16 Versatile Dinners I Make All The Time That Taste Incredible On Day 1, Even Better The Next Day, But Truly Unbelievable On Day 3

Hey, y'all! Ross here. I'm a food writer and recipe developer who lives to cook (and eat) as many new recipes as humanly possible. Fun fact: I actually track, rate, and organize every single meal I cook in a spreadsheet, shown below. It's my pride and joy...and also very extra, but whatever.

Spreadsheet with several recipes denoted as instant hits and one recipe for Butternut Squash Lasagna that says never again next to it

It's my way of remembering which recipes are worth coming back to over and over again and which ones end up in the "never again" pile. It's also allowed me to report back on the must-make meals of the bunch for anyone who just wants a little bit of cooking inspiration.

Ross Yoder

The topic of this particular roundup is one that's near and dear to my heart...and stomach. We're talking leftovers, folks, which I realize can be polarizing. We loved them in my immediate family when I was growing up, but other extended family members legitimately referred to leftovers as "used food." Even now, some people (apparently) cringe at the thought of eating yesterday's dinner for today's lunch or, god forbid, meal prepping.

Woman at the office saying that instead of sleeping in, she woke up early and prepped lunch for the week
Woman at the office saying that instead of sleeping in, she woke up early and prepped lunch for the week

CBC / Via giphy.com

For me, however, leftovers are the basis of my weekly meals. As someone who works from home most days and only has a household of two to feed, I've found the "Cook it for dinner, save extras for lunch" method to be the easiest way to ensure I always have something delicious to eat when midday rolls around. And through all of my leftover eating, I've also been able to home in on some epically delicious better-as-leftovers meals that I still come back to over and over again.

Although the reality of food tasting better the next day is hotly debated, for me, the definition of "better with time" leftovers (as I like to call them) is quite simple: They're meals that not only survive but also thrive after a few days in the fridge. Hearty salad greens turn tender instead of wilting into a watery mess. Soup ingredients won't absorb twice their weight in broth and end up bloated and soggy. And most importantly, the flavors develop and intensify with time instead of merely wearing off.

These 16 recipes are my tried-and-true picks for lunches and dinners that are absolutely delicious the day or night they're prepared, but even tastier the next day...and the day after that.

And if you have any better-as-leftovers meals that you're equally passionate about, tell me about them in the comments below! ⬇️

1.Eggplant Parmesan: This isn't just any old recipe for eggplant Parm. This version is for anyone who hates breading and frying a zillion slices of the stuff before assembling. Or, more broadly, anyone who likes saving time.

Assembling the eggplant Parm: Skillet with eggplant and sauce, bread crumbs, and Parmesan cheese next to it
Ross Yoder

As someone who previously felt very ambivalent about eggplant Parm, I will say that Alison Roman's version of the classic dish made me do a total 180. It's not that I ever thought it wasn't a delicious dish...I've just never found the process of breading and frying each individual piece of eggplant to be all that rewarding. That's why this method's trick of roasting the eggplant slices and layering them in a skillet with crispy bread crumbs is one of my favorite recipe shortcuts that I've ever had the pleasure of trying.

Finished eggplant Parm with browned, gooey cheese and bread crumbs on top
Ross Yoder

From all the times I've devoured these leftovers, I've also noticed that the flavors are far more pronounced on day 2 — you really taste the brininess of the capers and the herby notes of the parsley and oregano. But one note: This recipe as written makes only two servings, so for the purposes of this post, make sure you're at least doubling the recipe so you'll actually have leftovers to eat.

Eggplant Parm in a cast-iron skillet after some has been scooped out

Leftover tip: Surprisingly, this stuff is magnificent when reheated in the air fryer; the recipe itself isn't aggressively saucy, so it holds together nicely. You can plop it on a piece of parchment paper beforehand like me, just to be safe, and you'll be rewarded with god-tier warm eggplant Parm after about five minutes at 400°F. Alternatively, you could microwave the leftovers and slide them into a toasted roll for the best eggplant Parm sandwich you've ever had. Your call!

Recipe: Eggplant Parmesan

Ross Yoder

2.Mapo Tofu: If you think tofu is bland, you've never tried mapo tofu. End of story.

