Traditional recipes

Turn Your Leftovers Into Delicious Meals

Turn Your Leftovers Into Delicious Meals

Don’t let last night’s dinner go to waste; make exciting, flavorful dishes that will make it all taste like new

Turn Your Leftovers Into Delicious Meals

Next time you clean out your refrigerator, while you’re throwing old food and leftovers into the trash, consider how you could have used them up before they expired and rotted. Each year, Americans throw away more than 50 million tons of food — accounting for more than 20 percent of all municipal garbage. But the issue of waste aside, great things can become of your leftovers; all it takes is a little thought and creativity.

Leftovers can become great again! They can be repurposed to become whole new meals with new flavors, textures, and renewed deliciousness. Here, we’ve compiled scores of ideas to turn your unfinished meals into wonderful eats. But before we start, know that although this leftover recipe round-up suggests a variety of inventive dishes, nearly everything can be made or repurposed into soup.

You can beef up whatever you have on hand with a flavorful stock, a touch of cream, and a little extra seasoning and then proceed to call it “harvest soup” or something similarly fancy. No one will know you made something impressive out of supposedly nothing — that is, if you don’t brag about it.

Leftover Bread

Leftover Cake, Cookies, or Pie

Thinkstock/ ziprashantzi

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes we are “plagued” with lingering desserts: stale brownies, the forgotten slice of pie, the cake that was just too big to finish. A fun way to give these desserts new life is to turn them into another dessert! Buzz whatever you have on hand with a splash of milk and a scoop of ice cream to make a milkshake.

For the Pumpkin Pie Milkshake recipe, click here.

Leftover Coffee

When you can’t seem to finish that pot, don’t simply pour the unused liquid down the drain. Instead, redirect that pour into an ice cube tray and make coffee ice cubes to chill your next iced coffee without diluting it. Another way to use it up is to pair it with chocolate; coffee punctuates the flavor of chocolate, making baked goods especially yummy.

For the Leftover Coffee Chocolate Brownies recipe, click here.

Leftover Mashed Potatoes

Leftover mashed potatoes are never as good as when they are freshly made and piping hot; in the days after you make them, they become mealy and dry, leaving much to be desired. However, turning your leftovers into British favorite “Bubble and Squeak” can give potatoes back their mojo. Bubble and Squeak is the ultimate leftover dish and is made exclusively with dinner’s remnants. Any combination of leftover ingredients can be used, but mashed potatoes are always the primary ingredient. The dish gets its charming name from the sounds leftover cabbage (a traditional ingredient) makes when reheating.

Looking for other options for leftover potatoes? How about leftover mashed potato waffles or a Shepherd’s Pie, perhaps?

For the Bubble and Squeak recipe, click here.

Leftover Rice and Other Grains

Leftover Roasted Vegetables

Reheating leftover roasted veggies won’t resurrect the former deliciousness of their crispy edges; as leftovers, they are now soft and rapidly declining in flavor and texture — so what do you do?

The answer: Make breakfast! Give you leftovers a rough chop and stir them into a frittata or flaky quiche. In another breakfast scenario, you could throw them in among some other odds and ends to make a delicious vegetable hash.

For a frittata recipe, click here.

Leftover Proteins

All kinds of meat — chicken, steak, pork, lamb — can (and should) be repurposed into something equally good and delicious as last night’s dinner. Sandwiches, enchiladas, tacos, meaty salads (like this beautiful kale, lamb, and pomegranate number) first come to mind, but casseroles and soups are also great, easy, and tasty options.

For the Easy Chicken Enchiladas recipe, click here.

Leftover Squash and Sweet Potatoes

Leftover Wilty Greens


How to Transform Dinner Leftovers into Snazzy School Lunch Kids Will Love

It’s back to school time! For many parents, this time of year brings a sigh of relief, as the kids head back to the classroom and get out from underfoot 24/7. Things aren’t so simple this year, of course if they are going back, you’re probably more worried than usual, and if they’re safely distance learning at home, you have extra hassles to deal with, from constant demands for snacks to shifting Zoom schedules and last-minute technical difficulties. In any case, there are still all the usual issues too, from fighting over homework to finding enough time in the day to make a lunch.

Take a Trip Get Inspired by These School Lunches Around the World While some kids enjoy the same old sandwich day after day, others are dismayed by what they find in their lunchbox. How do you keep things interesting without adding hours to your day? Luckily, I’ve got your hacks to help with that second problem and last nights dinner leftovers are comin’ in hot with a big assist.

Before you pooh-pooh the idea — “My kids hate leftovers for dinner, they won’t eat them at school!” — consider that these aren’t mere recyclings of last night’s dinner menu. Instead, they’re creative repurposing of that dinner into something totally new with just minimal effort. They also help cut down on the estimated 40 percent of household food that Americans throw away every year.

The focus here is on repurposing main ingredients, like a primary protein or leftover vegetables, into a brand new dish that will be exciting yet healthy. Do your kids love pizza? Pasta? Tacos? Here are some ways to create them seemingly out of thin air.

If last night’s dinner was…

Seasoned Meat:

Make your own taco bar. If last night’s dinner was any sort of seasoned meat, such as chicken breast, steak, or pork, you’ve got your base for everyone’s favorite hand-held food. Simply shred or chop the meat into long strips and put it into a container. Add two flour or corn tortillas to the lunch bag, then fill a multi-compartment container with any combination of shredded cheese, pepper strips (or leftover veggies), avocado, salsa, and sour cream. Let your kids assemble it at school and voila, you’ve got instant tacos.

Transform it into a fajita bowl. Did that chicken/steak/pork dish also come with a side of rice? Mix it all together! Again, chop or shred the meat, add it to a bowl with the rice and toppings listed above, and toss. It’s less messy to eat and uses fewer containers, but tastes just as good.

Bentgo Kids Brights Leak-Proof, 5-Compartment Bento-Style Lunchbox, $24.99 from Amazon

Ground Beef, Turkey, or Hamburger Patties:

Create the ultimate patty melt. Yes, tacos would work here too. And so would a leftover burger after all, what kid doesn’t like a burger? But for the sake of less complaining about leftovers, a good patty melt is a great recycled product. All you need is rye bread, swiss cheese, and a little sauce and you’re good to go. (Find our recipe below.)

Assemble sloppy Joes. This meal also gets rid of any leftover hamburger buns from dinner. Simply chop up the beef and mix with some brown sugar, green bell pepper, garlic, and either ketchup or yellow mustard, and you have a completely different sandwich. And it helps get some veggies into their diet that they won’t throw in the lunchroom trash!

Roasted or Rotisserie Chicken:

Make soup. Ah, the reliable rotisserie chicken. A complete meal that requires nothing more than a stop at the grocery store or just an hour in the oven. Inevitably you’ll have both leftover meat and an enormous carcass. Don’t throw either of those out! Add the carcass to a giant pot with water, chunks of celery, carrot, onion, and a bay leaf. Add salt, pepper, and oregano. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer, cover, and cook for at least 12 hours, adjusting the water level as necessary. Once it’s ready, strain into a container with a fine-mesh sieve. You’ll end up with a rich, hearty stock that’s perfect for so many dishes: Add some chicken and noodles to make instant soup, or use it to cook rice or quinoa instead of water. Granted, this may not be ready until the kids are about to run out the door the next day, but it’ll last in the fridge for about four days and in the freezer for much longer.

