I like to prep my kids’ lunches the night before school so that we’re not rushed like crazy in the morning. (Full disclosure: I am so not a morning person.) That said, after I’ve just cooked a meal for my family and cleaned up the kitchen afterward, I don’t love pulling food back out of the fridge to start over again on lunches.
My solution: to cook dinners that make delicious leftovers for lunch the next day. These recipes have been in heavy rotation at my house because they’re full of flavor and very satisfying for dinner, but can be used in totally different ways for lunch the next day. And if you’re someone who has their kids pack their own school lunches, even better: These make packing easy for whoever’s got the job.
Easy prep and happy kids? That’s a recipe for success.
Before we get to the recipes, here are a few very quick tips on what makes a great dinner and also a great lunch the next day. Because this list is just a starter. Once you identify other recipes that fit the bill, dinners that make great leftovers will become your go-to move.
- Tastes as good cold (or at room temperature) as it does hot, such as pizza, cold noodle or grain salads, and roast chicken.
- Reheats easily, such as lasagna, stews, and soups.
- Is a recipe that can be used in several different ways, such as slow cooked meat, chili, and meatballs or meatloaf.
- Packs easily, such a pasta that’s already been sauced, casseroles, and baked pastas.
This Barbacoa recipe at Gimme Some Oven is so insanely delicious that I have to make it sparingly because I’ll gain way too much weight if I don’t. I serve this for dinner over rice that’s cooked with a splash of lime juice and some cilantro, along with sliced avocado and salsa. Then for lunch, I fold some of the leftover meat into tortillas for burritos. And, yes, this is just as dangerously delicious on day two.
One of the easiest weeknight dinners is a roasted chicken lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, and maybe some Italian spices if I’m feeling crazy, cooked until crispy and golden brown. The only problem is that it can be kind of boring on the plate by itself. This colorful Harvest Bowl recipe at Healthfully Ever After is the answer. It’s a light way to get fall flavors onto your plate, and the best part is that you just separate the leftover components to package for lunch the next day. So easy.
My kids love meatballs for dinner, whether on top of spaghetti, glazed in a sweet teriyaki sauce, or in this delicious Greek Bowl with Meatballs over Couscous at Our Life Tastes Good. Before I assemble the plates for dinner, I set some of the meatballs aside for lunch the next day. I tuck those into pita pockets with a few chopped cucumbers, a sliced tomato, and some leftover tzatziki for a sandwich that’s so much better than ham and cheese.
This signature chili recipe at Iowa Girl Eats is spicy, smoky, and sweet, just the way my kids like it. Serve this up with corn chips and cheese, guacamole, or even dill pickles (which a foodie friend of mine swears by). The leftovers can be used to make chili dogs (I send the chili in a thermos and a hot dog for my older kids to cook in the microwave before eating), a deconstructed taco lunch, or to stuff a burrito. And of course, you can just serve it the same way for round two: Who’s going to complain about that?
Dinners that are as good warm as they are cold always make great leftovers the next day, and this Cold Soba Noodle Salad from our editor Stacie’s cookbook Make It Easy is so packed with flavor that our kids can’t resist it. Plus, you can prep all of the components ahead of time, which means that you’re out of the kitchen and free to hang with the kids on those busy weekday afternoons. Just make a double batch, because they’re going to want seconds at dinner. . . and lunch the next day.