How Pandemic Lunches Gave Me Hope for the Planet

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Leftovers. Leftovers may be the key to saving the planet.

During the pandemic, there has been a lot of chicken. Chicken thighs with skin and bone and chicken thighs free of both. There is rotisserie, purchased precooked from the store, and whole raw chicken roasted on onions, carrots, and potatoes. It’s almost every dinner. But it’s not the dinner that’s the solution to climate change. It’s the lunch.

My kids, Max, who just turned 11, and Zoe, who is 15, have lunch in my kitchen with me every day now. In the Before Times, they packed their own lunches, took them to school and ate in the privacy of their own cafeterias. And before that, I packed their lunches with cheese sticks or yogurt tubes, berries, pretzels, granola bars, tiny Tupperwares of nuts, goldfish crackers, carrots.

But now, I am working at home while they are schooling at home and, in between Zoom meetings, we each make our own lunches. Yesterday, I ate slices of chicken breast with avocado on top. Max made himself sliced apples and sharp Cheddar cheese. Zoe made what she always makes: mixed greens, a red bell pepper, carrots, sweet potato, cucumbers, nutritional yeast, pumpkin seeds, kidney beans, and slices of chicken breast. She tries to get nine colors on her salad. She remembers from the game we used to play when she was 3 years old. It’s hard to hit nine colors of vegetables, but she gets close. Sometimes, she adds corn.

This is all very wholesome of her. Compared to Max and me, she’s a walking multivitamin. But her pandemic achievement is that she does not let food go to waste. She remembers her half-cut-up red bell pepper from yesterday. She roasts four sweet potatoes on Monday and eats half every day. For breakfast, she makes Generation Z’s claim-to-breakfast-fame: avocado toast. She uses only half an avocado, saving the other half for the next day. Max, although less invested in color eating, makes cheesy rice from last night’s dinner topped with leftover Cheddar, and a leftover baked potato topped with a pile of lettuce.

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