Make chicken salad. Like Ina Garten taught us the best chicken salad comes from a rotisserie chicken. Jazz it up however you like with a curry, if your kids are adventurous, or perhaps some Kewpie mayo for a little extra tang. From there you’ve got fabulous lunch sandwiches. Chicken salad should keep at least a few days in the fridge if sealed properly.

Lots of Vegetables and No or Very Little Meat:

Toss a pasta primavera. Do you live in a vegetarian household, or have kids who will happily eat all the protein and barely touch the veggies? Disguise the leftovers into a delicious pasta. Just chop the vegetables into bite size pieces and toss with cooked penne. Top with a little olive oil and seasonings or your favorite canned pasta sauce. Voila! You’ll give them the carb boost they need for afternoon sports (or running around the backyard as the case may be). As a bonus, cold pastas are just as delicious as hot ones, perfect for young children who don’t have access to a microwave at school.

Cook a cauliflower crust . Cauliflower is all the rage these days, but that doesn’t mean that kids will suddenly enjoy it after a millennium of feeding it to the dog under the table. Luckily, the current cauliflower craze has led to a number of inventive ways to use it. Mash or puree your leftover florets or cauliflower rice, press it into a pan, and bake. Guess what? Now you have a delicious cauliflower pizza crust and your kids will be none the wiser. Cover with sauce, cheese, and their favorite pizza toppings. You’ll be their hero.

Leftover Bread, Rolls, and the Like:

Pizza Pizza! I dare you to find a kid who will say no to pizza for lunch. Have leftover hamburger buns? French bread? Tortillas from tacos? They make great mini-pizzas. Again, just top with sauce and shredded cheese along with their favorite meats or veggies. Best. Parent. Ever.


How to Transform Dinner Leftovers into Snazzy School Lunch Kids Will Love

It’s back to school time! For many parents, this time of year brings a sigh of relief, as the kids head back to the classroom and get out from underfoot 24/7. Things aren’t so simple this year, of course if they are going back, you’re probably more worried than usual, and if they’re safely distance learning at home, you have extra hassles to deal with, from constant demands for snacks to shifting Zoom schedules and last-minute technical difficulties. In any case, there are still all the usual issues too, from fighting over homework to finding enough time in the day to make a lunch.

Take a Trip Get Inspired by These School Lunches Around the World While some kids enjoy the same old sandwich day after day, others are dismayed by what they find in their lunchbox. How do you keep things interesting without adding hours to your day? Luckily, I’ve got your hacks to help with that second problem and last nights dinner leftovers are comin’ in hot with a big assist.

Before you pooh-pooh the idea — “My kids hate leftovers for dinner, they won’t eat them at school!” — consider that these aren’t mere recyclings of last night’s dinner menu. Instead, they’re creative repurposing of that dinner into something totally new with just minimal effort. They also help cut down on the estimated 40 percent of household food that Americans throw away every year.

The focus here is on repurposing main ingredients, like a primary protein or leftover vegetables, into a brand new dish that will be exciting yet healthy. Do your kids love pizza? Pasta? Tacos? Here are some ways to create them seemingly out of thin air.

If last night’s dinner was…

Seasoned Meat:

Make your own taco bar. If last night’s dinner was any sort of seasoned meat, such as chicken breast, steak, or pork, you’ve got your base for everyone’s favorite hand-held food. Simply shred or chop the meat into long strips and put it into a container. Add two flour or corn tortillas to the lunch bag, then fill a multi-compartment container with any combination of shredded cheese, pepper strips (or leftover veggies), avocado, salsa, and sour cream. Let your kids assemble it at school and voila, you’ve got instant tacos.

Transform it into a fajita bowl. Did that chicken/steak/pork dish also come with a side of rice? Mix it all together! Again, chop or shred the meat, add it to a bowl with the rice and toppings listed above, and toss. It’s less messy to eat and uses fewer containers, but tastes just as good.

Bentgo Kids Brights Leak-Proof, 5-Compartment Bento-Style Lunchbox, $24.99 from Amazon

Ground Beef, Turkey, or Hamburger Patties:

Create the ultimate patty melt. Yes, tacos would work here too. And so would a leftover burger after all, what kid doesn’t like a burger? But for the sake of less complaining about leftovers, a good patty melt is a great recycled product. All you need is rye bread, swiss cheese, and a little sauce and you’re good to go. (Find our recipe below.)

Assemble sloppy Joes. This meal also gets rid of any leftover hamburger buns from dinner. Simply chop up the beef and mix with some brown sugar, green bell pepper, garlic, and either ketchup or yellow mustard, and you have a completely different sandwich. And it helps get some veggies into their diet that they won’t throw in the lunchroom trash!

Roasted or Rotisserie Chicken:

Make soup. Ah, the reliable rotisserie chicken. A complete meal that requires nothing more than a stop at the grocery store or just an hour in the oven. Inevitably you’ll have both leftover meat and an enormous carcass. Don’t throw either of those out! Add the carcass to a giant pot with water, chunks of celery, carrot, onion, and a bay leaf. Add salt, pepper, and oregano. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer, cover, and cook for at least 12 hours, adjusting the water level as necessary. Once it’s ready, strain into a container with a fine-mesh sieve. You’ll end up with a rich, hearty stock that’s perfect for so many dishes: Add some chicken and noodles to make instant soup, or use it to cook rice or quinoa instead of water. Granted, this may not be ready until the kids are about to run out the door the next day, but it’ll last in the fridge for about four days and in the freezer for much longer.

Make chicken salad. Like Ina Garten taught us the best chicken salad comes from a rotisserie chicken. Jazz it up however you like with a curry, if your kids are adventurous, or perhaps some Kewpie mayo for a little extra tang. From there you’ve got fabulous lunch sandwiches. Chicken salad should keep at least a few days in the fridge if sealed properly.

Lots of Vegetables and No or Very Little Meat:

Toss a pasta primavera. Do you live in a vegetarian household, or have kids who will happily eat all the protein and barely touch the veggies? Disguise the leftovers into a delicious pasta. Just chop the vegetables into bite size pieces and toss with cooked penne. Top with a little olive oil and seasonings or your favorite canned pasta sauce. Voila! You’ll give them the carb boost they need for afternoon sports (or running around the backyard as the case may be). As a bonus, cold pastas are just as delicious as hot ones, perfect for young children who don’t have access to a microwave at school.

Cook a cauliflower crust . Cauliflower is all the rage these days, but that doesn’t mean that kids will suddenly enjoy it after a millennium of feeding it to the dog under the table. Luckily, the current cauliflower craze has led to a number of inventive ways to use it. Mash or puree your leftover florets or cauliflower rice, press it into a pan, and bake. Guess what? Now you have a delicious cauliflower pizza crust and your kids will be none the wiser. Cover with sauce, cheese, and their favorite pizza toppings. You’ll be their hero.

Leftover Bread, Rolls, and the Like:

Pizza Pizza! I dare you to find a kid who will say no to pizza for lunch. Have leftover hamburger buns? French bread? Tortillas from tacos? They make great mini-pizzas. Again, just top with sauce and shredded cheese along with their favorite meats or veggies. Best. Parent. Ever.


