Dinner recipes that do double duty as both a weeknight meal one night and lunch(es) the next are my ace in the hole! Here are some of my favorite dinners-turned-lunches to carry you through more than one meal.
Dinners that turn into tomorrow’s lunches are kinda like a superhero, if you think about it.
Remember how Clark Kent ducked into a telephone booth and emerged as Superman?
Now, compare that to dinner that makes banging leftovers.
Both save lives.
Both lead double lives.
Both are kinda dreamboat-ish.
And there is nothing I love more during a busy week than knowing my efforts aren’t going to waste.
Because while technically every dinner can turn into leftovers, we all know that not all dinner recipes are created equal in the next-day’s-meal department.
Not everything tastes good the day after it’s made.
Not every dinner recipe travels well to work or school.
So I set about to create a list of dinners turned lunches that worked.
These are dinners turned lunch that taste good the next day, held up well in a lunchbox, and didn’t involve fifty million steps to get us there.
Here’s what I consider a great dinner turned lunch recipe:
-The dinner part has to be relatively simple
-It can’t get soggy or mushy before it’s eaten again
-No heavy cheese or cream sauces that mask boring flavors.
-Kids have to enjoy it.
-You can pull it from the fridge, reheat, and eat as is: no adding wraps or buns or anything extra on the side.
Ok, ready for the list of AMAZING easy dinners that make great lunches the next day?
Set up “DIY Dinner Bars” and watch your kids happily eat their dang dinner for once in their lives.
People say this to me a lot: “Oh, you’re a chef! Your kids must be such good eaters!” To which I always reply, “Yeah, but… no, because they’re children.”
My kids (aged 2 and 4 and insanely stubborn) aren’t actually picky eaters. There are very few things they truly won’t eat, or have genuine aversions to.
What they are, though, are frustratingly indepent little thinkers who love to choose dinnertime as the exact moment to push every boundary I have.
Ever seen this meme? This is my life at 6pm every night:
Maybe it’s my fault; maybe they know that dinner hour is the time of the day when my defenses are at their lowest. But after being reasonably great kids all day, eating normal breakfasts’ and lunches and snacks, they tend to take a stand when it comes to eating any dinner that’s not head crushingly boring, like breaded chicken.
I am so sick of breaded chicken.
So, rather than fight with them every night about dinner (and rather than make breaded chicken every night for the next 18 years), I started doing this one little thing that actually got my kids toy eat their dinner:
I took them to the bar.
Oh, I kid, I kid. I didn’t actually take them to a BAR.
I made a “DIY Dinner Bar” in the kitchen, handed them a plate, and told them to help themselves.
What’s a DIY Dinner Bar, you ask, and how it is going to get my kids to eat?
A DIY Dinner Bar is akin to setting up a buffet in your kitchen and letting every family member decide what they’ll add to their own plate, within reason.
It goes hand-in-hand with one of my guiding mealtime principals, which I get from Ellyn Satter: “You choose what time the meal is and what’s being served. They choose what food they’ll eat and how much.”
It’s part of the Division of Responsibility, a game changer as far as picky eaters are concerned. It gives kids the power to make decisions around food- but within a framework that you set-up and control. This gives kids autonomy while letting them know they are still being guided by you, the parent.
And a DIY Dinner Bar goes hand in hand with this philosophy. You decide what goes on the Dinner Bar. They decide how they’ll put their dinner together and, through that, are more motivated to actually eat what’s on their plate, since they put it together.
Plus, DIY Dinner Bars are fun!
Here are a few examples of DIY Dinner Bars that you can make in your own kitchen this week:
Baked Potato Bar
Baked potatoes, either white potatoes or baked sweet potatoes
Toppings like sour cream, minced chives, butter
Fillers like browned sausage or sauteed spinach
Check out these posts about building a Baked Potato Bar:
You’re me, a meal planning expert who has been asked to sit in on a fellow blogger and parenting expert’s Facebook group to talk to her members about how they can Take charge! Simplify! Find routine! Cook dinner without going crazy!
…And your 4 year old choose that night, that very freaking night, to stage a protest about bedtime.
Here are the facts, as we know them to be true:
My daughter’s bedtime: 7:30/8pm.
The time I was supposed to be presenting on Facebook Live: 8:30pm.
My husband’s whereabouts: at work that night til around 1am.
The time my daughter finally stopped appearing in the shadows of her bedroom door with some other inane question or request: 11 pm.
ELEVEN PM. Sweet mother of dragons.
Guys, I nearly lost it. In fact, I kinda did. I was almost 30 minutes late for my live broadcast in Rebecca Bailey’s Parenting Academy private Facebook group, and my 4 year old was parading around the apartment, asking about her Halloween costume for nearly three hours after her bedtime.
I mean, how ironic is it that the night I was supposed to showcase how cool, calm, and collected I was as a working mom, that that would be the night I wound up instead showcasing that my life is just as insane as yours is.
Anyway, at the end of the day, I was able to get on the Live and share my story, ideas, and shortcuts with Rachel’s members. My daughter eventually went to bed. And then we all got up the next day and battled the crazy some more.
