Which Dinners Make the Best Leftover Lunches?

Get more bang for your buck with these two-in-one meals.

Amanda Thomas
5-minute read
Episode #211

We recently received an email at Quick and Dirty Tips asking what family dinners make the best leftovers. I love this question because it not only means that someone is thinking about making their life easier by doing family meal planning, but they are also trying to think ahead and stretch two meals out of one planning and cooking session. This is great!

When I do my meal planning for the week, I love to be able to get leftovers out of our dinners. Sometimes the leftovers get packed up as-is and simply reheated, but sometimes they can be made in to completely new meals. Today I’m going to give you examples of three of my favorite dinners that can be made in to yummy leftovers with little to no extra work needed.

See Also: Why Leftover Pasta Is Good For You


If you’re a pasta fan, you probably already know that most pasta dishes are better the next day. There’s something about giving the noodles, sauce, and cheese a little extra time to meld that makes leftover pasta the perfect weekday lunch. Lasagna is a perfect example of this. While your lasagna might be ooey-gooey  and wonderful fresh out of the oven, the next day when it’s reheated it’s a little more solid, and a lot more tasty.

My husband and I try to stay away from jarred pasta sauce because of the added sugars. Instead, we make a very simple tomato sauce using 2 cans of Italian diced tomatoes, an 8 oz can of tomato sauce, and an additional teaspoon of Italian seasoning. After simmering the sauce for about 20 minutes, we spoon it on top of our pasta and top with parmesan cheese. It’s great for dinner, but I also use the leftovers to make a super yummy pasta dish by mixing the leftover pasta and sauce together with ¾ cup cottage cheese, a handful of shredded mozzarella cheese, and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. Once it’s all stirred up, I put the mixture into a baking dish or microwavable containers, and they’re ready for the next day’s lunch. Adding the cottage cheese and mozzarella makes the dish just enough different that it doesn’t even seem like it’s leftovers of the same meal.

Mexican Bakes

Another category of food that can be better the second day is Mexican food, but there’s a catch. Not all Mexican food reheats well, especially things that are supposed to have a crunchy shell. If you're looking for a Mexican-themed meal that will make great leftovers, think casseroles. Now, I fully realize that Mexican food and casseroles don’t typically go together, but by making a few small changes to your favorite Mexican recipes so they can be made in a 9x13 baking dish, they can be transformed in to easy to reheat leftover meals.

My favorite Mexican themed dinner to do this with is an Enchilada bake. I use all the ingredients that I would put in to a chicken and veggie enchilada, but instead of rolling the tortillas, I cut and layer them in a pan like lasagna. Also, I mix a protein layer and a veggie layer. The protein layer includes a can of rinsed black beans, a can of refried beans, and about 2 cups of shredded chicken. The veggie layer typically includes a sautéed onion, and a bag of each frozen spinach and frozen corn (thawed and sautéed with the onion), but you can substitute almost any vegetable you want as long as you sauté it enough to cook most of the water out of it. And of course the recipe needs corn tortillas and Mexican style or Colby-Jack shredded cheese because no Mexican recipe is complete without tortillas and cheese.