How to Transform Dinner Leftovers into Snazzy School Lunch Kids Will Love

It’s back to school time! For many parents, this time of year brings a sigh of relief, as the kids head back to the classroom and get out from underfoot 24/7. Things aren’t so simple this year, of course if they are going back, you’re probably more worried than usual, and if they’re safely distance learning at home, you have extra hassles to deal with, from constant demands for snacks to shifting Zoom schedules and last-minute technical difficulties. In any case, there are still all the usual issues too, from fighting over homework to finding enough time in the day to make a lunch.

Take a Trip Get Inspired by These School Lunches Around the World While some kids enjoy the same old sandwich day after day, others are dismayed by what they find in their lunchbox. How do you keep things interesting without adding hours to your day? Luckily, I’ve got your hacks to help with that second problem and last nights dinner leftovers are comin’ in hot with a big assist.

Before you pooh-pooh the idea — “My kids hate leftovers for dinner, they won’t eat them at school!” — consider that these aren’t mere recyclings of last night’s dinner menu. Instead, they’re creative repurposing of that dinner into something totally new with just minimal effort. They also help cut down on the estimated 40 percent of household food that Americans throw away every year.

The focus here is on repurposing main ingredients, like a primary protein or leftover vegetables, into a brand new dish that will be exciting yet healthy. Do your kids love pizza? Pasta? Tacos? Here are some ways to create them seemingly out of thin air.

If last night’s dinner was…

Seasoned Meat:

Make your own taco bar. If last night’s dinner was any sort of seasoned meat, such as chicken breast, steak, or pork, you’ve got your base for everyone’s favorite hand-held food. Simply shred or chop the meat into long strips and put it into a container. Add two flour or corn tortillas to the lunch bag, then fill a multi-compartment container with any combination of shredded cheese, pepper strips (or leftover veggies), avocado, salsa, and sour cream. Let your kids assemble it at school and voila, you’ve got instant tacos.

Transform it into a fajita bowl. Did that chicken/steak/pork dish also come with a side of rice? Mix it all together! Again, chop or shred the meat, add it to a bowl with the rice and toppings listed above, and toss. It’s less messy to eat and uses fewer containers, but tastes just as good.

Bentgo Kids Brights Leak-Proof, 5-Compartment Bento-Style Lunchbox, $24.99 from Amazon

Ground Beef, Turkey, or Hamburger Patties:

Create the ultimate patty melt. Yes, tacos would work here too. And so would a leftover burger after all, what kid doesn’t like a burger? But for the sake of less complaining about leftovers, a good patty melt is a great recycled product. All you need is rye bread, swiss cheese, and a little sauce and you’re good to go. (Find our recipe below.)

Assemble sloppy Joes. This meal also gets rid of any leftover hamburger buns from dinner. Simply chop up the beef and mix with some brown sugar, green bell pepper, garlic, and either ketchup or yellow mustard, and you have a completely different sandwich. And it helps get some veggies into their diet that they won’t throw in the lunchroom trash!

Roasted or Rotisserie Chicken:

Make soup. Ah, the reliable rotisserie chicken. A complete meal that requires nothing more than a stop at the grocery store or just an hour in the oven. Inevitably you’ll have both leftover meat and an enormous carcass. Don’t throw either of those out! Add the carcass to a giant pot with water, chunks of celery, carrot, onion, and a bay leaf. Add salt, pepper, and oregano. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer, cover, and cook for at least 12 hours, adjusting the water level as necessary. Once it’s ready, strain into a container with a fine-mesh sieve. You’ll end up with a rich, hearty stock that’s perfect for so many dishes: Add some chicken and noodles to make instant soup, or use it to cook rice or quinoa instead of water. Granted, this may not be ready until the kids are about to run out the door the next day, but it’ll last in the fridge for about four days and in the freezer for much longer.

Make chicken salad. Like Ina Garten taught us the best chicken salad comes from a rotisserie chicken. Jazz it up however you like with a curry, if your kids are adventurous, or perhaps some Kewpie mayo for a little extra tang. From there you’ve got fabulous lunch sandwiches. Chicken salad should keep at least a few days in the fridge if sealed properly.

Lots of Vegetables and No or Very Little Meat:

Toss a pasta primavera. Do you live in a vegetarian household, or have kids who will happily eat all the protein and barely touch the veggies? Disguise the leftovers into a delicious pasta. Just chop the vegetables into bite size pieces and toss with cooked penne. Top with a little olive oil and seasonings or your favorite canned pasta sauce. Voila! You’ll give them the carb boost they need for afternoon sports (or running around the backyard as the case may be). As a bonus, cold pastas are just as delicious as hot ones, perfect for young children who don’t have access to a microwave at school.

Cook a cauliflower crust . Cauliflower is all the rage these days, but that doesn’t mean that kids will suddenly enjoy it after a millennium of feeding it to the dog under the table. Luckily, the current cauliflower craze has led to a number of inventive ways to use it. Mash or puree your leftover florets or cauliflower rice, press it into a pan, and bake. Guess what? Now you have a delicious cauliflower pizza crust and your kids will be none the wiser. Cover with sauce, cheese, and their favorite pizza toppings. You’ll be their hero.

Leftover Bread, Rolls, and the Like:

Pizza Pizza! I dare you to find a kid who will say no to pizza for lunch. Have leftover hamburger buns? French bread? Tortillas from tacos? They make great mini-pizzas. Again, just top with sauce and shredded cheese along with their favorite meats or veggies. Best. Parent. Ever.


How to Transform Dinner Leftovers into Snazzy School Lunch Kids Will Love

It’s back to school time! For many parents, this time of year brings a sigh of relief, as the kids head back to the classroom and get out from underfoot 24/7. Things aren’t so simple this year, of course if they are going back, you’re probably more worried than usual, and if they’re safely distance learning at home, you have extra hassles to deal with, from constant demands for snacks to shifting Zoom schedules and last-minute technical difficulties. In any case, there are still all the usual issues too, from fighting over homework to finding enough time in the day to make a lunch.

Take a Trip Get Inspired by These School Lunches Around the World While some kids enjoy the same old sandwich day after day, others are dismayed by what they find in their lunchbox. How do you keep things interesting without adding hours to your day? Luckily, I’ve got your hacks to help with that second problem and last nights dinner leftovers are comin’ in hot with a big assist.

Before you pooh-pooh the idea — “My kids hate leftovers for dinner, they won’t eat them at school!” — consider that these aren’t mere recyclings of last night’s dinner menu. Instead, they’re creative repurposing of that dinner into something totally new with just minimal effort. They also help cut down on the estimated 40 percent of household food that Americans throw away every year.

The focus here is on repurposing main ingredients, like a primary protein or leftover vegetables, into a brand new dish that will be exciting yet healthy. Do your kids love pizza? Pasta? Tacos? Here are some ways to create them seemingly out of thin air.

If last night’s dinner was…

Seasoned Meat:

Make your own taco bar. If last night’s dinner was any sort of seasoned meat, such as chicken breast, steak, or pork, you’ve got your base for everyone’s favorite hand-held food. Simply shred or chop the meat into long strips and put it into a container. Add two flour or corn tortillas to the lunch bag, then fill a multi-compartment container with any combination of shredded cheese, pepper strips (or leftover veggies), avocado, salsa, and sour cream. Let your kids assemble it at school and voila, you’ve got instant tacos.

