7 Fresh Takes on Chicken for Lunch

Imagine a fourth grade boy. Give or take a bit, they tend to clock in around 60 pounds.

I know because I have one and he and his friends tend to trample through the house with alarming regularity.

That fourth grade boy is roughly the amount of chicken the average American eats per year. And just like that boy, it’s growing.

We’ve latched on to chicken as our go-to dinner because it’s cheap, healthy, easy to cook, and versatile — as in, it can be prepared in more ways and cuisines than I care to count.

That’s all great. Except when it comes to the leftovers.

As soon as extra chicken is destined for our (or our kid’s) lunch box, inspiration seems fleeting. We slap it on a sandwich with some cheese, or we chop it and douse it with mayo, then slap it on a sandwich.

Dull! So to help you get creative with your chicken habit, here are seven fresh ideas for making use of leftover bird.

1. Asian Chicken Salad Wrap

Set on having a chicken salad sandwich? Spike your mayo with hoisin and hot sauce, then toss in your chopped leftover chicken. Wrap it in a whole-wheat tortilla and accompany with cucumbers dressed with vinegar, salt and sugar.

For a side, toss purchased broccoli slaw with bottle peanut sauce.

2. Southwestern Chicken Salad

If you’re going to do a chicken salad, make it big and bold with hunks of tomato, avocado and — if you can handle it — some minced jalapenos. Some chopped marinated artichoke hearts would be a great addition.

Dress the whole thing with your favorite vinaigrette (the acid in it will keep the avocado from turning brown.

Want a side? Mix crumbled blue cheese with low-fat sour cream and a splash of hot sauce. Use it as a dip for veggies.

3. Chicken Parmesan Burger

You’ll need to double-fist a couple thermoses for this one, but it’s totally worth it.

Nuke some leftover chicken and toss it with some pasta sauce in a thermos.On the side, pack a burger bun (pop some Parmesan inside the bun). At lunch, just dump the toasty chicken on the bun. Done.

For thermos No. 2, you’ll want to core an apple, then nuke until tender. Put the apple in a second thermos, then sprinkle it with cinnamon and a hefty drizzle of maple syrup. A hot and healthy treat.

Wait! Wait! There’s more

4. Toss leftover chopped chicken with bottled barbecue sauce, then pack it warm in a thermos. At lunch, spoon it onto a roll for barbecue pulled chicken on a bun.

5. Got leftover pasta to go with your leftover chopped chicken? Toss them both with bottle peanut sauce for a quick and easy cold peanut noodle salad.

6. Chicken tacos! Pack wedges of whole-wheat tortillas along with containers of shredded cheese, guacamole, salsa and whatever else you like to dump on your tacos. Pack the chicken cold or in a thermos. Assemble and enjoy at lunch.

7. Chop up cold leftover chicken, then sprinkle it over a bowl of hummus. Season with dried oregano and paprika. Accompany with pita bread for scooping up.

Looking for more lunch ideas? Try these:

8 Stay-fresh tips for apple-tastic lunches

3 Tips to help kids beat the clock at lunch

But Bobby gets to bring fast food for lunch! Why can’t I?

9 New ways to use pumpkin

J.M. Hirsch is the national food editor for The Associated Press. He blogs about the trials and tribulations of his son’s lunches at His cookbook, Beating the Lunch Box Blues, is the first to be released by Rachael’s new publishing venture, Rachael Ray Books. Hirsch’s previous books include High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking and Venturesome Vegan Cooking. He lives in New Hampshire with his son, wife, and too many cats.

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