Easy Dinner Hack: Turn Your Leftovers into a Tasty School Lunch

By Nara Sandberg
African american father and daughter preparing to cook.

Back-to-school season means preparing your children for new classes, teachers, homework and after-school activities. The return of routine often means it’s harder to set aside time for cooking meals together, as well as packing healthy lunches for school each day.

The good news is, you can feed two birds with one seed by cooking dinner as a family, and then turning your leftovers into a tasty school lunch.

When you’re short on time, leftovers from your Monday family dinner can easily be refreshed to provide simple, healthy lunches for kids to take to school the next day.

With a few easy steps, your family dinner can be repurposed into a new meal, convenient for your child to take for lunch to school the following day. Try it with this delicious recipe for Black Bean Meatless Balls and Zucchini Noodles!

black bean meatballs and zucchini noodles(1)

Cooking Tip: Zucchini noodles can easily be made with a spiralizer, but cutting them into a julienne works well too.

Black Bean Meatless Balls & Zucchini Noodles

This recipe comes to us from Myra of The Happy Health Freak.

  • 1 large zucchini, spiralized or julienned
  • 1 15oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 small shallot, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp. bread crumbs
  • 2 tbsp. ground flaxseed (or flaxseed meal), plus 6 tbsp. water (or two eggs)
  • Handful fresh parsley, chopped
  • Handful fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. Italian spices
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Your favorite marinara sauce
Directions for Dinner
  • Together: First, spiralize or julienne the zucchini.
  • Kid: In a small bowl, add flaxseed and water, then mix well and set aside.
  • Adult: Open can of black beans.
  • Kid: Drain and rinse black beans in a colander. Then, pour them into a medium bowl, add the black beans and mash with a fork.
  • Adult: Dice shallot and mince garlic.
  • Kid: Measure out bread crumbs and Italian spices. Then, rip parsley and basil leaves from stem.
  • Adult: Chop parsley and basil.
  • Kid: Add shallot, garlic, bread crumbs, parsley, basil and Italian spices in with black beans. Mix well. Once the flaxseed and water has thickened, stir into mixture (alternatively, substitute two eggs).
  • Adult: Preheat a large frying pan on medium-high heat. Once warm, spray the pan with non-stick spray or drizzle with olive oil.
  • Together: Form mixture into balls.
  • Adult: Add black bean balls to the frying pan and heat for 2-3 minutes a side, flipping frequently. Meanwhile, add spiralized or julienned zucchini to another frying pan over medium heat. Cook the zucchini noodles for about 5 minutes, depending on how soft you like them.
  • Together: Finally, top your cooked zucchini noodles with your black bean meatballs and your favorite marinara sauce.

Food for Thought: Black beans are a great source of soluble fiber, which can help promote heart health. They’re also rich in protein, antioxidants, iron, calcium, potassium, and other nutrients. That’s why they’re known as a superfood!

Directions for a Leftover Makeover
  • Adult: For lunch the next day, cut up a few leftover meatballs and put them on a roll. Add in some tomato sauce, your kids’ favorite veggies and cheese for a delicious sandwich!

Why Cooking Together Matters

Difficult as it may be to find time for family cooking and dining, it’s worth fitting them in your schedule. Research shows that when families cook and eat together, their children enjoy numerous benefits. These range from eating nutritious, delicious home-cooked meals to improving academic skills—cooking can reinforce what your children are learning in school, such as skills in math, reading, teamwork and following directions.

Cooking together also provides a simple way to discuss nutrition and the impact that food choices have on the environment. The more educated children are about food, the more likely they will appreciate your suggestions to eat something nutritious. Plus, preparing meals and dining together gives you more opportunities to spend quality time together as a family!

Want more recipes?

Try this Nutritious Chicken Chili

Nara Sandberg is the marketing and partnerships coordinator for The Monday Campaigns. The Kids Cook Monday initiative encourages families to cook and eat meals together every Monday, and provides free resources and recipes.

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