Transform it into a fajita bowl. Did that chicken/steak/pork dish also come with a side of rice? Mix it all together! Again, chop or shred the meat, add it to a bowl with the rice and toppings listed above, and toss. It’s less messy to eat and uses fewer containers, but tastes just as good.

Bentgo Kids Brights Leak-Proof, 5-Compartment Bento-Style Lunchbox, $24.99 from Amazon

Ground Beef, Turkey, or Hamburger Patties:

Create the ultimate patty melt. Yes, tacos would work here too. And so would a leftover burger after all, what kid doesn’t like a burger? But for the sake of less complaining about leftovers, a good patty melt is a great recycled product. All you need is rye bread, swiss cheese, and a little sauce and you’re good to go. (Find our recipe below.)

Assemble sloppy Joes. This meal also gets rid of any leftover hamburger buns from dinner. Simply chop up the beef and mix with some brown sugar, green bell pepper, garlic, and either ketchup or yellow mustard, and you have a completely different sandwich. And it helps get some veggies into their diet that they won’t throw in the lunchroom trash!

Roasted or Rotisserie Chicken:

Make soup. Ah, the reliable rotisserie chicken. A complete meal that requires nothing more than a stop at the grocery store or just an hour in the oven. Inevitably you’ll have both leftover meat and an enormous carcass. Don’t throw either of those out! Add the carcass to a giant pot with water, chunks of celery, carrot, onion, and a bay leaf. Add salt, pepper, and oregano. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer, cover, and cook for at least 12 hours, adjusting the water level as necessary. Once it’s ready, strain into a container with a fine-mesh sieve. You’ll end up with a rich, hearty stock that’s perfect for so many dishes: Add some chicken and noodles to make instant soup, or use it to cook rice or quinoa instead of water. Granted, this may not be ready until the kids are about to run out the door the next day, but it’ll last in the fridge for about four days and in the freezer for much longer.

Make chicken salad. Like Ina Garten taught us the best chicken salad comes from a rotisserie chicken. Jazz it up however you like with a curry, if your kids are adventurous, or perhaps some Kewpie mayo for a little extra tang. From there you’ve got fabulous lunch sandwiches. Chicken salad should keep at least a few days in the fridge if sealed properly.

Lots of Vegetables and No or Very Little Meat:

Toss a pasta primavera. Do you live in a vegetarian household, or have kids who will happily eat all the protein and barely touch the veggies? Disguise the leftovers into a delicious pasta. Just chop the vegetables into bite size pieces and toss with cooked penne. Top with a little olive oil and seasonings or your favorite canned pasta sauce. Voila! You’ll give them the carb boost they need for afternoon sports (or running around the backyard as the case may be). As a bonus, cold pastas are just as delicious as hot ones, perfect for young children who don’t have access to a microwave at school.

Cook a cauliflower crust . Cauliflower is all the rage these days, but that doesn’t mean that kids will suddenly enjoy it after a millennium of feeding it to the dog under the table. Luckily, the current cauliflower craze has led to a number of inventive ways to use it. Mash or puree your leftover florets or cauliflower rice, press it into a pan, and bake. Guess what? Now you have a delicious cauliflower pizza crust and your kids will be none the wiser. Cover with sauce, cheese, and their favorite pizza toppings. You’ll be their hero.

Leftover Bread, Rolls, and the Like:

Pizza Pizza! I dare you to find a kid who will say no to pizza for lunch. Have leftover hamburger buns? French bread? Tortillas from tacos? They make great mini-pizzas. Again, just top with sauce and shredded cheese along with their favorite meats or veggies. Best. Parent. Ever.


How to Transform Dinner Leftovers into Snazzy School Lunch Kids Will Love

It’s back to school time! For many parents, this time of year brings a sigh of relief, as the kids head back to the classroom and get out from underfoot 24/7. Things aren’t so simple this year, of course if they are going back, you’re probably more worried than usual, and if they’re safely distance learning at home, you have extra hassles to deal with, from constant demands for snacks to shifting Zoom schedules and last-minute technical difficulties. In any case, there are still all the usual issues too, from fighting over homework to finding enough time in the day to make a lunch.

Take a Trip Get Inspired by These School Lunches Around the World While some kids enjoy the same old sandwich day after day, others are dismayed by what they find in their lunchbox. How do you keep things interesting without adding hours to your day? Luckily, I’ve got your hacks to help with that second problem and last nights dinner leftovers are comin’ in hot with a big assist.

Before you pooh-pooh the idea — “My kids hate leftovers for dinner, they won’t eat them at school!” — consider that these aren’t mere recyclings of last night’s dinner menu. Instead, they’re creative repurposing of that dinner into something totally new with just minimal effort. They also help cut down on the estimated 40 percent of household food that Americans throw away every year.

The focus here is on repurposing main ingredients, like a primary protein or leftover vegetables, into a brand new dish that will be exciting yet healthy. Do your kids love pizza? Pasta? Tacos? Here are some ways to create them seemingly out of thin air.

If last night’s dinner was…

Seasoned Meat:

Make your own taco bar. If last night’s dinner was any sort of seasoned meat, such as chicken breast, steak, or pork, you’ve got your base for everyone’s favorite hand-held food. Simply shred or chop the meat into long strips and put it into a container. Add two flour or corn tortillas to the lunch bag, then fill a multi-compartment container with any combination of shredded cheese, pepper strips (or leftover veggies), avocado, salsa, and sour cream. Let your kids assemble it at school and voila, you’ve got instant tacos.

Transform it into a fajita bowl. Did that chicken/steak/pork dish also come with a side of rice? Mix it all together! Again, chop or shred the meat, add it to a bowl with the rice and toppings listed above, and toss. It’s less messy to eat and uses fewer containers, but tastes just as good.

Bentgo Kids Brights Leak-Proof, 5-Compartment Bento-Style Lunchbox, $24.99 from Amazon

Ground Beef, Turkey, or Hamburger Patties:

Create the ultimate patty melt. Yes, tacos would work here too. And so would a leftover burger after all, what kid doesn’t like a burger? But for the sake of less complaining about leftovers, a good patty melt is a great recycled product. All you need is rye bread, swiss cheese, and a little sauce and you’re good to go. (Find our recipe below.)

Assemble sloppy Joes. This meal also gets rid of any leftover hamburger buns from dinner. Simply chop up the beef and mix with some brown sugar, green bell pepper, garlic, and either ketchup or yellow mustard, and you have a completely different sandwich. And it helps get some veggies into their diet that they won’t throw in the lunchroom trash!

Roasted or Rotisserie Chicken:

Make soup. Ah, the reliable rotisserie chicken. A complete meal that requires nothing more than a stop at the grocery store or just an hour in the oven. Inevitably you’ll have both leftover meat and an enormous carcass. Don’t throw either of those out! Add the carcass to a giant pot with water, chunks of celery, carrot, onion, and a bay leaf. Add salt, pepper, and oregano. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer, cover, and cook for at least 12 hours, adjusting the water level as necessary. Once it’s ready, strain into a container with a fine-mesh sieve. You’ll end up with a rich, hearty stock that’s perfect for so many dishes: Add some chicken and noodles to make instant soup, or use it to cook rice or quinoa instead of water. Granted, this may not be ready until the kids are about to run out the door the next day, but it’ll last in the fridge for about four days and in the freezer for much longer.