Mapo tofu simmering on the stove
Mapo tofu simmering on the stove

Ross Yoder

The traditional Chinese dish of mapo tofu is rich and spicy, and it's the perfect gateway dish for people who "hate tofu" because it also contains...meat. Though a fresh, piping-hot bowl of the stuff alongside a bed of steamed rice makes me salivate uncontrollably, I actually think I crave the leftovers even more. Allowing the tofu to steep in all the incredible sauce overnight actually distributes the flavors and spiciness in a more balanced way.

Tofu and beef in a fiery red sauce next to steamed white rice

To make this recipe from the Woks of Life properly, you'll need Sichuan peppercorns to create the tingly heat that's synonymous with this dish. If you don't live near an Asian market or grocery store, it might be tricky to find, but you can find cheap bags online that'll last you literally years. (It's very much worth it!)

Recipe: Mapo Tofu

Ross Yoder

3.Sage Chicken Meatballs With Parmesan Orzo: One thing about me is that I'm the self-proclaimed president of the orzo fan club. And as the self-proclaimed president, I can confidently say that is the most ridiculously delicious, licking-plate-worthy dish with orzo I've ever eaten.

Meatballs on top of creamy orzo and spinach, garnished with sage leaves

There's savory, and then there's this dish. Everything about this recipe from the Original Dish is perfectly balanced: The creamy orzo with spinach is rich and filling, while the chicken meatballs are light and juicy. While it's not quite a one-pot meal, I appreciate that the meatballs roast in the oven while you prepare the orzo on your stove. It saves you the time-consuming step of searing off the meatballs in a skillet one by one, and if you line your sheet pan with parchment paper, it adds virtually nothing extra to clean.

Leftover tip: Stir ¼ cup of water into the orzo mixture before you reheat a single serving in the microwave. The orzo will absorb basically all the liquid as it sits in the fridge, so adding just a bit of water is all you'll need to restore it to its original creaminess.

Recipe: Sage Chicken Meatballs With Parmesan Orzo

Ross Yoder

4.Sesame Pasta Salad With Cabbage and Quinoa: Combine the best parts of pasta salad and coleslaw, and this is what you get...with 10 times the flavor, if I do say so myself.

Sesame pasta salad in a wooden serving bowl, topped with mint for garnish
Ross Yoder

When summer rolls around, you will not catch me without a batch of this pasta salad hanging out in my fridge. Between the chewy pasta, crunchy cabbage, and quinoa pops throughout, it might be one of the most texturally satisfying dishes I've ever tasted, and it's also my go-to for summer barbecues, informal gatherings, or lazy WFH lunches. Basically, there's never a reason not to make this "salad."

Sesame pasta salad in a large mixing bowl before getting combined

The cabbage softens the longer it sits dressed in the fridge, which is the main reason it's always better the next day. It'll still retain plenty of crunch, but you won't feel as if you just sent your jaw to CrossFit after chewing every bite.

If the thought of whipping up a homemade dressing makes you think, Eh, skip, I have a solution for you: Use the Kewpie Deep Roasted Sesame Dressing & Marinade (not sponsored, just obsessed) with a generous drizzle of sriracha for a bit of heat. While it doesn't taste exactly the same as the dressing the recipe calls for, it's certainly the closest I've found...and it's also the only dressing I regularly purchase from Costco in the largest possible container.

Recipe: Sesame Pasta Salad With Cabbage and Quinoa

Ross Yoder

5.Salmon and Corn Chowder: While I don't normally think of soup as a spring or summertime dish, this one is the exception. It's bright and light, and it only takes 30 minutes to make.

Ingredients on a cutting board: butter, onion, heavy cream, clam juice, baby potatoes, and salmon

The ease of this Martha Stewart recipe makes it a very doable weeknight meal, but the effortlessly photo-ready results also make it a wonderful pick for entertaining. I actually wrote about this recipe last year and had...thoughts. But I've been cooking it ever since, and I must admit I've fallen deeply in love with it.

Ross Yoder

If salmon isn't your thing, you can totally substitute another fish of your choosing — cod or haddock would both work nicely. But I love the salmon in particular because it holds its own even through the refrigerating and reheating process. (By comparison, white fish tends to flake and fall apart the next day in a way that isn't very pleasant to eat or look at.)

Chowder in a bowl with corn, greens, and flaky salmon that stays tender even through the reheating process

Leftover tip: This chowder reheats nicely in the microwave, but heating it back up on your stove will get you the best possible results. Cover the soup and bring it up to a gentle simmer over low heat, then turn it off and wait a few minutes. This gentle reheating method keeps the salmon as tender as the day you made it, but you'll still enjoy it immensely if you only have access to a microwave.

