From the Mailbox: 5 tips on packing a lunchbox (recipe: smoked paprika chicken with mushrooms burger)

Recent tweets about fixing the mister’s lunchbox for work had garnered quite a bit of interest from some of my lovely tweeps, via the network itself, along with e-mails. Aside from the most common question of whether I prepare his lunchbox everyday (the answer is yes, albeit they are mostly sandwiches), I’ve also been asked how much earlier I have to wake up, and how I’ve managed to find the time to fix these lunches. In response to the former, I actually wake up later than the mister (hah!), and as for the latter, the secret lies in cutting your actual-day preparation time, so you won’t have to rush sorting out the ingredients you need, etc. Let’s face it, regardless of how perfect a morning person we can claim to be, it’s forgivable to have your brain on auto-pilot mode at 5:45 am. So here are five simple tips to help you ensure you’ve got that lunchbox filled!

Tip #1 : Prepare your ingredients the night before

As much as I hate to admit it, those teachers back in school were true. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail;– well, in this case, you don’t exactly fail, more of go hungry for lunch. Decide on what you plan to pack for the next day / the coming week (I often decide on the week’s lunchbox menu while we go grocery-shopping on the weekend), and where possible, prepare your non-perishable ingredients the night before. For my pasta and crustless pizza, for example, I’ve sliced the sausages, mushrooms and garlic, and stashed them (covered) away in the refrigerator the night before. Just placing them all together really makes a difference; it certainly helps to enter the kitchen in the wee hours of the morn ala a celebrity chef, finding all your ingredients waiting for you by the counter.

Tip #2 : Complete half of the work the night before

Similar to the aforementioned tip, try cutting back time by choosing recipes that either requires or would benefit from an overnight rest. Burgers would be a great [and easy] treat, where you can simply marinate your burger patty and freeze / refrigerate it, so all that’s left would be the actual grilling and assembling. Or better still, work on recipes you can prepare fully the night before, refrigerate and simply bake the next day, such as breakfast casseroles or strata. Bear in mind though you’ll have to cut your recipe at least in half, so you won’t have to spend 45-60 mins on baking. 

Tip #3 : Bake & freeze!

Truth be told, I’m not really a fan of heating up leftovers, nor freezing bakes for that matter. Perhaps it’s simply because I don’t like my food cold (eating and seeing), but when it comes to taking the easier way out shortcuts, I’m game for anything. Whilst there are certain lunchbox bakes I make on the morning itself (e.g. egg muffins, mini frittatas), others like morning muffins and crustless pizza (pictured above), can easily be made the day / night before, refrigerated, and reheated to its full glory the day of packing.

Tip #4 : Make those leftovers work

I shall refrain from saying ‘Kindly refer to Surplus Sunday posts’, for you should have already gathered by now my penchant for breathing new life into leftovers. Take note of the leftovers you have the night before, and refrigerate the perishables for re-heating or set aside essential ingredients. My personal favourite ‘recycled’ lunchbox dish is fried rice, for we almost always have a bit of leftover cooked rice in the rice-cooker. Just take the amount of rice you would need, and keep it covered in the refrigerator; cold cooked rice works best for fried rice afterall. And if you have leftover sides such as meat and chicken dishes, score!

Tip #5 : Mix it up!

As aforementioned, fried rice is my favourite lunchbox idea, which inevitably spells repetition. However, thanks to the nature of fried rice (cooked rice + spice/flavour + meat/vegetable), it’s easier to have variations each week. Throw in tom yam paste for tom yam fried rice, prawns for seafood fried rice, or chicken cubes for chicken fried rice. It works the same way for pasta and sandwiches, of course; the latter even has the advantage of having a varied bread type (plain, wholemeal, rye, multi-grain, etc). Having said that, vary not only the ingredients, but also the days, please. No one wants to have 5 different types of fried rice every week, unless he / she is a huge fan of the dish, of course.I always try packing fried rice once a week, on days when I know the mister has a hectic schedule or end late, because it keeps him full longer.

Smoked Paprika Chicken with Mushrooms Burger
(makes two)

2 chicken breasts
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1⁄2 tsp dried rosemary (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
fresh white button mushrooms, sliced
1 tbsp butter

  1. In a bowl, combine the soy sauce, paprika, black pepper, rosemary and salt.
  2. Place chicken between two pieces of parchment paper. With a meat tenderiser (or just plain ol’ rolling pin), pound the chicken until about 1/2 inch thick.
  3. Place the chicken in the marinate, turning to coat both sides. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or freeze overnight.
  4. In a pan over medium high heat, sautee the sliced mushrooms with butter until all the mushrooms have softened and cooked (i.e. the mushrooms have released their juices, and absorbed them back). Turn off the heat, and set aside.
  5. Remove the chicken from the marinade, and preheat your grill/pan to medium high. Grill chicken for a couple of minutes on each side, until cooked through. At this point, if you’re having cheese, add a slice of cheese on the chicken and cover the pan for about 1/2 min, to allow the cheese to melt slightly.
  6. Assemble your burger: bun bottom, lettuce, chicken, mushrooms, tomato slices.