Make chicken salad. Like Ina Garten taught us the best chicken salad comes from a rotisserie chicken. Jazz it up however you like with a curry, if your kids are adventurous, or perhaps some Kewpie mayo for a little extra tang. From there you’ve got fabulous lunch sandwiches. Chicken salad should keep at least a few days in the fridge if sealed properly.

Lots of Vegetables and No or Very Little Meat:

Toss a pasta primavera. Do you live in a vegetarian household, or have kids who will happily eat all the protein and barely touch the veggies? Disguise the leftovers into a delicious pasta. Just chop the vegetables into bite size pieces and toss with cooked penne. Top with a little olive oil and seasonings or your favorite canned pasta sauce. Voila! You’ll give them the carb boost they need for afternoon sports (or running around the backyard as the case may be). As a bonus, cold pastas are just as delicious as hot ones, perfect for young children who don’t have access to a microwave at school.

Cook a cauliflower crust . Cauliflower is all the rage these days, but that doesn’t mean that kids will suddenly enjoy it after a millennium of feeding it to the dog under the table. Luckily, the current cauliflower craze has led to a number of inventive ways to use it. Mash or puree your leftover florets or cauliflower rice, press it into a pan, and bake. Guess what? Now you have a delicious cauliflower pizza crust and your kids will be none the wiser. Cover with sauce, cheese, and their favorite pizza toppings. You’ll be their hero.

Leftover Bread, Rolls, and the Like:

Pizza Pizza! I dare you to find a kid who will say no to pizza for lunch. Have leftover hamburger buns? French bread? Tortillas from tacos? They make great mini-pizzas. Again, just top with sauce and shredded cheese along with their favorite meats or veggies. Best. Parent. Ever.


How to Transform Dinner Leftovers into Snazzy School Lunch Kids Will Love

It’s back to school time! For many parents, this time of year brings a sigh of relief, as the kids head back to the classroom and get out from underfoot 24/7. Things aren’t so simple this year, of course if they are going back, you’re probably more worried than usual, and if they’re safely distance learning at home, you have extra hassles to deal with, from constant demands for snacks to shifting Zoom schedules and last-minute technical difficulties. In any case, there are still all the usual issues too, from fighting over homework to finding enough time in the day to make a lunch.

Take a Trip Get Inspired by These School Lunches Around the World While some kids enjoy the same old sandwich day after day, others are dismayed by what they find in their lunchbox. How do you keep things interesting without adding hours to your day? Luckily, I’ve got your hacks to help with that second problem and last nights dinner leftovers are comin’ in hot with a big assist.

Before you pooh-pooh the idea — “My kids hate leftovers for dinner, they won’t eat them at school!” — consider that these aren’t mere recyclings of last night’s dinner menu. Instead, they’re creative repurposing of that dinner into something totally new with just minimal effort. They also help cut down on the estimated 40 percent of household food that Americans throw away every year.

The focus here is on repurposing main ingredients, like a primary protein or leftover vegetables, into a brand new dish that will be exciting yet healthy. Do your kids love pizza? Pasta? Tacos? Here are some ways to create them seemingly out of thin air.

If last night’s dinner was…

Seasoned Meat:

Make your own taco bar. If last night’s dinner was any sort of seasoned meat, such as chicken breast, steak, or pork, you’ve got your base for everyone’s favorite hand-held food. Simply shred or chop the meat into long strips and put it into a container. Add two flour or corn tortillas to the lunch bag, then fill a multi-compartment container with any combination of shredded cheese, pepper strips (or leftover veggies), avocado, salsa, and sour cream. Let your kids assemble it at school and voila, you’ve got instant tacos.

Transform it into a fajita bowl. Did that chicken/steak/pork dish also come with a side of rice? Mix it all together! Again, chop or shred the meat, add it to a bowl with the rice and toppings listed above, and toss. It’s less messy to eat and uses fewer containers, but tastes just as good.

Bentgo Kids Brights Leak-Proof, 5-Compartment Bento-Style Lunchbox, $24.99 from Amazon

Ground Beef, Turkey, or Hamburger Patties:

Create the ultimate patty melt. Yes, tacos would work here too. And so would a leftover burger after all, what kid doesn’t like a burger? But for the sake of less complaining about leftovers, a good patty melt is a great recycled product. All you need is rye bread, swiss cheese, and a little sauce and you’re good to go. (Find our recipe below.)

Assemble sloppy Joes. This meal also gets rid of any leftover hamburger buns from dinner. Simply chop up the beef and mix with some brown sugar, green bell pepper, garlic, and either ketchup or yellow mustard, and you have a completely different sandwich. And it helps get some veggies into their diet that they won’t throw in the lunchroom trash!

Roasted or Rotisserie Chicken:

Make soup. Ah, the reliable rotisserie chicken. A complete meal that requires nothing more than a stop at the grocery store or just an hour in the oven. Inevitably you’ll have both leftover meat and an enormous carcass. Don’t throw either of those out! Add the carcass to a giant pot with water, chunks of celery, carrot, onion, and a bay leaf. Add salt, pepper, and oregano. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer, cover, and cook for at least 12 hours, adjusting the water level as necessary. Once it’s ready, strain into a container with a fine-mesh sieve. You’ll end up with a rich, hearty stock that’s perfect for so many dishes: Add some chicken and noodles to make instant soup, or use it to cook rice or quinoa instead of water. Granted, this may not be ready until the kids are about to run out the door the next day, but it’ll last in the fridge for about four days and in the freezer for much longer.

Make chicken salad. Like Ina Garten taught us the best chicken salad comes from a rotisserie chicken. Jazz it up however you like with a curry, if your kids are adventurous, or perhaps some Kewpie mayo for a little extra tang. From there you’ve got fabulous lunch sandwiches. Chicken salad should keep at least a few days in the fridge if sealed properly.

Lots of Vegetables and No or Very Little Meat:

Toss a pasta primavera. Do you live in a vegetarian household, or have kids who will happily eat all the protein and barely touch the veggies? Disguise the leftovers into a delicious pasta. Just chop the vegetables into bite size pieces and toss with cooked penne. Top with a little olive oil and seasonings or your favorite canned pasta sauce. Voila! You’ll give them the carb boost they need for afternoon sports (or running around the backyard as the case may be). As a bonus, cold pastas are just as delicious as hot ones, perfect for young children who don’t have access to a microwave at school.

Cook a cauliflower crust . Cauliflower is all the rage these days, but that doesn’t mean that kids will suddenly enjoy it after a millennium of feeding it to the dog under the table. Luckily, the current cauliflower craze has led to a number of inventive ways to use it. Mash or puree your leftover florets or cauliflower rice, press it into a pan, and bake. Guess what? Now you have a delicious cauliflower pizza crust and your kids will be none the wiser. Cover with sauce, cheese, and their favorite pizza toppings. You’ll be their hero.

Leftover Bread, Rolls, and the Like:

Pizza Pizza! I dare you to find a kid who will say no to pizza for lunch. Have leftover hamburger buns? French bread? Tortillas from tacos? They make great mini-pizzas. Again, just top with sauce and shredded cheese along with their favorite meats or veggies. Best. Parent. Ever.


