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?
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.
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.
Scheduling in a working moms’ meal prep routine can seem tricky at first but I’ll let you in on this secret: meal prepping is my number one timesaving strategy and some weeks, the only way I manage to keep my sanity!
Want to know why? It’s not because it saves you time cooking (although is fully does) It’s because it saves you time washing dishes.
By far and large, whenever I talk to my fellow busy parents riding the struggle bus during weekday meal times, their biggest complaint is this: I freaking hate washing dishes.
This is even more so in New York City, where so many apartments come dishwasher-free. If you’re raising kids and doing it without a dishwasher, I say to you: I’m with you, and I salute you and isn’t it just the worst!?
I’ve been living without a dishwasher for almost three years now, and in that time I’ve launched a cooking company, scaled up my recipe testing and recipe development freelance work, and continue to raise two kids, one of whom eats like a horse.
I hand wash a lot of dishes.
Like, seriously a lot.
My hands are constantly dry and battered, and a few weeks ago when I went for a manicure, the manicurist peered down at my hands, with their cracked skin and nicks and cuts and raggedly nails, and then gave me a funny look.
“Your hands are in rough shape,” she told me. Yeah, thanks for that.
Over the years, especially my years without a dishwasher, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to mitigate the overwhelming-ness of my sink:
I listen to podcasts or books on tape to make the time go faster.
The working mom’s meal prep routine is a huge timesaver, that much is true. But its secret superpower is how it cuts down on your dirty dishes throughout the week.
When you’ve already prepped for the week, you’ll only have your storage items and plates to wash after that- no pans, knives, cutting boards, pots, lids, etc. You don’t have to worry about bleaching down your countertops after you’ve prepped raw meats.
See those cute little storage containers? They’re crazy easy to clean and dry. No funky corners or baked on grease. I’d rather zip through cleaning these guys than a million pots and pans on a busy Wednesday evening when I’d rather be curled up with my kids watching Boss Baby for the zillionth time.
I’ll also add as an aside, this week was an odd meal plan for us (pizza bagels, I know!), because I’m in the middle of a recipe testing project for Peapod, and some of the items I’m testing have made their way onto our dinner table so I can make sure they work time wise.
So here’s how I broke down my Power Hour last week:
In 60 minutes, I:
Formed 2 pounds of burger into patties for hamburgers
Sliced 4 sweet potatoes into fries
Combined the seasonings and liquids for Beef Stroganoff, since it’s a crockpot dish, and set aside (the meat had come already diced)
Seasoned and cooked the sausage for Stuffed Peppers
Combined panko and parmesan in one container, and egg wash and mustard in another, and chopped fish into fillets Roasted broccoli in a hot oven
Roasted green beans in a hot oven and then tossed them with slivered almonds for a side
Guess how many pans and post and containers I skipped washing?
Like, a million.
Okay- I skipped the big pots and pans, to be fair. So many it wasn’t a million.
At the end of the week, in reality, I had washed only plates, silverware and cups/glasses, plus 2-3 daily containers.
I mean, I’d say that’s not too bad, right? No cutting boards, no pots, no sheet pans- they were all used and then washed in a big push on Sunday afternoon.
You can do this, too! Meal prep is a hassle- believe me, I KNOW THIS. But when you can push through and get it on your schedule and get it done, your tired ass self will thank you a thousand times over throughout the week. To come home to dinner made or mostly made- that is a good feeling.
And if you’re stuck on meal prepping and where to start, check out my free prep sheet worksheet download by leaving your name and email below!
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Cooking your first Thanksgiving can be nervewracking. It’s a big day with SO MUCH pressure, it can feel crazy overwhelming.
So you’re the one who needs to survive cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year. Lucky you!
Except…. not. There are so many moving parts to Thanksgiving, how can you keep track of them all!?
Maybe you’re freaking out about cooking your first Thanksgiving because you’ve never cooked for these many people before?
Or, last year you cooked and it was a disaster. Cold turkey, chewy mashed potatoes (how!?), and a dinner that finally got on the table 3 hours after you started.
