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From Last Night’s Dinner To Today’s Lunch: Add Taste, Save Cash

photo: Jeffrey Beall

With Labor Day around the corner, getting back in the habit of packing a tasty and healthy lunch is a good back-to-school resolution — for you and your kids.

Obviously, eating out instead of bringing a lunch can be a serious drain on your budget. When Frugal Foodie met Mr. Foodie back in the day, he was putting aside $80 per week for lunches out. Now he’s a frugal convert: we both put together lunches that are a version of the previous night’s meal.

The key phrase: “a version of.”

BYO lunch is a little easier to stomach when it’s not simply a repeat of the night before. It can also be a lot cheaper than buying ingredients for something entirely new.

So this week, we asked chefs and home cooks to submit their favorite dinner-to-lunch reinventions. (Post yours in the comments.) Here’s what they came up with:

Dinner: Spaghetti and meatballs

* Break up the ground beef with a little sauce and spread atop a pita or English muffin with some cheese for a personal pizza, says Amy Trapp of St. Louis. ” My family can then have a say in the type of pizza they eat and I do not have to watch unused spaghetti sauce become a lab experiment in my fridge or forget about it in the freezer,” she says.

* Stuff meatballs and sauce in a roll or pita for an impromptu sub.

Dinner: Roast Chicken (or Turkey)

* Make a zesty chicken salad. Michelle Ann Anderson, the author of “The Rotisserie Chicken Cookbook,” mixes together two cups shredded chicken, a quarter cup each of grated red onion, Italian salad dressing and minced cilantro, half a seeded, diced jalapeno, the juice and zest of one lime, and two tablespoons orange juice in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or up to overnight, then serve solo or on rolls with lettuce.

* Stephanie Petersen of “Chef Tess Bakeresse” came up with a turkey salad version that incorporates pesto and apples. Serve on a croissant.

* Wrap up in pot-stickers, Anderson suggests. Place a half cup each of chicken and baby spinach, a half teaspoon curry paste, a quarter cup shredded carrot, one chopped green onion and a half cup coconut milk into bowl of food processor. Pulse until mixture is coarsely chopped and well blended. Place a bit less than one tablespoon filling in center of won ton wrapper (you’ll need about 32). Moisten edges with fingertip dipped in water and fold in half, pressing to seal edges. Cook in batches for two to three minutes, without turning, in three tablespoons of either peanut or vegetable oil. Then pour a third of a cup water into skillet, cover, and simmer on low heat for another three to four minutes. Serve sprinkled with one chopped green onion and Thai sweet chili sauce for dipping.

* Try an adult version of popular kids food “Hot Pockets.” Petersen’s recipe takes some work, but the combo of chicken, feta and banana peppers wrapped in pesto molasses bread is pretty tempting.

Dinner: Pork or ham

* Thread leftover chunks onto skewers, interspersing with fresh, uncooked veggies such as tomatoes and mushrooms. “It’s a unique way to use leftovers and make lunch fun for the kids,” says Danielle Omar, a registered dietician known as the “Food Confidence Expert” http://www.foodconfidence.com. This method also works for chicken, salmon, shrimp and tofu.

* Layer into a grilled cheese sandwich.

* Indianapolis resident Evan Strange suggests using leftover BBQ or pulled pork in less conventional ways: as a topper for pizza or a filling for tamales.

Dinner: Steak

* Health coach Robin Fischman makes cold steak tacos by pairing steak slices with avocado, tomato and corn scraped off the cob. Roll in a soft tortilla or add to hard taco shells.

* The folks at Laura’s Lean Beef suggest turning grilled steak fajitas into fried rice by sauteeing the leftover steak and veggies with scrambled eggs, rice and soy sauce.

Dinner: Meatloaf

* Eula Young of New York makes turkey loaf: the same as meatloaf, with ground turkey. The next day, she uses the leftovers as a Sloppy Joe. Just chop up the turkey loaf and put it in a pan with Sloppy Joe sauce, chopped onions and green peppers to taste, and let it cook down. Use it on whole wheat rolls, or with cooked noodles or rice.

* Frugal Foodie cubes her meatloaf and sautes it in a little olive oil to give each piece a crispier crust, and then uses the pieces to top a salad of mixed greens, tomatoes and Dijon mustard vinaigrette.

Dinner: Grilled vegetables

* Chop and saute with some rice, an egg and soy sauce for fried rice, Fischman says.

* With a little time, odds and ends can become a tasty fermented treat a la sauerkraut.

* “Leftover grilled vegetables with some pesto on really great toasted whole grain bread makes a great vegetable sandwich,” Fischman says.

Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.