How to Transform Dinner Leftovers into Snazzy School Lunch Kids Will Love

It’s back to school time! For many parents, this time of year brings a sigh of relief, as the kids head back to the classroom and get out from underfoot 24/7. Things aren’t so simple this year, of course if they are going back, you’re probably more worried than usual, and if they’re safely distance learning at home, you have extra hassles to deal with, from constant demands for snacks to shifting Zoom schedules and last-minute technical difficulties. In any case, there are still all the usual issues too, from fighting over homework to finding enough time in the day to make a lunch.

Take a Trip Get Inspired by These School Lunches Around the World While some kids enjoy the same old sandwich day after day, others are dismayed by what they find in their lunchbox. How do you keep things interesting without adding hours to your day? Luckily, I’ve got your hacks to help with that second problem and last nights dinner leftovers are comin’ in hot with a big assist.

Before you pooh-pooh the idea — “My kids hate leftovers for dinner, they won’t eat them at school!” — consider that these aren’t mere recyclings of last night’s dinner menu. Instead, they’re creative repurposing of that dinner into something totally new with just minimal effort. They also help cut down on the estimated 40 percent of household food that Americans throw away every year.

The focus here is on repurposing main ingredients, like a primary protein or leftover vegetables, into a brand new dish that will be exciting yet healthy. Do your kids love pizza? Pasta? Tacos? Here are some ways to create them seemingly out of thin air.

If last night’s dinner was…

Seasoned Meat:

Make your own taco bar. If last night’s dinner was any sort of seasoned meat, such as chicken breast, steak, or pork, you’ve got your base for everyone’s favorite hand-held food. Simply shred or chop the meat into long strips and put it into a container. Add two flour or corn tortillas to the lunch bag, then fill a multi-compartment container with any combination of shredded cheese, pepper strips (or leftover veggies), avocado, salsa, and sour cream. Let your kids assemble it at school and voila, you’ve got instant tacos.

Transform it into a fajita bowl. Did that chicken/steak/pork dish also come with a side of rice? Mix it all together! Again, chop or shred the meat, add it to a bowl with the rice and toppings listed above, and toss. It’s less messy to eat and uses fewer containers, but tastes just as good.

Bentgo Kids Brights Leak-Proof, 5-Compartment Bento-Style Lunchbox, $24.99 from Amazon

Ground Beef, Turkey, or Hamburger Patties:

Create the ultimate patty melt. Yes, tacos would work here too. And so would a leftover burger after all, what kid doesn’t like a burger? But for the sake of less complaining about leftovers, a good patty melt is a great recycled product. All you need is rye bread, swiss cheese, and a little sauce and you’re good to go. (Find our recipe below.)

Assemble sloppy Joes. This meal also gets rid of any leftover hamburger buns from dinner. Simply chop up the beef and mix with some brown sugar, green bell pepper, garlic, and either ketchup or yellow mustard, and you have a completely different sandwich. And it helps get some veggies into their diet that they won’t throw in the lunchroom trash!

Roasted or Rotisserie Chicken:

Make soup. Ah, the reliable rotisserie chicken. A complete meal that requires nothing more than a stop at the grocery store or just an hour in the oven. Inevitably you’ll have both leftover meat and an enormous carcass. Don’t throw either of those out! Add the carcass to a giant pot with water, chunks of celery, carrot, onion, and a bay leaf. Add salt, pepper, and oregano. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer, cover, and cook for at least 12 hours, adjusting the water level as necessary. Once it’s ready, strain into a container with a fine-mesh sieve. You’ll end up with a rich, hearty stock that’s perfect for so many dishes: Add some chicken and noodles to make instant soup, or use it to cook rice or quinoa instead of water. Granted, this may not be ready until the kids are about to run out the door the next day, but it’ll last in the fridge for about four days and in the freezer for much longer.

Make chicken salad. Like Ina Garten taught us the best chicken salad comes from a rotisserie chicken. Jazz it up however you like with a curry, if your kids are adventurous, or perhaps some Kewpie mayo for a little extra tang. From there you’ve got fabulous lunch sandwiches. Chicken salad should keep at least a few days in the fridge if sealed properly.

Lots of Vegetables and No or Very Little Meat:

Toss a pasta primavera. Do you live in a vegetarian household, or have kids who will happily eat all the protein and barely touch the veggies? Disguise the leftovers into a delicious pasta. Just chop the vegetables into bite size pieces and toss with cooked penne. Top with a little olive oil and seasonings or your favorite canned pasta sauce. Voila! You’ll give them the carb boost they need for afternoon sports (or running around the backyard as the case may be). As a bonus, cold pastas are just as delicious as hot ones, perfect for young children who don’t have access to a microwave at school.

Cook a cauliflower crust . Cauliflower is all the rage these days, but that doesn’t mean that kids will suddenly enjoy it after a millennium of feeding it to the dog under the table. Luckily, the current cauliflower craze has led to a number of inventive ways to use it. Mash or puree your leftover florets or cauliflower rice, press it into a pan, and bake. Guess what? Now you have a delicious cauliflower pizza crust and your kids will be none the wiser. Cover with sauce, cheese, and their favorite pizza toppings. You’ll be their hero.

Leftover Bread, Rolls, and the Like:

Pizza Pizza! I dare you to find a kid who will say no to pizza for lunch. Have leftover hamburger buns? French bread? Tortillas from tacos? They make great mini-pizzas. Again, just top with sauce and shredded cheese along with their favorite meats or veggies. Best. Parent. Ever.


How to Transform Dinner Leftovers into Snazzy School Lunch Kids Will Love

It’s back to school time! For many parents, this time of year brings a sigh of relief, as the kids head back to the classroom and get out from underfoot 24/7. Things aren’t so simple this year, of course if they are going back, you’re probably more worried than usual, and if they’re safely distance learning at home, you have extra hassles to deal with, from constant demands for snacks to shifting Zoom schedules and last-minute technical difficulties. In any case, there are still all the usual issues too, from fighting over homework to finding enough time in the day to make a lunch.

Take a Trip Get Inspired by These School Lunches Around the World While some kids enjoy the same old sandwich day after day, others are dismayed by what they find in their lunchbox. How do you keep things interesting without adding hours to your day? Luckily, I’ve got your hacks to help with that second problem and last nights dinner leftovers are comin’ in hot with a big assist.

Before you pooh-pooh the idea — “My kids hate leftovers for dinner, they won’t eat them at school!” — consider that these aren’t mere recyclings of last night’s dinner menu. Instead, they’re creative repurposing of that dinner into something totally new with just minimal effort. They also help cut down on the estimated 40 percent of household food that Americans throw away every year.

The focus here is on repurposing main ingredients, like a primary protein or leftover vegetables, into a brand new dish that will be exciting yet healthy. Do your kids love pizza? Pasta? Tacos? Here are some ways to create them seemingly out of thin air.

If last night’s dinner was…

Seasoned Meat:

Make your own taco bar. If last night’s dinner was any sort of seasoned meat, such as chicken breast, steak, or pork, you’ve got your base for everyone’s favorite hand-held food. Simply shred or chop the meat into long strips and put it into a container. Add two flour or corn tortillas to the lunch bag, then fill a multi-compartment container with any combination of shredded cheese, pepper strips (or leftover veggies), avocado, salsa, and sour cream. Let your kids assemble it at school and voila, you’ve got instant tacos.

