a person shredding chicken

An Easy, No-Waste Meal Plan for School Lunches

A whole chicken goes a long way.

Many students of all ages are now learning from home. And whether you’re a parent cooking for your kids or an undergrad trying to cook for yourself, making lunches—especially different recipes—every day can get tedious, real fast.

A way to help lower the intimidation factor is to choose a versatile protein that can serve you in multiple ways throughout the week. My go-to is a whole chicken—the white and dark meat can both be used in different recipes, and you can make a bone broth with the chicken scraps and any vegetable scraps you have available. Nothing goes to waste in this plan for a week’s worth of lunches.

Sunday: Poach Chicken

Place a 3-5 pound whole chicken in a large pot and cover with water by at least two inches. Bring to a boil, and then lower the heat to a simmer for about 45 minutes. Be sure to skim off any foam or fat that accumulates at the top as it simmers.

Once the chicken is cooked through (165°F), take the chicken out with a pair of tongs and place into a bowl to cool. Then carve and shred the meat. Store in two large airtight containers for use during the week.

No-Waste Bonus: Make Chicken Broth

Don’t throw away those bones and scraps!

Place the chicken carcass into the same pot of water to simmer for another few hours. Have any clean vegetable scraps lying around (peels, stems, ends)? Any whole vegetables that are on the brink of expiration? Add those in. I highly recommend onions, carrots, greens, garlic, celery, and fresh herbs.

After about two hours, strain solids from the broth and ladle broth into containers to freeze for use later in the week.

Monday and Wednesday: Chicken Summer Rolls

Summer rolls (drawing inspiration from traditional Vietnamese spring rolls, gỏi cuốn) are the perfect way to pack in fresh vegetables, herbs, and lean protein. Traditionally, summer rolls include pork or shrimp, but you can use some of your shredded chicken.

What Else You’ll Need

Vietnamese spring roll wrappers (Look for packaging that keeps their round shape intact to prevent breakage.)

Thin rice noodles (also known as rice vermicelli), cooked

Romaine lettuce

Vegetables (You can use thinly sliced carrot, scallions, cucumber, or cabbage.)

Fresh herbs (Thai basil, cilantro, and mint are a must!)

Peanut sauce (You can make this yourself from a favorite recipe or buy it bottled.)

Place water in a shallow plate that’s slightly larger in diameter than the spring roll wrapper. Dip the wrapper in the water for a few seconds, making sure the whole wrapper is submerged. Take the wrapper out and place on a plastic cutting board. The wrapper will soften more as you place the fillings.

My suggested order for filling is:

  1. Romaine lettuce leaf
  2. Cooked rice vermicelli
  3. Vegetables
  4. Herbs
  5. Shredded chicken

Fill just enough so that you can wrap the roll like a burrito: Fold bottom over the filling, fold both sides in, then roll forward to seal.

chopped chicken meat

Tuesday and Thursday: Chicken Salad

Use the second half of your shredded chicken to make chicken salad. You can flavor it as classically or creatively as you’d like.

What Else You’ll Need

Mayonnaise

For crunch: Celery, nuts (almonds, walnuts, or pecans)

For sweetness: Grapes, raisins

For flavor: Lemon juice, thyme, dill, oregano, salt, pepper, or curry powder

Place shredded chicken, mayonnaise, and desired flavors and textures in a bowl and mix. Serve on your choice of bread or a lettuce wrap.

Friday: Soup

chicken and black bean soup in a white bowl with sour cream and avocado

Defrost bone broth and make your favorite soup.

Here is one of our favorites that is made easier replacing the chicken breast with leftover chicken: Chicken and Black Bean Soup.

kristina demichele
Kristina DeMichele

Kristina DeMichele is the Digital Content Strategist at Harvard Magazine. She is also a freelance copyeditor who has worked for America's Test Kitchen as the Senior Content Editor of Cook's Illustrated Magazine.