Recipe: Salmon and Corn Chowder

Ross Yoder

6.Konbi's Egg Salad Sandwich: It's the egg salad sandwich for anyone whose first instinct is to turn their nose up at egg salad (🙋‍♂️), and prepping the salad in advance turns this into a meal that can be made in a minute or less.

Author holding cross-section of egg salad sandwich with a sliced jammy egg and egg salad between bread
Ross Yoder

If you've ever so much as engaged with food content on Instagram, the iconic cross-section of Konbi's viral egg salad sandwich has likely made its way to your feed. Though the beloved LA restaurant closed all locations in early 2023, I'm pleased to report that it's ridiculously easy to make their photo-worthy egg salad sandos in the comfort of your own kitchen. If you don't have the patience to position and cut each sandwich into perfect jammy egg–revealing pieces, let me be the first to confirm that they're still exceptionally delicious without it.

7.Chipotle and Coffee Texas-Style Chili: Chili is the king of all better-as-leftovers meals, but this one might just win "most improved" between days 1 and 2 because of its ingredients.

Bowl of chili in a fiery red sauce with Fritos, pickled red onions, and sour cream decorating the top

I grew up with the "ground beef + taco seasoning + can of beans" version of "chili." As a result, the meat-forward, bean-free version thought to originate in Texas was something I only learned about in my late 20s — but it's now the only version of chili I can get behind.

Several aspects of this recipe give it a surprisingly delicious flavor profile, like the addition of spicy chipotles in adobo sauce and some strong-brewed coffee to contrast with the sweet brown sugar. But one element in particular makes the whole thing even better the next day: the beef chuck used in lieu of ground beef. I might be biased, but I think the meat is even more tender the next day and tastes better, too. Allowing everything to hang out for 24 hours or more adds some serious depth of flavor, and this recipe is a prime example.

Recipe: Chipotle and Coffee Texas-Style Chili

Ross Yoder

8.Creamy Herbed Chicken and Broccoli Bake: This casserole-ish recipe was inspired by the only 10/10 dish that my college's dining hall served in the dorms, but with several minor changes that make it delicious to both kids and adults alike.

Chicken and broccoli casserole served alongside rice

I went to the University of Michigan for college, and our dining hall food was, to put it mildly, not great! But Chicken Broccoli Bake Day was the one time each month that we knew we'd feast until we could hardly move...no exaggeration. We'd take a plastic container, ask for seconds, and package up the leftovers to heat and eat the next day. This simple meal was so beloved by students and grads, in fact, that the university's housing division eventually published the recipe online. That's what my version is more or less based on, but with some minor changes that elevate it beyond dining hall chic (while keeping all that creamy goodness intact).

Ross Yoder

Even if you hate traditional casseroles, you might love this one. It's saucy without being soupy and balances its richness with ingredients that keep things bright, like lemon zest and fresh thyme. Since people on the internet apparently have big feelings about canned soups in casseroles, I guess I'll also add that there's no cream of ____ soup to be found in this one...but TBH, I feel like it could be an iconic addition. (If you try it, let me know.)

Casserole dish with chicken and broccoli casserole inside, topped with crispy bread crumbs

Leftover tip: The crispy panko bread crumbs won't make or break your leftovers, but they do add a subtle crunch that's inarguably delightful. If you're reheating this meal at home, quickly toast up some panko bread crumbs in olive oil while you wait for the microwave to beep, then sprinkle them over the warmed leftovers. If you're heating up your food on the fly or at the office, don't fret. You'll still be rewarded with a lunch that tastes even better than it did at first.

Recipe: Creamy Herbed Chicken and Broccoli Bake

Ross Yoder

9.Chicken in a Pot With Orzo: This is one of the few chicken noodle soup–adjacent dishes I know of that are "fancy" enough to serve company...and then enjoy for lunch the next day, when the leftovers taste even better than the real deal.

Dutch oven with a whole chicken inside, along with orzo and veggies in broth
Ross Yoder

If cooking a whole chicken is a feat that gives you pause, this recipe from Ina Garten is your pathway to genuinely loving it. Since the whole chicken is cooked in a pot of rich stock and veggies, it's virtually impossible to mess up; the method here will ensure that you get juicy, tender results every single time. Like, it would be extremely hard to overcook this bird.