Transform it into a fajita bowl. Did that chicken/steak/pork dish also come with a side of rice? Mix it all together! Again, chop or shred the meat, add it to a bowl with the rice and toppings listed above, and toss. It’s less messy to eat and uses fewer containers, but tastes just as good.

Bentgo Kids Brights Leak-Proof, 5-Compartment Bento-Style Lunchbox, $24.99 from Amazon

Ground Beef, Turkey, or Hamburger Patties:

Create the ultimate patty melt. Yes, tacos would work here too. And so would a leftover burger after all, what kid doesn’t like a burger? But for the sake of less complaining about leftovers, a good patty melt is a great recycled product. All you need is rye bread, swiss cheese, and a little sauce and you’re good to go. (Find our recipe below.)

Assemble sloppy Joes. This meal also gets rid of any leftover hamburger buns from dinner. Simply chop up the beef and mix with some brown sugar, green bell pepper, garlic, and either ketchup or yellow mustard, and you have a completely different sandwich. And it helps get some veggies into their diet that they won’t throw in the lunchroom trash!

Roasted or Rotisserie Chicken:

Make soup. Ah, the reliable rotisserie chicken. A complete meal that requires nothing more than a stop at the grocery store or just an hour in the oven. Inevitably you’ll have both leftover meat and an enormous carcass. Don’t throw either of those out! Add the carcass to a giant pot with water, chunks of celery, carrot, onion, and a bay leaf. Add salt, pepper, and oregano. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer, cover, and cook for at least 12 hours, adjusting the water level as necessary. Once it’s ready, strain into a container with a fine-mesh sieve. You’ll end up with a rich, hearty stock that’s perfect for so many dishes: Add some chicken and noodles to make instant soup, or use it to cook rice or quinoa instead of water. Granted, this may not be ready until the kids are about to run out the door the next day, but it’ll last in the fridge for about four days and in the freezer for much longer.

Make chicken salad. Like Ina Garten taught us the best chicken salad comes from a rotisserie chicken. Jazz it up however you like with a curry, if your kids are adventurous, or perhaps some Kewpie mayo for a little extra tang. From there you’ve got fabulous lunch sandwiches. Chicken salad should keep at least a few days in the fridge if sealed properly.

Lots of Vegetables and No or Very Little Meat:

Toss a pasta primavera. Do you live in a vegetarian household, or have kids who will happily eat all the protein and barely touch the veggies? Disguise the leftovers into a delicious pasta. Just chop the vegetables into bite size pieces and toss with cooked penne. Top with a little olive oil and seasonings or your favorite canned pasta sauce. Voila! You’ll give them the carb boost they need for afternoon sports (or running around the backyard as the case may be). As a bonus, cold pastas are just as delicious as hot ones, perfect for young children who don’t have access to a microwave at school.

Cook a cauliflower crust . Cauliflower is all the rage these days, but that doesn’t mean that kids will suddenly enjoy it after a millennium of feeding it to the dog under the table. Luckily, the current cauliflower craze has led to a number of inventive ways to use it. Mash or puree your leftover florets or cauliflower rice, press it into a pan, and bake. Guess what? Now you have a delicious cauliflower pizza crust and your kids will be none the wiser. Cover with sauce, cheese, and their favorite pizza toppings. You’ll be their hero.

Leftover Bread, Rolls, and the Like:

Pizza Pizza! I dare you to find a kid who will say no to pizza for lunch. Have leftover hamburger buns? French bread? Tortillas from tacos? They make great mini-pizzas. Again, just top with sauce and shredded cheese along with their favorite meats or veggies. Best. Parent. Ever.


How to Transform Dinner Leftovers into Snazzy School Lunch Kids Will Love

It’s back to school time! For many parents, this time of year brings a sigh of relief, as the kids head back to the classroom and get out from underfoot 24/7. Things aren’t so simple this year, of course if they are going back, you’re probably more worried than usual, and if they’re safely distance learning at home, you have extra hassles to deal with, from constant demands for snacks to shifting Zoom schedules and last-minute technical difficulties. In any case, there are still all the usual issues too, from fighting over homework to finding enough time in the day to make a lunch.

Take a Trip Get Inspired by These School Lunches Around the World While some kids enjoy the same old sandwich day after day, others are dismayed by what they find in their lunchbox. How do you keep things interesting without adding hours to your day? Luckily, I’ve got your hacks to help with that second problem and last nights dinner leftovers are comin’ in hot with a big assist.

Before you pooh-pooh the idea — “My kids hate leftovers for dinner, they won’t eat them at school!” — consider that these aren’t mere recyclings of last night’s dinner menu. Instead, they’re creative repurposing of that dinner into something totally new with just minimal effort. They also help cut down on the estimated 40 percent of household food that Americans throw away every year.

The focus here is on repurposing main ingredients, like a primary protein or leftover vegetables, into a brand new dish that will be exciting yet healthy. Do your kids love pizza? Pasta? Tacos? Here are some ways to create them seemingly out of thin air.

If last night’s dinner was…

Seasoned Meat:

Make your own taco bar. If last night’s dinner was any sort of seasoned meat, such as chicken breast, steak, or pork, you’ve got your base for everyone’s favorite hand-held food. Simply shred or chop the meat into long strips and put it into a container. Add two flour or corn tortillas to the lunch bag, then fill a multi-compartment container with any combination of shredded cheese, pepper strips (or leftover veggies), avocado, salsa, and sour cream. Let your kids assemble it at school and voila, you’ve got instant tacos.

Transform it into a fajita bowl. Did that chicken/steak/pork dish also come with a side of rice? Mix it all together! Again, chop or shred the meat, add it to a bowl with the rice and toppings listed above, and toss. It’s less messy to eat and uses fewer containers, but tastes just as good.

Bentgo Kids Brights Leak-Proof, 5-Compartment Bento-Style Lunchbox, $24.99 from Amazon

Ground Beef, Turkey, or Hamburger Patties:

Create the ultimate patty melt. Yes, tacos would work here too. And so would a leftover burger after all, what kid doesn’t like a burger? But for the sake of less complaining about leftovers, a good patty melt is a great recycled product. All you need is rye bread, swiss cheese, and a little sauce and you’re good to go. (Find our recipe below.)

Assemble sloppy Joes. This meal also gets rid of any leftover hamburger buns from dinner. Simply chop up the beef and mix with some brown sugar, green bell pepper, garlic, and either ketchup or yellow mustard, and you have a completely different sandwich. And it helps get some veggies into their diet that they won’t throw in the lunchroom trash!

Roasted or Rotisserie Chicken:

Make soup. Ah, the reliable rotisserie chicken. A complete meal that requires nothing more than a stop at the grocery store or just an hour in the oven. Inevitably you’ll have both leftover meat and an enormous carcass. Don’t throw either of those out! Add the carcass to a giant pot with water, chunks of celery, carrot, onion, and a bay leaf. Add salt, pepper, and oregano. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer, cover, and cook for at least 12 hours, adjusting the water level as necessary. Once it’s ready, strain into a container with a fine-mesh sieve. You’ll end up with a rich, hearty stock that’s perfect for so many dishes: Add some chicken and noodles to make instant soup, or use it to cook rice or quinoa instead of water. Granted, this may not be ready until the kids are about to run out the door the next day, but it’ll last in the fridge for about four days and in the freezer for much longer.