It’s real life. Kids are crazy. I’m always tired. But we’re making it work.
Meal prepping makes your whole week easier, but it’s not always easy to fit meal prep into an already busy week! The slow cooker makes it easier, and here’s why I love it!
Here’s a secret to getting ahead on your week: Effective meal prepping is where it’s at.
Meal prepping, when done right, can save you tons of time in the kitchen- but I’ll be the first to admit, it’s sometimes really tough to get it done!
My kids are 2 and 4, and lately my 2-year-old is in that lovely whining stage where he needs to be held, usually in the evenings.
My husband usually works nights or gets home from work late, so it’s often just me doing that crazy dinner hour juggle,. The hardest part of it is I need both hands to make dinner- but I rarely have a hand free to do so!
<h2>On top of all that craziness, it’s usually a struggle to get meal prep effectively; that is, get all my meal prep done in a small window of time.
I buy pre-prepped ingredients as often as possible, and I try to take shortcuts that make sense both for my budget and our health (not a lot of processed soups or anything around here, but I’m a big fan of pre-mixed frozen veggies!)
But there’s one thing that never lets me down in the kitchen during meal prep, and that’s my trusty slow cooker.
I may sing the praises of my Instant Pot to the heavens, and for what it’s worth, I use my IP in meal prepping on the regular. That baby saves me a ton of time in, say, presoaking beans and simmering rice.
But if I didn’t have an Instant Pot, or if it’s in use with other ingredients, the crockpot can be a lifesaver for meal preppers- and just about any busy parents, meal prepping or not- as well.
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Here are 17 reasons why the slow cooker is my trusty sidekick in the effective meal prep battle:
Double the batch. You can easily double up the recipes you’re making in the crockpot, and then save half in the freezer.
Stuff to freeze. Or, instead of doubling up, put the crockpot recipe straight into the freezer and pull it back out when you need it most (ie on the nights when everything is collapsing down around you)
Makes food while you sleep. Or work, or pick up the kids from school, or sit on your couch watching Netflix.
No searing actually required. Trust me on this one: I know many recipes recommend searing your proteins before adding them to the crockpot, but most recipes taste just as good without that step.
Everything’s better when slow cooked. Ok, that’s not totally true, but it’s close!
These crockpot lentils. Meal prep side dish dreams are made of these easy, flavorful lentils.
Keeps the oven free. So you can cook other things at the same time!
Keep kids and pets safe. No gas flames (and no references to This Is Us, please guys)
Takes up less energy than the oven. Hello, cheaper energy bills.
Taste your veggies in a different light. Roasting is awesome and raw is delicious, but slow cooking changes the sugars and flavors of vegetables in a new and different way.
One side, 2 dinners. This works especially well with vegetarian meals; most veggie-centric crockpot recipes (like this one and this one and this one) work great as a big meal or two days worth of sides.
Different diets and allergies and eaters in the family means you can use the crockpot for one family member and make something separate for another.
Keeps the kitchen cool when it’s hot outside. So you can enjoy this summertime tomato and corn chowder without sweating to death.
Looking for a fun resource on meal planning? I’m breaking down how I do it on the weeks I’m not feeling it, tricks and tips for doing it fast, and how you can “meal plan” without all the hardcore planning.
When you’re not in the mood to meal plan, do any of these sound familiar?
“I know I need to meal plan but I hate it!”
“I know I need to meal plan, but we like to go with the flow.”
“I can never stick with what we’ve planned to eat so I just stopped doing it.”
If so: I get it, girlfriend.
Meal planning is not fun.
Well, for me it’s fun. I like nerding out with calendars and pretty colored pens and thinking about food.
But for like, normal people, meal planning is just not the most fun thing ever.
Plus, who has the time to do so? It just feels like it takes so much time, the whole planning thing.
You gotta look in the fridge.
Check the pantry.
Double check your grocery budget and make sure you husband didn’t blow it at the deli.
Then you gotta actually plan the thing and make sure what you’re making is something the kids’ll eat, or you may as well just throw those hunny bills out the window because god forbid they decide they hate chicken this week.
Then you have to find the time to shop, cook, and actually execute it or all that time planning will be for nought.
It can be exhausting.
But you know what’s awesome about meal planning? It can be molded to fit your life, not the other way around.
Here are some of the common complaints I hear about meal planning, and how I stop those complaints in their tracks:
”I’m just too busy to meal plan.”
Try this instead: the meal plan rotation plan (and yes, I said “plan” twice. Just go with it.)
I fall back on this one during busy spells in our lives, like the start of a new school year, or a month where there’s a lot of travel.
Simply put, you figure out 5 or 6 days of meals.
Then you buy the ingredients for these meals.
Then you do the same meal plan next week.
And the week after.
And the week after, until you’re totally sick of the whole thing- and that’s when you change it up.
Meal planning this way will take the burden of thought off your plate, freeing your busy mama brain up for more important stuff. Or just, you know, time to chill in front of Netflix and turn your mind off for a bit. Because we need that, too.
This is the internet, where there are thousands of meal plans out there for you to get inspiration from.