Bowl of chicken, veggies, and orzo in broth

Depending on what you're in the mood for, you can serve this dish as more of a traditional soup or a brothy pasta dish. Sometimes I'll add extra orzo to soak up more of the stock, but other times I'll cook it exactly as called for in the recipe for a soupier stock-to-stuff ratio.

Leftover tip: Before you pack up your leftovers, do future you a favor and shred all the meat off of the chicken bones. Serving the bone-in chicken pieces when you make the dish is cute and all, but you don't want to be dealing with chicken bones and boiling hot soup when you're just trying to enjoy a quick bite at your desk.

Recipe: Chicken in a Pot With Orzo

Ross Yoder

10.Day-Ahead Bean and Cheese Burritos: I challenge you to find a store-bought burrito that rivals just how mouthwatering these meal prep masterpieces can be.

Pan-fried burrito cut in half on a small plate
Ross Yoder

With a crisp and chewy exterior and pillowy soft filling, these burritos are cheap, filling, and so damn satisfying. The genius element here is adding store-bought pico de gallo instead of using chopped tomatoes or conventional salsa. It adds a palpable hit of freshness to these burritos that you can taste, even in the days after you assemble them.

Author holding the cross-section of a bean and cheese burrito

They freeze really well, too, so I highly recommend doubling the recipe and stashing half in the freezer for a future date when you're very hungry (but feeling very lazy).

Leftover tip: Pan-frying the leftovers is all it takes to turn a sad, day-old burrito into a meal that could totally rival any restaurant's. But if you're at an office or don't have a stove to utilize, they're also delicious when reheated in a toaster oven until the outside begins to crisp up.

Recipe: Bean and Cheese Burritos

If you hit a paywall when accessing the recipe above, you can find a very similar recipe here.

Ross Yoder

11.One-Pot Lentil Green Curry: For a recipe that's free of gluten, dairy, and meat, this one majorly delivers when it comes to flavor and texture.

Bowl of lentils and spinach in curry next to rice

This Thai-inspired curry from Minimalist Baker was practically made to be prepared in advance and eaten all week long. Lentils are one of those foods that truly only get better the longer they mingle with other ingredients or sauces — here, it's a coconut milk–based sauce with plenty of zesty green curry paste to flavor it. As shown above, I actually like to add a handful of frozen, chopped spinach to the curry when I reheat it, which stretches my leftovers for an extra day or so, but it's certainly not necessary. Even on their own, the lentils are absolutely mouthwatering.

Leftover tip: To loosen up any leftover curry before heating it, I highly recommend stirring in a scoop of plain yogurt. The creaminess and tanginess it imparts help to lift up the entire dish, especially when served alongside a hearty grain like rice or quinoa.

Recipe: One-Pot Lentil Green Curry

Ross Yoder

12.Spicy Sausage Soup With White Beans and Veggies: This comforting, veggie-packed soup truly gets more delicious the longer it sits. So delicious, in fact, that I almost always make a double batch to keep the extras in my freezer.

Spoonful of soup in a bowl with greens, sausage, sweet potato, and red pepper

As a spicy food lover, I'm endlessly delighted by the fiery rendered fat from the spicy Italian sausage used in this recipe, which beautifully flavors the entire pot of soup. But if spicy food isn't your thing, I've got you. The only ingredient that packs a punch in this recipe is the spicy sausage, so minimizing the spice is as simple as swapping in regular Italian sausage and supplementing with crushed red pepper to your preferred level of heat.

Beyond the sausage, most elements of this recipe are equally customizable. Instead of sweet potato, try using regular white potatoes or even butternut squash. If spicier = better in your book, swap in poblano pepper for the red bell pepper, and you'll get the kick of the century. I've even made this soup numerous times using ditalini or pearl couscous instead of cannellini beans. This recipe is just a guideline — do with it what you will.

Recipe: Spicy Sausage Soup With White Beans and Veggies

Ross Yoder

13."The" Kale Salad: This 2007 viral salad still holds up nearly 16 years later, and as a direct result of the greens that it utilizes, it's also one of the few salads out there that are not only edible the next day after they've been dressed but, I'd argue, are even tastier.

Salad with bread crumbs and pecorino cheese, a lemony vinaigrette, and very tender kale

Chef and cookbook author Joshua McFadden's kale salad was first written up in the New York Times in 2007 — a time before kale had become the "it" salad green. While I guess it's impossible to prove that this particular recipe started the kale revolution, it certainly played a major part in the now-popular leafy green's renaissance. And as someone who tosses this simple salad together whenever I'm cooking for a crowd and need some sort of green and vegetal dish, I can see why.

