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth. Try it with some slices of avocado on top, too.

2. Grilled Skewers

I personally prefer these cold, but they are good both ways, especially served with vegetables and leftover rice. My mother's marinade recipe (below) makes enough for three and a half pounds of chicken or beef, works on beef or pork skewers, and is equally tasty over chicken and vegetables. I like to make vegetable skewers to grill alongside the meat including: zucchini, mushrooms, red pepper slices, and pineapple. I usually use beef or pork sirloin, but if I use chicken, I prefer boneless thighs.

Marilyn's Marinade


  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup sherry
  • â…› cup Worcestershire
  • 1 T grated ginger
  • ½ t Chopped garlic
  • Dash of liquid smoke


Combine all ingredients. Cut meat into small chunks and put into a large sandwich bag. Pour marinade over and put into refrigerator for at least six hours. Put onto skewers and grill. Serve with skewered vegetables and rice.

3. Pasta

Pasta easily goes from being delicious dinner to lunchtime leftover. I like to make a little extra pasta, and the next day, I can decide if I want a hot lunch with a leftover sauce, or cold, as in pasta salad. Certain types of pasta also seem to do better in salads: Bow tie, corkscrew, and fusilli come to mind. For a quick salad, just add chopped bell peppers, olives, and feta, and a little Italian dressing.

4. Lentils

Aside from being nutrient packed powerhouses (fiber, potassium, calcium zinc, and vitamin K), lentils are easy to cook and they are inexpensive. Bonus! I like them for dinner with grilled chicken apple sausages and a purple cabbage coleslaw. For lunch, either pack leftovers and heat, or toss the lentils into a wrap, a salad, or drizzle with a vinaigrette.

5. Fried Chicken

Fried chicken is pretty darn irresistible when hot, but when cold, it is still delicious, with that spicy, crispy, coating. At home, you can make a healthier version and a frugal one, using bone-in thighs. I like to serve with baked potatoes (bake extra) and vegetables. For lunch, you can dice the leftover potatoes and add an Italian vinaigrette, along with leftover vegetables. Pack into a container along with leftover fried chicken. Instant picnic!

6. Meatloaf

I know some of you are skeptical about meatloaf, having had bad experiences in school cafeterias and terrible diners. A good meatloaf, though, not only makes a terrific dinner, but an outstanding sandwich. This recipe is one of my favorites. Serve with mashed potatoes, carrots, and green beans for dinner. The next day, put a slab on some bread with pickles, mustard, and sharp cheddar cheese.

7. Quiche

Quiche is a perfect "hot or cold" dish. I make them two at a time, because the Pillsbury crusts come two to a pack ("scratch" pie crust is not my thing, gang). You can either enjoy the quiche for a few days, or share one with another hungry family member. The next day after baking, it's fine cold or just warmed up in the microwave. They are also very versatile. You can add cooked, drained broccoli, spinach, chopped meats, etc.

8. Quinoa

Quinoa is another super versatile grain that lends itself to dinner (like this great vegetarian quinoa pilaf) and makes enough for leftovers. I love it cold, too. Try adding a cilantro pesto on top, or chopped artichoke hearts.

9. Borscht

You wouldn't think that a beet soup would be so filling, but it is — and the sour cream topping makes it luxurious. I like this vegetarian version. This is good with pumpernickel bread. Just wear an apron when you're cooking, because beet juice stains.

10. Frittatas

You'll love to learn to make a frittata, because they're easy and are good either hot or cold. They can also be vegetarian, or you can add meat to them. Not all frittatas are flipped, so don't be intimidated. And they are great for using up leftovers that you have in your fridge.

Remember food safety. Even if you are eating these meals "cold," be sure to pack them appropriately so that they stay that way until lunchtime.

What are your favorite hot or cold lunches? Share with us!

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