Learn to love leftovers with our favorite reheat-ready recipes and tips for making the most of last night's dinner.

Lauren Salkeld
September 15, 2020
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We all want to enjoy a delicious dinner every night, but who has time to cook all those fabulous meals? And if you work from home, you also need lunches, which means—yup—more cooking. Thankfully, there are plenty of dishes that are best made in large quantities and that are just as good and sometimes even better the next day. The trick is knowing which recipes will shine a day or even several days after you make them and which ones will have your family dreading dinnertime.

As you plan your meals and leftover meals, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind.

Top Tips for Success with Leftovers

Choose your protein wisely

Some proteins, including beef and chicken, as well as most ground meats, reheat beautifully, while seafood is best avoided. Fish and shellfish tend to get stinky stored in the fridge and it's very hard to reheat them successfully.

Thinks stews and bakes, not fried food

Dishes that contain a good amount of liquid—think stews, braises or anything made in a slow cooker—make excellent leftovers, because their flavors tend to deepen and improve over time and the liquid prevents them from drying out. Meals that are baked in the oven, including baked pastas, enchiladas and other casserole-style dishes, are prime for reheating, whereas fried food won't keep or reheat well at all.

Freshen up the flavors

Although dishes like beef stew and chicken curry can taste even better after a day or two in the fridge, some leftovers can be a bit bland, so it's always good to check the seasoning before serving. And don't be afraid to add new ingredients to bump up the flavor. Fresh herbs, a bit of lemon juice or something more intense like olives or capers can breathe new life into last night's dinner.

For our favorite leftover-worthy dishes—recipes included—plus tips for making them just as good, if not better, the second time around, read on!

The Best Foods for Leftovers

Lasagna and pasta bakes

Crowd-pleasing pasta bakes are a leftovers no-brainer. You pretty much have to make them in a large baking dish anyway, and they can be reheated in the oven or microwave. To make life easier, think about how you'll serve the leftovers and divide any extras into family-size or individual-size portions for easy reheating. In addition to lasagna, including those made with meat or vegetarian versions, there are tons of other leftover-friendly pasta bakes, such as stuffed shells or tortellini casseroles. Baked mac and cheese is another excellent option, and can be made more flavorful, colorful and nutritious by adding veggies.

Enchiladas and tortilla bakes

Similar to pasta bakes, enchiladas combine tortillas with sauce and cheese for a leftovers dream come true. This Mexican dish will just get more flavorful in the fridge and it can be zapped in the microwave or warmed in the oven. Tortillas can also be layered into casseroles that keep and reheat perfectly.

Stews

Because they are made with so much liquid and because their flavors only get better with time, hearty stews make ideal leftovers. If you're serving your stew with something starchy like noodles, gnocchi or spaetzle, it's best to store and reheat those separately. Ratatouille, a Provençal-style stew, makes amazing vegetarian leftovers, and you can also puree the veggies into a velvety soup—add some milk or broth as needed—and top it with a dollop of yogurt or goat cheese for a completely new meal.

Chili

Whether you like chili with chunks of beef, ground turkey or simply beans and veggies, it's a dish designed to be cooked in a large pot or slow cooker, and it's perfect for popping in the fridge or freezer to enjoy later. Store chili on its own, and add a fresh round of extras like rice, chips, cheese or sour cream when you reheat it. To mix things up, add leftover chili to a baked potato or macaroni and cheese, stuff it into bell peppers or use it to make nachos or burritos.

Slow-Cooker Meals

We hardly need another reason to love the slow cooker, but in addition to being the ultimate convenience appliance it also tends to create meals just made for leftovers. Plus, most slow-cooker recipes easily feed a crowd. Go beyond the obvious soups and stews and try larger, tougher cuts of meat, such as pork shoulder or beef brisket, which turn wonderfully tender after a few hours in a slow cooker and produce leftovers perfect for piling on sandwiches, tortillas or nachos. Chicken thighs are another excellent option. They cook faster than one large piece of meat but stay moist and flavorful, so they can be enjoyed throughout the week.

Curries

With their bold, complex flavors, both Indian and Thai curries make excellent leftovers. Plus, they tend to contain a good amount of liquid, which prevents all their yummy ingredients from drying out in the fridge. Try to store and reheat the curry sauce, plus any meat and veggies, separate from the rice or noodles, so the rice and noodles maintain their texture and don't get too mushy.

Meatloaf and meatballs

Whether made with ground beef, turkey, chicken or even sausage, these family favorites are a cinch to reheat and enjoy. There's no shame in serving them exactly how you did the first time, but turn them into sandwiches and you have a whole new feast. Meatloaf can be warmed and topped with various sauces and condiments, but many people enjoy it simply sliced and served cold between two slices of bread. Reheat meatballs in some sauce on the stovetop or in the microwave, then pile them onto crusty bread and don't forget the cheese!