IMO, the longer this salad sits in the fridge before being served — pre–bread crumbs, of course — the better it tastes. The lemony vinaigrette actually tenderizes the kale as the dressed salad sits. It makes this dish a great one for entertaining, since you can dress the salad and toast the bread crumbs in advance, then assemble it when you're ready to serve guests. To turn it into an entire meal, which I've done numerous times, you can top the salad with grilled chicken, roasted salmon, or even some crispy tofu.

Recipe: Joshua McFadden's Kale Salad

Ross Yoder

14.Slow Cooker Brisket With Onions: With a cut of meat as flavorful as brisket, you don't need much to turn it into a delicious meal. This minimal-ingredient recipe is proof of that.

Before: onions on top of a brisket in the slow cooker

With the exception of the onions that you'll lightly caramelize ahead of time, this tender, juicy brisket is as easy as dumping a handful of ingredients into a slow cooker and waiting. Fair warning: Your home will smell absolutely delicious for at least 24 hours, so do with that what you will.

Ross Yoder

You can serve this dish the same day, sure, but I'd actually advise you to wait a day or so to enjoy it at its peak deliciousness. Something glorious happens when you allow the brisket to hang out in the fridge and mingle with all of the rendered juices, and I find that the flavors are more evenly distributed throughout the meat on day 2. And day 3, if it even lasts that long.

After: brisket sliced on top of a wooden cutting board

Once you've got your leftover brisket ready, the options are plentiful. Shred the leftover meat over a bowl of creamy polenta or mashed potatoes and top with a generous drizzle of those juices. Keep the brisket in thin slices and pile 'em inside a halved baguette (with the juice on the side) for makeshift French dip sandwiches. Or just pick on the meat with your grubby little fingers while perched over your stove, like I do. Sky's the limit.

Leftover tip: Add enough of the juices to just cover the meat before you reheat in your microwave or oven, as opposed to just reheating the slices of meat alone. The extra juices will keep the meat perfectly juicy throughout the reheating process; otherwise, the cooked brisket has a tendency to dry out a bit.

Recipe: Slow Cooker Brisket With Onions

Ross Yoder

15.Curried Chicken Salad: Leave it to Ina Garten to include white wine in a "salad" recipe...and y'all, it's next-level.

Curried chicken salad on top of toasted English muffins

Most chicken salad recipes are an immediate no for me, but this is one that I simply cannot get enough of. It's the correct amount of savory versus sweet, warmly spiced with the addition of curry powder, and is an absolute 11/10 the day after you make it — after the ingredients have a moment to chill out in the fridge.

Ina's recipe calls for roasting bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts for maximum flavor and juiciness, and while that step will absolutely guarantee the best chicken salad of your life, I've also started to make this by tearing into a rotisserie chicken and cubing it up. It's still absolutely delectable. So, you do you. Roast the chicken yourself if you're up for a little cooking project, or opt for the store-bought stuff if you want the quick-and-easy version.

Recipe: Curried Chicken Salad

Ross Yoder

16.Louisiana Red Beans and Rice: Pretty? No. But delicious, ultra-filling, and possibly the most flavor-packed meal I've ever tasted? You bet.

Thick bean puree being poured into the pot of beans
Thick bean puree being poured into the pot of beans

Ross Yoder

Of all the chef's kiss–worthy Southern comfort food dishes out there, gumbo tends to steal the spotlight more often than not. Don't get me wrong — gumbo is life-affirming. But Food & Wine's recipe for red beans and rice is just as satisfying, in my opinion. And since dried beans make up a significant portion of the ingredients, it's also a lot cheaper.

Red beans and rice in a bowl, served

Don't skip or overlook the step where you puree some of the cooked beans. That creamy, starchy mixture is ultimately what thickens the dish, and you won't get the same stick-to-your-ribs results without it.

Recipe: Louisiana Red Beans and Rice

Ross Yoder

What meal do you swear is actually better the next day? Drop a link or describe it in the comments below — or DM me! I'm always down to try new recipes and add 'em to the tracker...especially when the leftovers are A+.

And for even more recipes, you can check out my previous roundups of must-make meals below:

Best 5-Ingredient Or Fewer Recipes

 Best Budget-Friendly Recipes

 Best of 2022

 Best of 2021