10 Cheap and Easy Meals That Make Even Better Leftovers

It's true, some things just get better with age. This is true even with some foods — just a little age, mind you. Some flavors improve when they've had time to meld, mellow out, or become more concentrated. Here are 10 dishes that not only get tastier, but can serve double-duty as an additional meal the next day.

1. Chili

My favorite recipe contains garlic, oregano, onions, Tabasco, green peppers, and jalapenos. On day one, it's a fairly spicy concoction, but upon reheating, it has been delightfully tamed. Chili also holds up well in the freezer and defrosts pretty quickly. Serve it up again for lunch or dinner with some grated cheese, sour cream, and tortilla chips.

2. Meatloaf

Always great with a pile of mashed potatoes and some dilled carrots, meatloaf is so much better the next day in a sandwich with mayo, cheddar cheese, and dill pickles. If you can score some rye bread for that hot mess, all the better.

3. Pizza

If you buy a frozen pizza, or go the take-and-bake route, pizza and salad is a darned inexpensive meal. I never get anything except the large size because it can serve double duty: dinner and breakfast. My husband's trick is to heat a leftover slice in a little olive oil on the stove, so that the bottom re-crisps. Then, he makes an over-easy egg (firm, but still slightly runny). The egg goes on the top of the pizza. The flavors in Italian food are more pronounced, it seems, when reheated. I'm not sure he cares about that. He's a dude happily eating pizza for breakfast instead of granola.

4. Mushroom Burgers

These mushroom burgers are one of my favorite vegetarian recipes. Not only are they inexpensive to make, but I actually prefer them to a meat hamburger. Don't skip the dried thyme, which imparts great flavor. I also add a little dried sage. This combo will remind you of Thanksgiving.

Even though these days it's usually just my husband and I for dinner, I always make four patties. Why? Breakfast! Go Hawaiian-style with them and re-heat the "burger." Plop it over some brown rice, and add an egg on top. As the Hawaiians say, "So ono!"

5. Lasagna

If you are going to make a lasagna (or lasagne, whichever way you prefer to spell it), well, go for it and make a big 9x13 pan of it. Why? Lasagna always always gets better after spending the night in the refrigerator. Mine are usually a little sloppy coming out of the oven, even when I let them rest. However, on day two or three, something magical happens and it firms up. The flavors are also more prominent. This can be a second or third dinner, or you can cut into smaller squares for lunches. Lasagna is also a good candidate for the freezer.

6. Stew

Stew meat is really cheap, and there is a reason for that — it comes from a tough cut (usually chuck or bottom round). Save even more money by just buying a package of meat and cutting it up yourself, rather than buying packages of precut "stew meat." Don't worry about toughness, though. The act of cooking it slowly breaks the fibers down and tenderizes it. If you pair your meat with some pearl onions, garlic, red wine, and bacon, you'll be happy for days to come. It also freezes well.

7. The Sunday Roast, on Monday

Cooking a roast is a big effort, but the leftovers are great, and you will have enough for sandwiches, and maybe even another dinner. But wait! There is a breakfast bonus. Chop it up, add cooked potatoes, sauteed peppers, and onions, and bake into hash. Voila! Add a fried egg on top for a little extra treat.

8. Chicken Soup

For a variety of reasons, chicken soup is just better down the road. My mother's theory was that bay leaves gave soup extra flavor. She also was a fan of bouquet garni. I think the chicken fat and salt helps, too. I freeze mine in double gallon Ziplocks — you don't want to chance leakage — and don't forget to label. When you get a cold, remembering you have homemade chicken soup in the freezer will make you instantly feel better.

9. Thrice-Baked Potatoes

Not too many foods are as inexpensive as potatoes — or as versatile. Baked potatoes are fine, but twice-baked (containing cheese, green onion, maybe some broccoli or spinach) are terrific. And they are even better at breakfast, and especially on cold days. Bake a whole potato, stuff each half, and enjoy half with dinner and half another time. I tote my "second half" to the office, where I can microwave it.

10. Curry

Curry is often so spicy that I want a glass of milk to drink with it. So hot, but so good! Let it spend the night in the refrigerator, though, and it will mellow out. But it won't become boring, as the flavors seem to concentrate. I like mine with chicken, carrots, and pumpkin. Usually served with lots of rice, there is always enough for a second meal. It's inexpensive comfort food.

Did we miss any delicious leftover gems? Let us know in the comments!

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