Previously on FTM:
From the Mailbox: my take on food photography

From the Mailbox: the humble crumb topping

From the Mailbox: tips on baking the perfect cookies

From the Mailbox: 3 simple steps to baking the perfect muffins

19 thoughts on “From the Mailbox: 5 tips on packing a lunchbox (recipe: smoked paprika chicken with mushrooms burger)

  1. the mister

    Let’s face it, regardless of how perfect a morning person we can claim to be, it’s forgivable to have your brain on auto-pilot mode at 5:45 am.

    When I read that I was like, ‘Yep. That’s right. Five forty five in the aye em. For real.” 0_0’

    To you, my luvly missus :

    For all the times you ignore my insistence to not prepare breakfast (coz I say I can really just grab something at work),
    For all the times you waddle downstairs to the kitchen, eyes half-closed, with my lunchbox in hand,
    For all the times I enter the kitchen to a waft of nomnom-ness and warm tea,
    For all the times I gratefully (and hungrily) gobble down the contents of my lunchbox at my messy, worksheets strewn table

    I say,

    “Thank you, sayang.”

    You’re the best.

    I ❤ you. 🙂

    1. ovenhaven Post author

      Awwww, aren’t you the sweetest!! I ❤ you too, hun 🙂 Like I always say, so long as I'm healthy and able to make you breakfast/pack you lunch, insyaAllah I will. And big LOL at waddling downstairs with eyes half-closed! Told you I'm not a morning person!

  2. faizah

    It’s so heartwarming – the food and your entry. 🙂
    With no one to pre-prepare my breakfast/ lunch for me, I’ll try out that awesome, juicy, yummy looking burger soon!

    1. ovenhaven Post author

      Awww thanks, sweetie! Feel free to try any flavour for your burger; I find lemon + rosemary tastes refreshingly great too 🙂

    1. ovenhaven Post author

      Aiyoh Cookie, don’t say like that! Paiseh paiseh 😛 I believe all wifeys fulfill their duties in one way or another. What matters is we make our loved ones feel loved, regardless of whether it’s via a packed lunch, a note left in his shirt pocket, or just a nice talk after work 🙂

  3. Faizah Zainal

    OMG! that looks really delish, babe!! and….i feel guilty already. i can’t remember when was the last time i pack lunch for my hubby. no no not because i dun want to.
    he asked me not to…yea just like your hubby BUT unlike you, i listened to him hahahah and stop packing. T_T

  4. thecoffeesnob

    I occasionally cook my own breakfast and/or bring my own lunch to work so I know firsthand how painful it can sometimes be to cook first thing in the morning when you’re still half asleep.

    Loved your tips about prepping everything the night before and freezing basics – they do help save so much time!

    1. ovenhaven Post author

      Haha yes! I’ve never been a morning person, more of a grouchy morning person, rather. So being on my feet in the early hours is a pretty mean feat! And yup, overnight work is best 🙂

  5. Mushrooms Canada

    Thanks for sharing these wonderful tips! I always pack my lunch, and I can’t tell you how important I have found your tips #1 & #2 to be.
    The mushroom burger looks delicious! Mushrooms as a burger topping always seems underrated at my house… I find them to be the perfect addition!
    Thanks again for sharing!
    – Brittany

    1. ovenhaven Post author

      Brittany: Glad you’ve found this post helpful 🙂 Mushrooms are pretty much a staple here (alongside Nutella, of course); I always find myself squeezing mushrooms in almost everything savoury 😛

      Helene: I’ll need to stock up on more sandwich ideas! I find myself pretty bored with the same old ham.

  6. teanoir

    I declare this the best post ever! I love all your tips and that recipe looks so tantalizing! I just hit the butcher’s yesterday and got some chicken thighs which I’m sure would taste amazing with your recipe!

  7. Pingback: Guilt-Free Versions of Your Favorite Junk Foods | Yummly

  8. Pingback: From The Mailbox: 5 Tips on Baking The Perfect Scones (Recipe: Nutella Scones) « :: epicurean escapism ::

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