My personal favorite place to do it is from Pinterest. Just type “meal plans” or “weekly meal plans” up in the search bar, and here’s what you’ll find:
See the tiles at the top, that say “On a Budget”, “Printable”, “Family”, etc? If you’re unfamiliar with Pinterest, that’s where you can narrow down your needs and find blog posts, websites, and more that are related directly to your needs.
👉Your husband’s on the keto diet (high fat, low carb).
👉Your one kid hates rice.
👉Your other kids is allergic to gluten.
👉You and your husband both work full time, so you all basically live on granola bars and Chick-Fil-A, and it’s driving you insane.
I get these sorts of families coming to me all the time, and after an initial consultation, I create a monthly meal plan for them that works for everyone- and their budget.
But you don’t need to hire me to do what I do. With a little creative planning, you can get on top of crazy dietary situations, too!
First, carve out time to meal prep. In these situations, you’re not just meal prepping ingredients, but you’re meal prepping sides to swap as well.
I utilize the heck out the crockpot and Instant Pot for these meal prep sessions. Make a quinoa pilaf in the crock pot and a chili for lunch in the Instant Pot while you’re chopping and bagging veggies to roast later in the week.
Then, make sure that the recipes you choose are easily customizable to your needs.
Chicken and Olive Burgers. Swap buns for lettuce wraps and cheese for mayonnaise and everyone gets roasted veggies on the side.
See? It takes a little extra planning, but it’s totally do-able. And as usual, and awesome place to start looking for these recipes is Pinterest.
Totally not into doing this yourself? Maybe want a meal plan to get you going, and you can take it from there? My Customized Meal Plan clients come to me for all different types of reasons!
Each plan comes with a full grocery list, meal prep suggestions, and a month of dinners and sides (with room for leftovers). Monthly discounts and the option to purchase online grocery cart fills (where I do the online shopping for you) are also available.
I’ve been there, sister: it’s 5pm and you suddenly realize these kids in your house need to be fed. What can you throw together for dinner in under an hour that won’t take the last little amount of energy you have for the day?
Like I said; I’ve been there. But I keep three specific pieces of equipment in my kitchen that helps me through these last minute panic sessions. And I think you’ll love them, too!
My 3 Top Ways to Get Dinner on the Table in Under an Hour (and keep your weeknight sanity intact!)
1. Oh, bless the wonderful Instant Pot
I know this isn’t yet a staple device in everyone’s homes, but I feel as though it will be eventually.
The Instant Pot is amazing for busy parents, although there is a slight learning curve. It can look super intimidating right out of the box; bear no mind. At first, the only button you’ll need is “pressure cook”- and you’ll be using that button for all sorts of wonderful meals.
One of my favorite things about the Instant Pot, the thing that continues to blow my mind every time I use it, is that you can place a frozen chicken breast, a cup of dried beans, some liquids and seasonings inside and secure the lid, and you can have dinner in under an hour that literally tastes like it’s been simmering on the stove all day.
The Instant Pot cooks food with a combination of steam and pressure, and its capacity for cooking meat from frozen is something I will always love it for. It makes dinner in under an hour a cinch to pull off.
The other day we wanted a spaghetti bolognese, but I forgot to pull ground beef out of the freezer. It went into the Instant Pot for 15 minutes, cooked it from frozen, and I added it to the sauce. I mean, the future is here, guys. And it’s a countertop kitchen device made in Canada and shipped to me from Amazon.
This style of cooking is near and dear to myheartas youmaynowknow. There’s a basic formula I like to follow for sheet pan meals:
Hot oven (I usually go around 400*F)
Sturdy pan (read: heavy) with a low lip
Combo of protein-vegetable-starch all tossed in similar seasoning; usually, a dry rub of some sort but sauces work, too
With a sheet pan meal, you can get creative, or you can be lazy.
One of my favorite lazy dinner in under an hour recipes, the one that I usually fall back on those nights of daddy-isn’t-home-so-we’re-fending-dinner-for-ourselves: coat some chicken breasts with egg wash and panko breadcrumbs (they’re crispier!) and bake at 400*F for 12ish minutes alongside broccoli florets tossed in olive oil and salt.
Don’t forget to line the pan with aluminum foil to cut down on your time spent cleaning!
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3. Buy the prepared ingredients.
Don’t get me wrong- I’m not talking processed food here (although that has its place, too) When I say prepared ingredients I mean this: let your grocery store do some of the prep work for you.
Buy the pre-cut celery and carrots. The rotisserie chicken. The frozen chopped fruit chunks. Herb paste.
These ingredients are still good for you, it helps cuts down on your prep time in the kitchen, and they’re usually made with minimally or no processed ingredients. Think of it as you cutting corners, guilt-free. Many nights, making dinner in under an hour means, for me, grabbing the pre-chopped cauliflower florets and pre-breaded chicken cutlets from the deli on the way home from work so I can throw them straight into the oven when I get home. Done.
Because listen, mama. Cooking does not need to look like you hunched over your cutting board every night.
And you deserve a bit of a break, even on the nights you don’t call for pizza delivery.