Or, your mom/grandma/aunt/uncle has always cooked an AWESOME dinner but they’re not able to this year, and the pressure is on!
Or, your kitchen is teeny tiny and you have zero space for a normal week’s groceries and gadgets, let alone the amount you’ll need for MORE.
Fear not, my busy friend. I’ve been there, I’ve burned the mashed potatoes, and I lived to tell the tale.
(You will, too!)
But before that, here are 6 steps I learned from the ground up that can help you survive cooking your first Thanksgiving.
These tips will help whether you’re new to the game or just plain freaking overwhelmed.
Step One: Write it all down.
This is the first, and possibly the most crucial step of the whole process of Thanksgiving dinner: get it all out on paper.
Start with an enormous list; include every single thing you’ll need to remember. Just get it all out, then work backward from there, breaking the list into smaller parts.
Write your whole guest list first.
As you’re figuring out the guest list, now is the time- before you decide on the menu- to find out who’s got allergies, who’s vegan, who’s able to bring their famous pumpkin pie along, etc.
Don’t forget the kids!
For example, do you have an uncle who likes to pour gravy all over everything, even his salad? Make a quick note of that on your guest list, so you don’t forget when you’re writing out your menu.
Then, write your entire menu.
This is the fun part! Keeping those with dietary restrictions in mind, figure out the recipes you’ll be making for the big day.
Cruise Pinterest, magazines, blogs, Google, ask your friends and family on Facebook for recipe recommendations. Keep it simple, but have fun!
If a recipe is super new to you, try to fit in a ‘practice’ run in the week or so before Thanksgiving. Being familiar with a recipe helps to take the edge off the stress of cooking on the day of.
Another important tenet of writing out your menu is deciding on what you can make ahead of time and chill or freeze until Thanksgiving Day; I’ll touch on the specifics of that later in the post. But it helps to, as you’re writing out your menu for the day, make a mental note of what can be made ahead to take some of the day-of pressure off.
Next, write a rough timeline
This is where the dirt meets the road, my friends. Once you have the particulars like guest list and menu figured out, your timeline (or ‘game plan’) will be the single most important process of the meal- before you start cooking.
I’d wager to say it’s more important than the actual cooking. With the right game plan, your stress load will be remarkably minimized!
The trick is to start early.
No matter how much more time there is between now and Thanksgiving, take a few minutes and write out everything that needs to be done between now and the morning of.
This includes grocery shopping. Turkey ordering. Booze procurement. Make-ahead items. The breakdown of cooking Thanksgiving day itself.
Step Two: Utilize Your Guest List.
Accept the help!
I get it, I do. It’s hard accepting help. I struggle with it all the time.
But with a dinner like Thanksgiving, it’s okay to lean on people. When someone asks, “what can I bring?” be honest. Tell them!
Here are some suggestions you can ask people to bring
serving dishes and spoons
napkins, cutlery, glasses, tablecloth
In all actuality, everything but the turkey can be brought potluck-style by someone else.
(And technically, the turkey can be brought in from somewhere else, too!)
What about the cleanup?
Don’t forget to figure this out! Try not to make it all on you; you’ll be doing enough that day!
Add extra plastic storage containers, cling film, and ziplock bags to your grocery list so that you store leftovers and send stuff home with guests.
If someone asks how they can help, ask if they’ll chip in with cleaning and storing food after the meal. It’s a cheesy old adage, but it’s true: heavy hands really do make light work!
Step Three: Figure out how much food you’ll need.
If you buy my meal plan, you’ll see I’ve included a super handy primer for figuring out how much food you’ll need for each guest. Obviously, you can play around with this; kids will eat less, some adults will eat more.
And don’t forget the leftovers! Turkey sandwiches the day after Thanksgiving is one of my favorite parts of the holiday!
Step Four: What’s your Thanksgiving game plan?
Think of a football coach in this way; you need to have a full ‘game plan’ mapped out ahead of time. This is what helps you create a clear path to Thanksgiving victory.
The best way to create a ‘Cooking Your First Thanksgiving’ game plan is to start big, then whittle it down to actionable steps.
