Today's post comes in response to a reader's request:

"l would enjoy hearing ideas for simple, quick lunches. We're just settling in to a new home in a new country, and even with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, l find myself struggling to come up with good lunch ideas that don't require an hour or more of cooking time."

Can anyone relate to this problem? I sure can! It seems like cooking is always, always more time-consuming because there are no "instant" options available. Everything has to be made from scratch and it just takes time! So how do you overcome this obstacle in the middle of a busy day? How do you balance lunch preparation with household responsibilities, homeschooling, ministry demands and so on?

I wish I could give you a long list of menu plans that could be set on the table in 20 minutes or less. Unfortunately, I don't have such a list! Instead, I'll give a few suggestions that help me streamline our lunch time.

1) Plan ahead. Don't waste valuable time trying to decide what to make and figuring out if you have all the ingredients you need. Be sure you know what's for lunch at breakfast time, or even better, by supper time the night before. Then you can . . .

2) Prepare ahead. When you're chopping veggies for supper, also chop what you'll need for lunch the next day and then put them in the fridge overnight. You can also cook two-meals-worth of meat in the evening, so that your meat is already cooked at lunch time. Or (what I prefer to do) you can take one afternoon to cook up a BIG pot of meat and divide it into meal-size portions to put in the freezer. Use as needed to throw together a quick casserole or soup, fried rice, etc.

3) Make use of locally-available "fast food." Every location is different, but where we lived in West Africa we could pick up a bowl of ready-to-eat rice & beans or rice & stew for just pennies more than we could make it ourselves. What a great way to save time in the kitchen!

4) Eat leftovers. I often purposely make plenty of extra food at suppertime, to serve the next day or a few days later for lunch. Of course, it took me a bit to learn how to warm up leftovers on the stovetop instead of in a microwave, but it can be done!

5) Eat sandwiches. If you can't buy bread locally, you'll have to make it yourself ahead of time, so this may not be a helpful suggestion. Most likely lunchmeat and sliced cheese are not available (or at least affordable) in your area, but there are lots of other kinds of sandwiches! I like to make egg salad, tuna salad, or chicken salad. You can use canned "Spam"-type meat to make an imitation ham salad. One of my favorite CHEAP sandwiches is Bean Spread (recipe below). You can also make fried egg sandwiches or tomato/veggie sandwiches with no meat at all!

Bean Sandwich Spread

1c. dried beans, cooked until very soft (you will want to do this ahead of time, maybe when cooking supper the night before)

1/3 c. mayo

1 Tbsp mustard (prefferably brown mustard)

1 tsp ketchup

1/2 tsp salt (or more to taste)

Dash black pepper

1/4 c. onion, very finely chopped

1/4 c. green pepper, very finely chopped

Mash beans with a potato masher while still warm. Cool completely. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Serve on bread or crackers. Best served cold!


So help us out, ladies! What do you do for fast lunches? We need your ideas!

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  • Lunches! Seems like they always sneak up on me at the same time with tired toddlers ready for naps. And then overseas, often my husband is home for lunch too (yay!!) which means I need to have something a bit more substantial than baby cereal and bananas ready. ;)
    Like Melissa said for me the key is thinking ahead. The night before. Here's some of my favorite quick lunches....

    Cook extra plain rice the night before. Make a quick fried rice with some chopped onion, carrots, soy sauce. Toss in peanuts for extra protein or add some beaten eggs to scramble right into the rice at the last couple minutes.

    Cook extra spaghetti the night before. Make a quick chinese noodle dish.

    Beans. In Ghana this is our lunch go-to. It is much better to cook a big pot of beans if you're at it anyway. Then....

    -Season some beans, spoon over rice
    -In Ghana, we have these dry cassava sprinkles (gari) that are awesome with beans
    -Fold into burritos
    -I love to make a hummus type bean dip similar to Melissa's recipe! We love to dip it with flatbread.

    Which brings me to.... bread! I often make a batch of bread dough and store in the fridge. Then I pull some out and make flatbread. Yum!! My kids will eat any vegetable if it's shredded and folded into a wrap. It takes 10-15 minutes to roll and toast enough flatbread for a meal, and fresh, it's so good... ;)

    Here's another thought. Where I grew up (in Europe) everyone, rich or poor, eats the same thing every day for lunch. Bread and some cheese or something. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of the day if you get into a custom like that. Just have the same thing every day of the week for lunch! I know people who have done this in Africa - yams and stew every day for lunch, or something like that. It will take some getting used to but it is a great sanity saver. And you can still get creative with supper ;)

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  • One of my favorite simple lunches is Mexican fried rice and refried beans. Cook the rice and beans both ahead of time, when you're cooking some for a supper. Saute some onions, garlic, and tomatoes, add rice and taco seasoning (or your own combination of cumin, chili powder, black pepper, etc.), and meat if desired, and fry until warm through. Meanwhile, reheat the beans adding taco seasoning to them also. Drain some of the juice and mash the beans, putting enough of the juice back in to reach the desired consistency. And your lunch is ready to go! (If you want to dress the meal up--and significantly increase your work load ;)--add chapatis or tortillas, cheese sauce, and fresh chopped tomatoes to the menu. Scrumptious!)
    Another yummy fried rice variation is to cook diced potatoes, onions, and okra. Add cooked rice and meat, season with ginger and black pepper--and plenty of salt--and fry until warm through. My brother doesn't care for the dryness of rice without sauce, so when I made this dish while living with his family, I'd also make a little bit of super-simple sauce for him to put over it (the rest of us preferred it without)--just some tomato paste, water, salt, and sometimes a few squeezes of lime juice.

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