Make chicken salad. Like Ina Garten taught us the best chicken salad comes from a rotisserie chicken. Jazz it up however you like with a curry, if your kids are adventurous, or perhaps some Kewpie mayo for a little extra tang. From there you’ve got fabulous lunch sandwiches. Chicken salad should keep at least a few days in the fridge if sealed properly.

Lots of Vegetables and No or Very Little Meat:

Toss a pasta primavera. Do you live in a vegetarian household, or have kids who will happily eat all the protein and barely touch the veggies? Disguise the leftovers into a delicious pasta. Just chop the vegetables into bite size pieces and toss with cooked penne. Top with a little olive oil and seasonings or your favorite canned pasta sauce. Voila! You’ll give them the carb boost they need for afternoon sports (or running around the backyard as the case may be). As a bonus, cold pastas are just as delicious as hot ones, perfect for young children who don’t have access to a microwave at school.

Cook a cauliflower crust . Cauliflower is all the rage these days, but that doesn’t mean that kids will suddenly enjoy it after a millennium of feeding it to the dog under the table. Luckily, the current cauliflower craze has led to a number of inventive ways to use it. Mash or puree your leftover florets or cauliflower rice, press it into a pan, and bake. Guess what? Now you have a delicious cauliflower pizza crust and your kids will be none the wiser. Cover with sauce, cheese, and their favorite pizza toppings. You’ll be their hero.

Leftover Bread, Rolls, and the Like:

Pizza Pizza! I dare you to find a kid who will say no to pizza for lunch. Have leftover hamburger buns? French bread? Tortillas from tacos? They make great mini-pizzas. Again, just top with sauce and shredded cheese along with their favorite meats or veggies. Best. Parent. Ever.


How to Transform Dinner Leftovers into Snazzy School Lunch Kids Will Love

It’s back to school time! For many parents, this time of year brings a sigh of relief, as the kids head back to the classroom and get out from underfoot 24/7. Things aren’t so simple this year, of course if they are going back, you’re probably more worried than usual, and if they’re safely distance learning at home, you have extra hassles to deal with, from constant demands for snacks to shifting Zoom schedules and last-minute technical difficulties. In any case, there are still all the usual issues too, from fighting over homework to finding enough time in the day to make a lunch.

Take a Trip Get Inspired by These School Lunches Around the World While some kids enjoy the same old sandwich day after day, others are dismayed by what they find in their lunchbox. How do you keep things interesting without adding hours to your day? Luckily, I’ve got your hacks to help with that second problem and last nights dinner leftovers are comin’ in hot with a big assist.

Before you pooh-pooh the idea — “My kids hate leftovers for dinner, they won’t eat them at school!” — consider that these aren’t mere recyclings of last night’s dinner menu. Instead, they’re creative repurposing of that dinner into something totally new with just minimal effort. They also help cut down on the estimated 40 percent of household food that Americans throw away every year.

The focus here is on repurposing main ingredients, like a primary protein or leftover vegetables, into a brand new dish that will be exciting yet healthy. Do your kids love pizza? Pasta? Tacos? Here are some ways to create them seemingly out of thin air.

If last night’s dinner was…

Seasoned Meat:

Make your own taco bar. If last night’s dinner was any sort of seasoned meat, such as chicken breast, steak, or pork, you’ve got your base for everyone’s favorite hand-held food. Simply shred or chop the meat into long strips and put it into a container. Add two flour or corn tortillas to the lunch bag, then fill a multi-compartment container with any combination of shredded cheese, pepper strips (or leftover veggies), avocado, salsa, and sour cream. Let your kids assemble it at school and voila, you’ve got instant tacos.

Transform it into a fajita bowl. Did that chicken/steak/pork dish also come with a side of rice? Mix it all together! Again, chop or shred the meat, add it to a bowl with the rice and toppings listed above, and toss. It’s less messy to eat and uses fewer containers, but tastes just as good.

Bentgo Kids Brights Leak-Proof, 5-Compartment Bento-Style Lunchbox, $24.99 from Amazon

Ground Beef, Turkey, or Hamburger Patties:

Create the ultimate patty melt. Yes, tacos would work here too. And so would a leftover burger after all, what kid doesn’t like a burger? But for the sake of less complaining about leftovers, a good patty melt is a great recycled product. All you need is rye bread, swiss cheese, and a little sauce and you’re good to go. (Find our recipe below.)

Assemble sloppy Joes. This meal also gets rid of any leftover hamburger buns from dinner. Simply chop up the beef and mix with some brown sugar, green bell pepper, garlic, and either ketchup or yellow mustard, and you have a completely different sandwich. And it helps get some veggies into their diet that they won’t throw in the lunchroom trash!

Roasted or Rotisserie Chicken:

Make soup. Ah, the reliable rotisserie chicken. A complete meal that requires nothing more than a stop at the grocery store or just an hour in the oven. Inevitably you’ll have both leftover meat and an enormous carcass. Don’t throw either of those out! Add the carcass to a giant pot with water, chunks of celery, carrot, onion, and a bay leaf. Add salt, pepper, and oregano. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer, cover, and cook for at least 12 hours, adjusting the water level as necessary. Once it’s ready, strain into a container with a fine-mesh sieve. You’ll end up with a rich, hearty stock that’s perfect for so many dishes: Add some chicken and noodles to make instant soup, or use it to cook rice or quinoa instead of water. Granted, this may not be ready until the kids are about to run out the door the next day, but it’ll last in the fridge for about four days and in the freezer for much longer.

Make chicken salad. Like Ina Garten taught us the best chicken salad comes from a rotisserie chicken. Jazz it up however you like with a curry, if your kids are adventurous, or perhaps some Kewpie mayo for a little extra tang. From there you’ve got fabulous lunch sandwiches. Chicken salad should keep at least a few days in the fridge if sealed properly.

Lots of Vegetables and No or Very Little Meat:

Toss a pasta primavera. Do you live in a vegetarian household, or have kids who will happily eat all the protein and barely touch the veggies? Disguise the leftovers into a delicious pasta. Just chop the vegetables into bite size pieces and toss with cooked penne. Top with a little olive oil and seasonings or your favorite canned pasta sauce. Voila! You’ll give them the carb boost they need for afternoon sports (or running around the backyard as the case may be). As a bonus, cold pastas are just as delicious as hot ones, perfect for young children who don’t have access to a microwave at school.

Cook a cauliflower crust . Cauliflower is all the rage these days, but that doesn’t mean that kids will suddenly enjoy it after a millennium of feeding it to the dog under the table. Luckily, the current cauliflower craze has led to a number of inventive ways to use it. Mash or puree your leftover florets or cauliflower rice, press it into a pan, and bake. Guess what? Now you have a delicious cauliflower pizza crust and your kids will be none the wiser. Cover with sauce, cheese, and their favorite pizza toppings. You’ll be their hero.

Leftover Bread, Rolls, and the Like:

Pizza Pizza! I dare you to find a kid who will say no to pizza for lunch. Have leftover hamburger buns? French bread? Tortillas from tacos? They make great mini-pizzas. Again, just top with sauce and shredded cheese along with their favorite meats or veggies. Best. Parent. Ever.