Here’s what I mean by starting big, then whittling down:
BIG THING: grocery shop
Decide on the items you’re making (don’t include the dishes guests may be bringing).
Write down every single ingredient you’ll need, then check your cupboards and fridges to see what you’ve got and what you can substitute in.
Then, write your grocery list.
Clear your fridge for the onslaught of new items you’ll be bringing home.
Bring your list to the store (aside: Somehow, I manage to forget this every year 🤦 Don’t be like me. Remember your list!)
BIG THING: Cook Thanksgiving dinner
Decide the time you want dinner to be on the table, then work backward from there: How long will the turkey take? That’s when it goes in the oven.
Other questions to help figure out your timing: How long to prep the turkey before it goes in the oven? What items can be cooked beforehand and then reheated for dinner? What can be made in the ~20 minutes while the turkey rests after it’s out of the oven?
Tip: To avoid looking at your now enormous list of clear steps and getting overwhelmed, start with the smallest, easiest things first. Not only will it feel good to cross a handful of things off your list in a short period of time, but it will get the ball rolling in a ‘snowball’ effect; more things done means more momentum for the rest.
You can do this!
Step Five: Work the Game Plan.
Getting down to business on the day of Thanksgiving
Now comes the real balancing act: cooking (and reheating) everything on the day of Thanksgiving, and getting it all on the table at the same time.
This is the step that I struggled with for years! I would find myself frantically mashing potatoes while everyone else was sitting down to dinner, privately cursing my mismanaged time.
But I’ve gathered a few tips in the meantime that will help you not make some of the same mistakes I did early on! Click the images below to enlarge. You can also pin them to save for later!
Step Six: Get a Plan Together for the Clean-Up
It’s the least fun part of the day, but don’t forget the post-Thanksgiving dinner cleanup and storage.
Having a rough idea of how this will play out will make it go much smoother and faster. I personally kind of enjoy cleaning up after Thanksgiving, although I’m usually beat after all that cooking. But it’s a nice time to reflect and chat with people on a more casual, one-to-one level.
Plus, when you’re in the kitchen you’re located at the prime advantage point for sneaking another piece of pie or a glass of wine. Score!
When people ask if they can bring something to help, sometimes I’ll tell them not to bring anything but to plan on chipping in to wash dishes.
I also make sure to always clean as I cook, which cuts down on the anxiety-inducing pile of post-dinner casserole dishes.
And lastly, I make double sure that there’s plenty of big ziplock baggies, plastic storage containers, cling film, tin foil, etc to both store food easily and send people home with leftovers.
There you have it; the Six Steps to Cooking Your First Thanksgiving!
If you’re a veteran Thanksgiving cook, or you think I forgot something- I wanna hear about it! Do you have any extra tips and tricks you wish you knew before jumping into cooking a Thanksgiving dinner? Leave a message in the comment section below!
Don’t forget to download my FREE Thanksgiving Game Plan by entering your email in the boxes below. You’ll get access to a gameplan breakdown cheat sheet, a checklist for the big day, and my food amounts cheat sheet. It’s a really helpful little packet!
It isn’t always easy finding snacks and lunch box ideas that kids will eat, so I’ve rounded up some ideas from a couple of my fave food bloggers to help inspire you!
When my daughter (now 3) was a baby, she ate everything. It was great! I felt like the best mom ever, smugly feeding her all kinds of foods and saying things like, “Oh, it’s just what she’s used to!”
Now, with a mind of her own and a beautifully stubborn attitude to match, she would be thrilled to live on a diet of goldfish crackers and air. I’m hoping this is all a phase and just trying to go with the flow. In the meantime, though, I’m on a constant search for healthy-ish, tasty, quick and easy meals and snacks I can make for her that won’t wind up cast aside by her, ah, discerning palate.
Want to see more ideas for lunch box ideas and after school snacks?
Click to follow my Pinterest board, Baby and Kid Approved! It’s full of quick and simple kid-friendly meal ideas, and I add new stuff to it all the time.