It’s back to school season, which means for most people, it’s back to the regularly scheduled programming. The heat of summer is still raging outside–but by now, a lot of kids are back in the classroom and into their extracurriculars, or will be back shortly. It’s officially that awkward end of summer/beginning of fall period, when it’s not quite time yet for the pumpkin spice latte, but the summer produce from your last trip to the farmer’s market is still glaring at you from the fridge every time you open it. (*Hint, stock up on some jars.)
To ease the hectic nature and chaos of what this back to school time can bring, I present to you five essential weeknight dinner recipes that are even better as leftovers. This means easy meals for your entire busy week that will actually taste better the day after their made… meaning you have fodder for a packed lunch worth looking forward to or the makings of a “leftover night” that won’t feel like a dinner drag. Mastering the make-ahead meal is practically an art form. And while leveraging the power of leftovers is one small step in the kitchen, it’s one giant leap for saving time, money, and maxing out on flavor all at the same time.
1.) Slow-Cooker Beef
If you have a slow cooker, break it out and use that thing to its fullest potential. Fill it with all things yummy and delicious because those flavors will meld together the longer they simmer. This is especially true with beef. Whether you’re looking at cooking a pot roast, barbecue entree, slow-cooked brisket, or maybe these outstanding Italian Beef Sandwiches, you’re going to end up with amazing and versatile results to work with for a couple days. Slow cooker beef is truly a force to be reckoned with in terms of masterful meal planning. Last fall, I reflected on how much I love Italian beef sandwiches, and it’s still on my list of top favorite dishes today. While rich meaty flavors really build in the slow cooker, they exponentially increase in the days after cooking in the refrigerator, making slow cooker beef one of the top-choice options for cooking intentionally to create hard-working leftovers.
2.) Chicken Enchiladas
Chicken enchiladas are a huge favorite for me. They’re cheesy, packed with bold flavor, and stuffed with satisfying, seasoned chicken. Growing up at my house, there was always a surplus of this dish, so that we could all enjoy the leftovers the next day (and the day after, and sometimes, even the day after…). Enchiladas aren’t necessarily something you’d think of as being better the next day, but trust me… they are. The aromas and spices get more of a chance to unfold as this dynamic casserole-like meal rests. As long as you don’t drench the tortillas with sauce, they won’t get overly mushy (a little mush is a good thing). In fact, they withstand to reheating really well. Moral of the story: chicken enchiladas make for stellar leftovers that don’t feel like a boring compromise the next day. Make them.
Anyone who eats out, at some point or another, has come home with a bursting to-go box of pasta that they couldn’t finish. Pasta makes for great leftovers, except… when it dries out. If you try to reheat spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, chicken alfredo, etc, it will probably taste great (because hey, it’s pasta), but the sauce will also likely seize up a bit after refrigeration. To fix this, you can stir in a bit of water before reheating. Or avoid that little headache altogether, and go for a big pan of lasagna. Lasagna is comprised of layers that seal in moisture, so that the next day reheat is just as good as when it first came fresh out of the oven. Or hell, eat it cold. Lasagna is also an ideal dish to cut up and pack for lunch. What I’m trying to say is that lasagna is amazing.
4.) Chicken Salad
If you’re looking primarily for awesome packed lunches throughout the week, look no further than chicken salad. This stuff is pure protein-packed deliciousness and tends to be a hit with the whole family, once you find your perfect recipe. Chicken salad is one of those things that tastes awesome right when you whip it up–which is why it’s just about impossible to avoid grabbing a cracker to dig right in immediately once you’re done prepping it (you know what I’m talking about). However, just like everything else on this list–once you allow those flavors to meld, chicken salad is next-level tasty a couple of days after your make it. Which, in all honesty, makes it borderline irresponsible to not make a huge batch. This creamy classic is ideal spooned on top of salads, spread on sandwiches or pitas, and served with crackers. It makes for an excellent packed lunch because you don’t have to reheat it, and you don’t even have to cook anything to make it if you use store-bought rotisserie chicken. Big wins all around.
And now, for our final spotlight in this lovable leftover round up, the reigning champion of all things leftovers is forever and always chili. This dish is the true overlord of all leftovers–not only because it’s increasing flavors can be enjoyed day after day in a bowl, with copious amounts of whatever toppers you have on hand, but because it can be repurposed into so many other dishes. Chili sets you up to make some of the best reinvention recipes, so please, never limit yourself to prepping a small batch of chili for just one night.
So what are these other uses for chili, you ask? Here are just a few:
So go ahead. Make the big batch.Even if you won’t be using the rest within the week, chili leftovers freeze well. And of course, because the whole issue here is that time is limited, check out this simple tutorial for the best 30 minute chili (i.e. the only chili recipe you’ll ever need).